Tag Archives: football

Arizona Cardinals: Buffalo Bill and the Queen

patrick-peterson

Patrick Peterson

After a tentative season-opening loss to New England, the Arizona Cardinals found their stride against visiting Tampa Bay last week. Carson Palmer threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the 40-7 victory, and the defense proved it can be one of the league’s premier units when all pistons are firing. When it was over, Arizona found itself in a flat-footed tie with every team in the NFC West at 1-1.

On to Buffalo.

Historically, western teams traveling east for morning games haven’t fared well. But the Cardinals catch a break traveling to upstate New York in snow-free September, and they face a stumbling 0-2 Bills team fresh off the firing of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. That early-season move comes with a whiff of desperation, considering Buffalo’s defense was far worse last week, giving up 37 points and nearly 500 yards in a loss to the visiting Jets.

But the Buffalo Bills lead the league in one respect: they are the only team named after a 19th century frontiersman.

“Buffalo Bill” (William Frederick Cody) was a ranch hand, Pony Express rider, fur trapper, gold prospector, and buffalo hunter. In 1867, he was contracted to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with meat. He set off on a wild-eyed 18-month spree, slaughtering 4,282 buffalo. The bloody deed earned him the moniker that would stick with him the rest of his life.

Cody cemented his legend in 1883 with his formation of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, a sweeping spectacle with a cast of hundreds, Indian attacks on wagon trains, stage coach robberies and yes, a buffalo hunt. It portrayed a western frontier that was rapidly disappearing but captured the public’s appetite for tales of daring and conquest–not unlike Buffalo’s 2015 hiring of Coach Rex Ryan, a tough-talking gunslinger type who led the New York Jets to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010. But wins have been scarce lately and some fans are calling for his head.

The natives are restless.

Meanwhile, the mood lightened considerably in the Valley of the Sun after Arizona dismantled Tampa Bay last week. The victory was partly spurred by Carson Palmer warming up in a Stay Puft marshmallow suit prior to the game. Really. Palmer had lost the team’s weekly quarterback competition, and the loser must take the field questionably dressed. Check out the video: http://foxs.pt/2cXsWJx.

Palmer’s exploits helped keep the team loose, but their improved performance was likely due to solid game-planning and execution. The Cardinals defense picked off Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston four times. Larry Fitzgerald had been the lone bright spot in the receiving corps in week one, and this time seven different receivers caught passes. And the offense didn’t turn the ball over. Since 1940, the only other time the Cardinals started the season with consecutive turnover-free games was 2008, the year the franchise reached the Super Bowl.

Arizona’s defense strives to be one of the league’s top units, and it was especially promising last week. Coach Bruce Arians had uncharacteristically called many of the defensive plays in week one, and the zone coverages he dialed up took the edge off the aggression the squad is known for. Arians stayed away from that side of the ball against Tampa Bay, and Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher returned to man coverage and called for blitzes 43% of the time, from all angles, leaving the Buccaneers flummoxed.

Arizona looks to corral Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor today, who threw for 297 yards and three TDs last week. Taylor may be scrambling to find viable targets this week though, with Sammy Watkins, Greg Salas and tight end Charles Shaw all questionable with injuries.

The Cardinals are healthier but are still missing some pieces, most notably right guard Evan Mathis, who is sitting out with turf toe and didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo. Mathis had played in pain against the Bucs Sunday and Carson Palmer noted that when he came in Monday morning, “his entire foot was purple.” Medical issues aside, I find the color purple unsettling, as it brings to mind unpleasant things such as Barney and eggplant. I suppose it’s the color of royalty though, which conjures images of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who at this moment may be holed up in her bedchamber in Buckingham Palace, Welsh Corgis lapping at the purple spider veins in her feet.

I’ve gone off the rails. Again.

SORTING SOCK DRAWERS

The following players will be unavailable Sunday, and may be otherwise engaged:
Buffalo:
Cordy Glenn, offensive tackle: ankle
Colt Anderson, safety: foot
Arizona:
Evan Mathis, guard: purple foot

The Cardinals’ task today is to overcome jet lag and a hostile Buffalo crowd. A loss would leave them with a 1-2 record, and raise fresh questions about a team with Super Bowl aspirations. A victory would keep them tied for the division lead and help their season-opening loss recede safely into memory.

– Eric Forgaard

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

Battle for the Conference Title: Arizona v. Carolina

After today’s games, the losers will settle in for months of whittling, breeding miniature schnauzers or whatever it is NFL players do in the off-season.

Conference Championship day has arrived.

The Arizona Cardinals will butt heads with MVP candidate QB Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte this evening, and the prize is a Super Bowl berth against the winner of the New England/Denver war.

Were it not for Larry Fitzgerald’s late-game heroics in last week’s rousing home win against the Packers, the Cardinals would be watching this one at home, guacamole at the ready, mojitos in hand.

