Tag Archives: Chris Johnson

Cardinals Entertain Brady-free Patriots in Season Opener

carson-palmer

Bud Light is the most popular beer in Arizona, and Cardinals fans reached for more than their share as they fidgeted their way through the first three games of a wobbly preseason. Arizona was outscored 83-37 by Oakland, San Diego and Houston.

The Cardinals’ 38-17 drubbing of Denver in game four came as a relief, even though both sides flung out players who were clinging to the bottom of the depth charts by their fingernails. Intellectually, fans know the preseason means almost nothing. But the Red Wave has grown accustomed to victory during Coach Bruce Arians’ tenure, no matter the date or circumstance.

And no wonder.

Arians came aboard in 2013 and coaxed 10 wins out of a Cardinals team that finished 5-11 the previous year. Arizona went on to win 11 games in 2014 and 13 games last year. The trajectory is not hard to plot. A franchise that for decades seemed devoted to mediocrity has experienced a tectonic shift in expectations and quality of play. The team is built to win, but can it get into and then roll through the playoffs?

Critical components from all over the field return, such as Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, and a healthier Tyrann Mathieu. This bodes well.

KEY ADDITIONS
Frustrated by the lack of pressure the defense put on Cam Newton in Carolina’s 49-15 beat down of the Cards in last season’s NFC Championship game, Arizona GM Steve Keim worked the phones and brought in outside linebacker Chandler Jones from the Patriots. The 2015 Pro Bowler’s 30 sacks the last three years ties him with Denver’s Von Miller, one of the game’s finest at his craft. Keim also imported Tyvon Branch from Kansas City, who was among the league’s top cover safeties in 2015.

FIRST UP: ARIZONA V. NEW ENGLAND
A grateful nation will tune into NBC’s Sunday Night Football as Arizona locks horns with the visiting Patriots, who are among Vegas’ preseason Super Bowl favorites. The Cardinals catch a break in this one—Tom Brady is in the penalty box for air pressure transgressions and All-Pro tight end and party beast Rob Gronkowski is expected to sit out with a balky hamstring. Arizona has been masterful at University of Phoenix Stadium the last few years, and is 20-4 in QB Carson Palmer’s last 24 starts, whether home or away.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DAVID JOHNSON
30-year-old running back Chris Johnson enjoyed a resurgence last season, stabilizing what had been a spotty Arizona running game. But when he fractured his tibia in game 11 he opened the door for young David Johnson. Johnson registers 6’1”, 224 lbs., and he’s proven to be the rare back with the ability to run over or around would-be tacklers. He has good hands out of the backfield and a nose for daylight and the big play. In short, he’s been a revelation and he’s earned the starting job.

FUN FACTS ABOUT DAVID JOHNSON
– Last season, Johnson forced 41% more missed tackles than any other RB in the NFL.
This really happened: Bobby Flay selected David Johnson first overall in ESPN’s celebrity NFL fantasy league draft. Of course Bobby Flay knows as much about football as David Johnson knows about pan-seared brook trout with Malabar pepper-infused aioli. So take it with a grain of sea salt.

If David ever falters, a healthier Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington have shown they are fully capable of making big contributions.

HUNTING POKÉMON
The following players will not play Sunday, and may be otherwise occupied:
Arizona: Kareem Martin, LB—knee.
New England: Tom Brady, QB—deflated. Rob Gronkowski, TE—hammy. Nate Solder, OT—hammy.

Arizona has won five of its last six openers. New England has won 11 of its last 12. Which team will take the first step toward the Super Bowl in Houston Feb. 5? Tune in at 5:30 PST.

– Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The NFL’s Best 2015 Offensive Free-Agent Finds

Michael Crabtree:  Crabtree was in the height of his career in 2012, with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns as the the 49ers went to Super Bowl XLVII.  Yet, an Achilles injury the following year limited his production in 2013, and he was let go by the team following the 2014 season.  Now in Oakland, he is having a bounce-back season and is a great complement to Amari Cooper.  Crabtree and Cooper give Derek Carr two quality receivers that have helped Carr pass for 21 touchdowns, tied for third in the league, and the fourth-most passing yards (936) over the past three weeks.  Crabtree has four touchdowns over his last four games and more than 100 yards receiving in two of his past three matchups.  The Raiders have gone from ranking 26th in passing yards per game last year to 6th this season, and Crabtree’s recent resurgence has been a significant factor.

