Tag Archives: NFC West

Arizona Cardinals Finale: Men, Beasts and Glory

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Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer turned 37 this week and his body turned 49. Over his 13-year career, Palmer has suffered injuries to his shoulder, ribs, nose, ankle, head, knee, and elbow. He has suffered a concussion and blown out his ACL twice.

But in the final game of a discouraging season Palmer may well feel rejuvenated today when he leads his Cardinals teammates onto the sun-soaked lawn of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, an arena that still rings faintly with cheers from his halcyon days with the USC Trojans. The fair-haired Palmer detonated the school and conference record books, collected a Heisman Trophy, married his college sweetheart and was drafted into the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003.

Palmer’s exploits in the Coliseum were perhaps more palatable to the modern fan than the goings-on in Rome’s first-century Colosseum, after which the stadium was named. There, before the emperor and the blood-thirsty wails of 80,000 spectators, criminals sentenced to death were released to fend for themselves against an assortment of beasts such as hippos, elephants, lions and leopards. A man might be mauled by a bear, trampled by a rhinoceros, and then have his rib meat picked over by an ostrich. Acrobats and magicians performed in the intervals, perhaps to lighten the mood (“Behold Emperor, the olive branch has vanished!!!”).

Palmer will face a stout Rams defense today, but there is little chance he’ll have a limb gnawed off by a Caspian tiger. Arizona is fresh off a road win against rival Seattle, a small consolation for a Cardinals team that will watch the playoffs from the comfort and safety of Barcaloungers. Another small prize is at stake today, as Arizona hopes to avenge a week-four 17-13 home loss to the Rams, who have lost 10 of their last 11 since.

Some will tune in today to see if Cardinals running back David Johnson can set a record: at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game of an NFL season. Johnson, the 86th pick of the 2015 draft out of unheralded Northern Iowa, has been a revelation. He’s rushed for over 1,200 yards and added 841 receiving yards at a sterling 10.9 yards-per-catch clip. It’s not likely, but Johnson could hit another high mark today: with 159 yards receiving, he’d join NFL legends Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players to reach 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in a single season.

With little else to play for, Arizona may well feed Johnson the ball today in hopes he might earn some personal glory. But the unassuming Johnson would gladly trade that for the game’s ultimate prize.

Tiffany’s silversmiths will not be etching Arizona’s name on the Super Bowl trophy this season. And one wonders if they might do so next season, considering that Palmer and star receiver Larry Fitzgerald are mulling retirement.

Cardinals Nation is hoping those inner fires will flicker to life next spring. And through the long off-season one question will enrich dinner conversations and barroom debates: Can coach Bruce Arians, movitator, philosopher and tinkerer, pry open the championship window that slammed shut this year?

Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: Angst, and the Loneliness of the Long Snapper

long-smapper

The Arizona Cardinals announced the release of rookie long snapper Kameron Canaday this week. “Release”—what a pleasant term. It evokes images of doves at a wedding or dandelion seeds on a spring breeze. Other words seem more suitable for a promising team that has slogged to a 1-2 start, such as “fired,” or “axed.” Canaday botched the snap on the game winning field goal attempt in week one, and blew another in Buffalo last week that was returned 53 yards for a defensive touchdown. Cardinals fans may prefer his head, but they’ll have to settle for his dismissal.

Canaday played his college ball at Portland State and participated in football and basketball in high school. His father played college football at Western Oregon. This is more than you should ever know about a long snapper. He’s like your company’s custodian or computer guy–you don’t think much about them until something goes wrong.

In a season rife with expectations for the Arizona Cardinals, much has gone wrong.

The Cardinals went three-and-out on each of their first five possessions in their 33-18 loss to Buffalo last week, amassing a total of…wait for it…two yards. And QB Carson Palmer threw interceptions on Arizona’s final four drives—the same number you would throw if you were somehow called upon. This from an offense that lead the NFL last year with 408 passing yards and 30.6 points per game. Adding to frustrations, a defense stocked with difference-makers like Pro-bowlers Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Calais Campbell has generally underperformed.

In assessing last week’s effort, Arizona General Manager Steve Keim said, “When you lose it feels like the sky is falling, and when you win everything is great.” This mirrors the fans’ perspective, but the difference is that Keim has the power to work the phones and ship out players to ply their trade elsewhere. “The talent is there,” Keim said, “…but the number of ‘mental busts’ on both sides of the ball after three weeks is distressing.”