Novellas may well be penned about the last five minutes alone last Saturday. But even the most subdued telling would be rejected by any credible publisher, so rife were those minutes with improbability, pendulum swings, Hail Mary success and twists of fate. Space precludes an analysis here, but Arizona rose from the mat after a body blow and in the end, Big Game Larry hoisted the football to wild cheers and pushed the franchise’s best season to the doorstep of the Super Bowl.

When Carson Palmer started dreaming of winning the NFC Championship game 13 years ago, Pluto was a planet and no one had heard of Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter. I imagine Palmer’s rookie musings played out on a sun-splashed field before an adoring throng. But the Cardinals fly into hostile territory for this one, and a recent blizzard has dropped more than two feet of snow across the mid-Atlantic region and blanketed Bank of America Stadium.

Nothing rousts a dreamer from sleep like a cold shiver.

Carolina was 8-0 at home in the regular season and 15-1 overall. The defense is punishing, the team leads the NFL in turnover differential, and Cam Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 35 touchdown passes and run for 10. Newton flashes his toothy smile, strikes superhero poses, and possibly feeds the hungry, roots out terrorist sleeper cells and adopts stray animals. But one thing he does delights Panthers fans more than any other: he wins games.

Coach Bruce Arians and his staff are tasked with dialing the tumblers into place and cracking Carolina’s winning code, and doing so in front of an antagonistic crowd that could well celebrate a win by draining beer kegs and discharging firearms into the snowy woods.

As a three point underdog and a western team flying east, the Cardinals will need to bring all their weapons to the fight. Their 7-1 road record is a point of pride, and as always, Palmer is the linchpin. He finished the regular season with a career high 104.6 passer rating and threw for 35 touchdowns, tied for second best in the league. He led the offense to an NFL-best 408.3 yards per game and the NFC West title. Palmer doesn’t have Newton’s legs and his passing hand seems to be bothering him a bit, but he’s experienced, relatively healthy, and he’s mastered coach Arians’ offense.

Palmer and Newton are the first Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks to meet in the playoffs.

Considering the unfriendly confines, jet lag, uncertain turf conditions and frigid game-time temperatures, the deck seems stacked against coach Arians and the Cardinals. But this team appears to have shaken off the stigma of too many decades without a title. The reigning NFL Coach of the Year brings his long, glowing history as a football mentor and mentee to the turf today. Arians has the pedigree to win with this team, and he’ll add a dash of gambler’s bravado to the tactics.

With a trip to the Super Bowl on the table, look for Arians to belly up and slide in all of his chips.

Eric Forgaard

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

NFL Week 14: The Storylines Drive The League

When you think about it, football teams play regular-season games 16 days out of 365 days in a year.  Sure, the games are important, but, admit it: the storylines drive the league.  The storylines behind the games bring the necessary drama to the field and enhance the overall enjoyment of the game.  So, with that being said, let’s look at the notable stats and storylines of week 14.

* The New England Patriots face the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football this week and will try to stop a three-game losing streak, a rare spot for the team to find themselves. The Patriots have gone 213 straight games without losing three consecutive games, and only the San Francisco 49ers, with 292 straight games between 1980-99 have more.

* The Kansas City Chiefs are riding strong on a miracle six-game winning streak after starting the season with a 1-5 record.  With their recent success, it is hard to remember how poor of a start they had at the beginning of the season.  However, they need the momentum to keep rolling against the San Diego Chargers if they want to be just the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-5 through their first six games.  The only other team to do that was the 1970 Bengals, who went 1-6 before going on a seven-game winning streak.

* When the Cincinatti Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they will have the opportunity to clinch the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.  As a result, Andy Dalton could become just the second starting quarterback to make the playoffs in all of his first five seasons in the league.  The only other quarterback to do that is Joe Flacco. (Bengals fans, however, are hoping that this will be the year when they finally get past the wild-card round, though).

* The Giants (5-7) face off against the Dolphins (5-7) on Monday Night Football, and, even though the two teams have identical records going into the game, they have completely different divisional standings.  The Dolphins are buried in the bottom of the AFC East, while the Giants are tied for the lead atop the NFC East with the Eagles and Redskins.  Does this give the Giants an advantage?  Well, figure this into the equation: the Giants have the most losses (4) when leading after three quarters and the most losses when leading with five minutes left in the fourth quarter (5).

* The Seattle Seahawks have had great success over the past two seasons with two Super Bowl appearances, so, when they had a losing record (4-5) after their Week 10 loss to the Cardinals, questions about them even making the playoffs surrounded the team.  However, they have rebounded over the past three weeks with Russell Wilson throwing at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games, becoming the second player in franchise history to do that feat.  Will Wilson keep the fireworks shooting against the Ravens?