DeAngelo Williams:  Signed to be a backup to Le’Veon Bell in the offseason after playing in Carolina since 2006, Williams was supposed to play a limited role with the Steelers (who wouldn’t with Le’Veon Bell on the roster, right?).  Instead, the 32-year-old running back has been thrown into the role of lead back for the remainder of the season after Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 8.  When Williams started the first two games of the season for Bell, he produced 204 yards and three touchdowns.  Then, after Bell was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season, he has 224 yards and two touchdowns, along with three receptions for 70 yards.  He did not have a great game against the Browns last week, but the Steelers still have a comfort level that many teams would not have after losing arguably the best running back in the league.

Darren McFadden:  When the Cowboys let DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s rushing leader last season, leave in free agency to go to the Philadelphia Eagles, the question of who would replace him was a pressing offseason issue for the team.  Joseph Randle handled the majority of snaps early in the season, but, since they released him, McFadden has taken the role of lead back, and he has been producing well lately.  Over the past three weeks, McFadden has seen the third-most attempts among running backs and the eighth-most yards.  He has also proven to be a dangerous dual-threat receiver – as he was for most of his time with the Raiders – compiling ten receptions for 80 yards.  The Cowboys have not suffered a major downgrade from losing Murray and seem to be in good shape with McFadden running the ball for them.

Chris Johnson:  The Arizona Cardinals are currently second in the league in points scored, eighth in rushing yards, and ninth in rushing touchdowns and yards per attempt.  And their No.1 running back is Johnson, one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history, who produced at least 1,000 yards per season from 2008-13.  In 2008, he was the superstar running back in the league with 2,006 yards on 358 attempts with an incredible 125.4 yards per game with the Tennessee Titans.  Yet, he was never able to duplicate that entirely, and, after spending one year with the New York Jets, during which he had a career-low 663 yards and one touchdown, Johnson is having a rejuvenating season with the Cardinals.  He ranks second in the league in rushing yards behind only Adrian Peterson and is averaging 81.6 yards per game.

Frank Gore:  Gore isn’t exactly lighting the football world on fire right as much as Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley, or Devonta Freeman right now, but he ranks 11th in rushing yards and is expected to see increased usage in the coming weeks.  Andrew Luck is expected to be out for an extended period of time, and Matt Hasselbeck will be replacing him.  In addition, the Colts new offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, has shown that he wants to get the team, which ranks 23rd in rushing attempts this season, running the ball more.  Also, running the ball more will limit Hasselbeck’s mistakes as he becomes more accustomed to the offense.  The 32-year-old running back had at least 1,000 yards rushing from 2011-14 with the San Francisco 49ers, but they still decided to move on from him, a mistake that, in part, moved them from 4th in rushing yards last season to 21st this year.  Gore should prove to be a good acquisition for the Colts going forward.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

Arizona Cardinals: At Home on American Soil

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

Astute Arizona fans will recall that the Cardinals played in the first regular season NFL game held outside the United States. It was October 2, 2005, and the Cards took down the San Francisco 49ers 31-14 in front of over 103,000 spectators in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

Today’s international games are played in London, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is dead set on flinging mediocre squads across the Atlantic in an effort to gain a foothold in Europe. Presumably the only way Londoners have been able to stomach these games is by clutching tankards of Newcastle and locking arms in full-throated song. Sunday’s fare includes 1-6 Detroit battling 2-5 Kansas City.

Proper Englishmen are unfailingly polite (“Sorry old sport, I believe I’ve snapped your Achilles tendon”) but they are surely tested by the stop-and-start nature of American football. Unlike the flow of rugby and European football (soccer), the average NFL game contains about eleven minutes of action after all the huddling and various breaks. This said, the English often find a leisurely pace to their liking. Consider this: First-class cricket matches are played over three to five days with at least six hours of action each day.

I flew to London on business in October, 1994 and my pants needed ironing before a meeting my first morning. Not finding an iron in the room I rang the genial bloke at the front desk, who explained that the odd device in the back of the closet known as a “pants press” would do the trick. I simply had to hang my pants on it and flip the “on” switch. I did so, and I waited. And waited. Had I not removed them barely warmed from the contraption after 40 minutes so I could make my meeting I’m convinced they would have been well-pressed by the time the Labour party took power in 2007.