* So, who is going to be the league MVP this year: Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, or Adrian Peterson? Whether or not your answer is Newton, think about this: Newton has 30 games with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.  If he does that again against the Atlanta Falcons, he will be tied with Steve Young for the most in NFL history.

* If you’re leaning towards Adrian Peterson as the MVP, consider this: when Mike Wallace scored the touchdown against the Cardinals that tied the game at 20-20 with five minutes left on the clock Thursday, he scored the Vikings’ first offensive touchdown not by Adrian Peterson in 15 quarters (almost four games)!  Peterson also scored his 100th touchdown Thursday.

* Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, they are proving to be shining stars in the spotlight.  They are 4-0 in primetime games this season and have another primetime game – Sunday Night Football – against the Eagles next week.  Is that bad luck for Eagles fans, who were supposed to play the Patriots last week in primetime but got flexed out of the spot, yet, after beating the Patriots, the league moved them into the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals?

* With the Heisman trophy set to be awarded soon, five straight awards have gone to quarterbacks in the past five years, and, of them, only Robert Griffin III made the playoffs in his first season.  Jameis Winston still has an outside chance to make the playoffs in his first year.  The Buccaneers (6-6) are tied with the Falcons and one game behind the Seahawks for the sixth playoff spot and two games away from the Vikings for the fifth playoff spot.  Will Tampa Bay start a playoff-worthy stretch of wins against the Saints Sunday?  Winning is now crucial for the Buccaneers.

* Is the NFC East the most mediocre, disinteresting, or most interesting division to watch right now?  The NFC East is the only division in the league in which every team has a losing record, and an argument why any of the four teams can win the division can be made.  Eagles play the Bills; Cowboys play the Packers; Giants play the Dolphins; Redskins play the Bears.  Who will come out victorious on Sunday and in the divisional race as a whole?

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

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

Venton Yablonski

Arizona Cardinals: 2015 Edition, by Eric Forgaard

The Arizona Cardinals raced to a 9-1 mark last season before finishing 11-5 and falling in the playoffs to the upstart Carolina Panthers. Despite the disappointing finish, Cardinals fans enjoyed a rare off-season of reverie, ice tinkling in tall glasses of summer tea, daring to imagine hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara Feb. 7.

But Super Bowl dreams are slaughtered wholesale for teams without solid offensive lines, and this year’s unit has something to prove. Last season the O line had trouble opening holes for Andre Ellington and the other running backs, and the unit finished dead last in the NFL in yards per carry. Off-season acquisition Mike Iupati was expected to shore things up, but he’ll miss the first several games recovering from knee surgery. Guard Jonathan Cooper, the Cards’ 2013 first round pick, will need to take a big step forward. Iupati, Cooper, and linemates Veldheer, Larsen and Massie are also tasked with keeping 35 year old Carson Palmer in the pocket and upright. The sparkle the Arizona offense acquires when Palmer has time to throw dulls measurably when he’s forced to watch from the sidelines.

The Johnson boys–rookie David and veteran Chris, no relation–will provide depth and experience to complement the flashy Ellington at running back. Wily vet Larry Fitzgerald still anchors the receiving corps, flanked by Michael Floyd and the speedy John Brown. If Palmer has time to throw the trio can do its share of damage.

Offensive uncertainties are assuaged by the return of a defensive unit that performed quite well in stretches last year. Young defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson are among the brightest stars in the firmament and should continue to improve.

HISTORY IS MADE

In 2014, the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution signed 5′ 3″ 130 pound Dr. Jennifer Welter to play running back, making her the first woman to play pro football at a position other than kicker. Ashley Collman of dailymail.com wrote, “After taking a particularly hard hit from 6-foot-4, 245-pound lineman Cedric Hearvey, Welter shot back with: “Is that all you got?” In February this year the 37 year old Welter again broke new professional ground when she joined the coaching staff of the Revolution. This summer the Arizona Cardinals hired her as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and the preseason to work with the inside linebackers. The bright and feisty Welter holds a doctorate in psychology and she earned the respect of the linebacker corps. Word is that she excels at film study, and I’m not talking about the early work of German auteur Ernst Lubitsch. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is open to hiring her on permanently in the future.

A LOOK AHEAD

Arians has notably fostered a culture of esprit de corps in the desert, which was tested this summer during the players’ family picnic when Tom Brady showed up and deflated the kiddie pool. No one expects another 9-1 start this year. The Cardinals are not predicted to perch atop the division at season’s end; the division foe Seattle Seahawks are the darlings of the cognoscenti after two straight trips to the Super Bowl. But Arians’ influence has energized the team and buoyed the confidence of the long-suffering faithful. And the law of NFL parity states that nearly every team has a chance in a given season.

Vegas has installed Arizona as a slight favorite to beat visiting New Orleans in week one. A Cardinals team equally studded with stars and question marks must win such games to have a shot at the playoffs.

Sep. 13, 2015

 

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