In domestic matters, 5-2 Arizona visits Cleveland today to take on the 2-5 Browns. Arizona staved off a late Baltimore rally Monday night for a 26-18 victory and they enjoy a 1.5 game division lead over St. Louis. A banged-up Josh McCown will start at QB for Cleveland, but the Cardinals prepared for both McCown and backup Johnny Manziel in practice this week. Arizona learned its lesson by failing to adequately prepare for Pittsburgh’s backup QB Landry Jones two weeks ago in a loss to the Steelers. That one left a bad taste in coach Bruce Arians’ mouth. Whomever’s under center for the Browns, Arizona will try to add to its NFL-leading 12 interceptions.

RB Chris Johnson is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, which puts him among the game’s elite. It’s no wonder the Cardinals discussed a contract extension with him this week. The Brown’s defense figures to be accommodating, as they have allowed a league-worst 1057 yards on the ground. Arians plans to get RB Andre Ellington more touches today as well. He continues to regain strength after an ankle injury, which has given Johnson the chance to step in and shine. Add David Johnson to the mix and the Cardinals are loaded in the backfield.

Some traveling Arizona fans took in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week, and no one could have blamed WR Larry Fitzgerald if he traveled 60 miles south to Canton and the NFL Hall of Fame, to walk the hallowed halls in which his jersey will one day be enshrined.

NFC West pursuers St. Louis and Seattle are expected to win today, and Arizona will fight to do the same and maintain its division cushion. It’s expected to be windy on the shores of Lake Erie. Despite Carson Palmer’s success in the air this season he’ll be happy to hand it to Ellington and the Johnson boys to punch through the Cleveland defense.

Starting today, five of the Cardinals’ next seven games are on the road. After that? Two tough home contests against Green Bay and Seattle. Arizona must handle winnable games like today’s in order to absorb possible stumbles down the road. If the Cardinals fail to knock the Cleveland buggers arse over teakettle Coach Arians will be left bloody knackered and off his trolley.

Memo to Roger Goodell: I beg you—keep the game on home soil where it belongs.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Arizona Cardinals: Apparent Darlings of the Sporting Public

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

Last weekend this blogger made his annual pilgrimage to Reno, NV, ostensibly to gauge the temperature of the sporting public regarding the Arizona Cardinals.

Cocktail servers in cheerful hairstyles and abiding grins combed the sportsbook at the Peppermill Hotel and Casino, ferrying over-iced, lower-shelf cocktails to wagering hopefuls gathered around small, round tables in the muffled calm preceding kickoff of the morning games, before the flash of 100 TV monitors set visiting hopefuls in replica jerseys aglow alongside unshaven locals burning Camels down to the butt and recounting last week’s wagering triumphs to anyone within earshot.

I observed that a bloody mary does tend to lubricate one’s thinking as one considers, say, adding woeful Jacksonville and the points to a parlay card. But soon enough I settled in, scanned the board and got down to business.

I noticed the Peppermill had installed visiting Arizona as a mere 2.5 favorite over the Detroit Lions. The oddsmakers had either lost confidence after the Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season to St. Louis the previous week or they reasoned that the Lions were due to bust out at home for their first win. Judging by the yelps that would rise up when Arizona’s Chris Johnson broke off another big run or Carson Palmer threw for one of his three touchdowns, the smart money in the room was on the Cardinals. In the end, Arizona returned to winning form and dismantled Detroit 42-17 at Ford Field, to the delight of many.

This week I’ll watch the Cardinals take on Pittsburgh in the relative quiet and fresher air of my home. Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger is still nursing a knee injury and is unlikely to play. Coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have hatched a plan, therefore, to stop backup QB Michael Vick and running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell has ripped off consecutive 100+ yard games at a nifty 5.5 yard clip. Vick’s game no longer features explosive running speed, and Arians will trust the No Fly Zone to stop Vick’s short and mid-range passing game. All defensive eyes will be on Bell whenever he touches the ball.

Aging sack machine Dwight Freeney will take the field for the first time this year. Arizona hopes he can recapture some past magic and partially replace the departed John Abraham’s 11.5 sacks of last year.

Defense aside, one can’t ignore that the 2015 Arizona Cardinals are an offensive juggernaut, scoring over 40 points in three of their first five contests. The team is healthy and weapons abound, bolstered by the return of RB Andre Ellington, who raced for a 63 yard score last week. Chris Johnson continues to impress at 5.1 yards per rush. Carson Palmer forgot to pack his knee brace last week at Detroit–really–but it will be safely attached this week to help withstand whatever menacing shots Pittsburgh blitzers might deliver.

Palmer’s QB rating of 114 has him breathing the same air as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Another strong performance, this time in the roiling cauldron of Three Rivers Stadium, will go a long way toward solidifying Arizona’s place among the NFL elite.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Arizona Cardinals, Week 5: No Shenanigans

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

There have been no shenanigans in practice this week. No tomfoolery. Such is the mood after a team loses at home to a division rival in a game it was expected to win.

The Arizona Cardinals fell to the St. Louis Rams last week 24-22 in a game that left them seething, searching, and pondering what a 4-0 start and a two game division lead might have felt like.

The unfortunately-named Todd Gurley chose University of Phoenix Stadium for his NFL coming-out party, and the Rams’ newly-minted starting RB shone brightly under cloudless skies. Gurley ran wild in the second half, finishing the day with 146 yards at a gaudy 7.7 yards a pop. And QB Nick Foles wore down the Arizona secondary, violating the No Fly Zone with three TDs, no picks, and and a flashy 126.9 passer rating.

NFL coaches and pundits–and possibly your dry cleaner–will tell you that to succeed in the NFL a team must win the turnover battle. By those lights the Cardinals faltered, finishing minus-three in turnovers. More snapshots of misery: Arizona failed to score a touchdown after a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and Carson Palmer was sacked four times after being sacked only once the first three games.

Were the Cards overconfident against a 1-2 Rams team that had lost two straight? When asked prior to the game why the Cardinals are so confident right now Palmer replied, “We are confident because we are good. And we know it.” But one man’s seemingly hubristic utterings are another man’s cool recitation of facts. The truth is, Arizona’s good. And coach Bruce Arians has the team believing that this season it can come whirling out of the desert like some malevolent sirocco, in full battle dress, primed to vanquish any foe.

Even the best teams can stumble at some point in the season, and this one doesn’t come at a high cost. Arizona fans’ hand-wringing serves to prove how far this team has come.The Cardinals are still perched atop the division at 3-1. On to Detroit.

The Lions are hungry for their first win after starting the season 0-4. But they haven’t been blown out and if not for a controversial late penalty, should have taken down the Seahawks last week. Matt Stafford still throws a nifty ball and receiver Calvin Johnson is still producing in the latter stages of his career. Defensive End Ezekiel Ansah can get after the passer and is averaging a sack per game.

But tackle Jared Veldheer is hell-bent on stopping Ansah, and the entire Arizona line is primed to open holes for Chris Johnson, who continues to impress at 5.2 yards per carry. The line is also tasked with keeping Palmer upright and his uniform clean. Palmer has weapons he can utilize all over the field.

Today’s game is shot through with urgency on both sides of the ball. For Detroit, it would be unseemly to lose and fall to 0-5 in front of home faithful desperate for a victory. For the Cardinals, it’s a test of resilience and mettle. Can they shake off a tough home division loss? Can they resume the soaring trajectory of the last season and a half? Can they win the turnover battle? They must–just ask your dry cleaner.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians, Man of the Moment

To some observers, the Arizona Cardinals have been lurking near the NFL elite like paparazzi hunkered down in Fiat 500s outside Miley Cyrus’ house. The Cardinals went 7-2 to finish off the 2013 season then raced to an 8-1 mark last year before injuries took hold and they coasted to an 11-5 finish and an early playoff exit. Arizona dismantled division rival San Francisco last week 47-7 and now enjoys a two-game early season lead in the division. The long-suffering Cardinals are now fashionable in NFL pundit circles.

But don’t look for coach Bruce Arians and his rakish beret on the runways of Milan anytime soon. Part cerebral tactician, part square-jawed hell-for-leather pugilist, Arians simply isn’t dazzled by transient success. After Arizona built a 31-7 halftime lead against the 49ers last week, his locker room message was simple: “If you relax, I’ll be looking for new players. Keep your foot on their throat.” Arians wants more, wants it all, which is the mark of the great coaches. His fiery optimism has swept through the team.

Next up? Division foe St. Louis, led by quarterback Nick Foles. The sandy-haired Foles was once in vogue in Philadelphia, but he was sent packing after inconsistent results and he turned up at St. Louis’ doorstep, helmet in hand. He led the Rams to a big win over Seattle in week one but the team has since sputtered in losses to Washington and Pittsburgh. St. Louis sits dead last in total offensive yards but is buoyed by a top 10 defense.

The Rams would be best served ignoring some of the statistics:

Arizona has won 14 of the last 16 games QB Carson Palmer has started and has outscored its opponents by 160 points in that span. The Cardinals are 15-3 at University of Phoenix stadium since 2013. Larry Fitzgerald has scored five touchdowns this season; the St. Louis Rams have scored four. The Cardinals’ secondary–dubbed the “No Fly Zone“–returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter against San Francisco last week.

Daunting stuff.

This week marks a return to health of prized free agent and former Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati. RB Andre Ellington is still listed as inactive, and his replacement Chris Johnson will get the bulk of the carries, coming off two scores and 110 yards last week. Arizona’s running game has been an admirable complement to Palmer’s aerial assault, which is striking targets all over the field.

Arizona is running on all cylinders and coach Arians is unlikely to take his foot off the pedal Sunday. In fewer than three years, infused with success at prior NFL stops in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, Arians has fostered a cultural shift from a franchise playing not to lose to one confident of victory.

Arians has arrived. He is a man of his time, and indeed, the man of the moment.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Arizona Cardinals Week Two: The Rise of Chris Johnson, by Eric Forgaard

Squinting against the reflected glow of the franchise’s best record since its 1920 birth in Chicago, Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim sank into his Chesterfield sofa this off-season and pondered the team’s future. How best to sustain that momentum and go deeper into the playoffs? Which puzzle pieces ought to be brought in? Keim twisted his mustache, poured himself two fingers of Jameson and called Chris Johnson’s agent.

Johnson, once among the game’s elite running backs, was underutilized last year with the New York Jets and felt betrayed when Chris Ivory shouldered most of the load. Johnson had sprinted for a league-leading 2,006 yards with the Tennessee Titans in 2009–nearly 600 yards more than his closest competitor—and he added 500 receiving yards, averaging more than 10 yards per catch. It’s no wonder that Keim placed the call.

But 2009 was another time, another team, and six years of punishing hits will rob the verve from a man’s legs. And wasn’t Johnson ostensibly brought in to play second fiddle to the young, darting Andre Ellington? Why the fuss? Because Ellington will watch Sunday’s game against Chicago from home, dipping into guacamole and resting the sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. For one Sunday at least, the ball is Johnson’s.

Arizona dispatched New Orleans in week one 31-19, led by quarterback Carson Palmer’s 300 yards passing and three TDs. Larry Fitzgerald snared six Palmer darts for 87 yards but left the scoring to others. Ellington rushed at a 5.75 yard clip and added a touchdown. It was a solid start for the aspirational Cardinals, who appeared to answer questions about their offensive line and displayed depth at the skill positions.

The Cardinals and Bears are two of the NFL’s original franchises, and they’ll butt heads for the 90th time at Soldier Field Sunday, where rugged, menacing linebackers once roamed. These days the Bears are a bit nimbler and flashier, reflecting the NFL trend.

Descriptions of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler fall uniformly between genius and lunkhead, and can alternate from one daring throw to the next. He’s missing a key weapon this week in Alshon Jeffery, who has tallied two straight receiving seasons of well over 1,000 yards. Chicago must lean more heavily on Matt Forte, who is quietly one of the best players in the league and is a feared receiver even from the running back position. Memo to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: stay alert for screen passes to Forte.

Arizona is 14-3 at home under Coach Arians, but a tamer 8-8 on the road. The Cardinals are installed as a slight favorite to take down Chicago Sunday, and each team is battling injuries. If Carson Palmer has time in the pocket to ply his trade and no foul winds whip up off of Lake Michigan, the Cardinals will return to the desert with a 2-0 record, brimming with confidence for their clash next week with division rival San Francisco.

September 20, 2015

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard
This blog is not supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.