Distressing indeed.

Early season cobwebs, an out-of-sync offense, balls bouncing the wrong way—a Cardinals team that may appear to need some fine tuning instead likely needs a slap in the face. Coach Bruce Arians, the strategist and philosopher, reasoned to the media that the team may be trying too hard or is perhaps overconfident. Arians the red-ass used more colorful language in the locker room this week, and Cardinals practices were shot through with anger and urgency.

Arizona hosts the Rams Sunday, a team that has been a thorn in its side the last few years. Carson Palmer was left writhing in pain with a torn ACL in the Nov. 9, 2014 contest, and a Cardinals team that had been rolling at 7-1 skidded to a 3-4 finish and an early playoff exit. And on Oct. 4, 2015 the underdog Rams topped Arizona 24-22, delivering one of only three losses the Cards suffered all year.

The Rams franchise returns to Los Angeles this season after a twenty year hiatus in St. Louis. There were flares of greatness in those years, mostly in 1999, when The Greatest Show on Turf, highlighted by QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk, finished 13-3 and took down the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. There were lean seasons too, when wins were as scarce as condor sightings and Donald Trump apologies. Between 2007 and 2009, the Rams’ record was an appalling 6-42.

LA fans may yearn for the glory days of Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood, or Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy “crazylegs” Hirsh. For now, they have a great running back in Todd Gurley, a promising defense, and not much more. The 49ers spoiled LA’s season opener, throttling the Rams 28-0, but the Rams have since rebounded with two wins and share the NFC West lead with Seattle.

Arizona can pull into a three-way tie with a home victory over LA today and a Seattle loss to the NY Jets. But a loss would leave the Cardinals in the division cellar, and the cauldron of a packed University of Phoenix Stadium would surely boil over with exasperation.

LONDON, AGAIN

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is keen to grow the game internationally, yet every season he flings substandard teams across the Atlantic like Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Oakland—and now Sunday’s contestants, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts.

The British gave us Newton’s Laws, the programmable computer, the steam locomotive, and the theory of evolution. Oh, and the English language. What have we given them? The Jacksonville Jaguars, every year since 2013.

The Jaguars’ 0-3 record this year squares with their recent history—they’ve notched only three winning seasons since 2000—and this time the good citizens of London will shuffle into Wembley Stadium to endure the Jags’ scrum against 1-2 Indianapolis. It’s a “home” game for Jacksonville, in the sense that it’s 4,259 miles from Florida. While trying to grow the fan base abroad, Mr. Goodell, might you be softening a U.S. base accustomed to watching games on home soil?

This series is not a glad-hearted tale of cultural exchange. It’s an all-too-familiar story of corporate greed.

WATCHING HILARIOUS CAT VIDEOS

The following players are unable to play this week, and may be otherwise engaged:

Frostee Rucker, defensive tackle: knee
Drew Butler, punter: calf
Kameron Canaday, long snapper: embarrassment

  • Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals, Week Two: Back on Track or Panic Time?

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Arizona’s last-second game-winning 46 yard field goal attempt in Sunday night’s opener was a four-step process: Low snap, late hold, wide left, heads hung.

Kicker Chandler Catanzaro had converted 100% of his kicks from that distance and closer last season. Not this time, and the Cardinals sputtered out of the 2016 gate with a 23-21 loss to the visiting Patriots. Without offensive stalwarts Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Coach Bill Belichick had tricks up his sleeve—he’s Houdini in a hoodie—and too often he left the Cardinals mystified. Damage had been done well before that kick.

After the disappointing result, many Arizona fans fashioned a two-step process of their own:

Step one: Locate panic button.
Step two: Press it, with vigor.

Catanzaro’s wide-swinger was the final act of a special teams unit that was sub-par all day. The return game offered little. Punts were short. Coach Bruce Arians will tell you that, and he’ll regale you with tales of poor tackling, missed assignments, third down defensive laxness, vanishing receivers, lack of sustained offensive flow, and much more. Monday morning, GM Steve Keim used words like “disappointed” and “embarrassed” when he assessed the effort.

Still, Arizona came within a whisker of beating the vaunted Patriots and helping to wipe away the foul memory of last year’s NFC Championship smack down at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.

Don’t press that button just yet, folks.

Keep it handy though, just in case. Tampa Bay’s wunderkind QB Jameis Winston rolls into town today with his aerial circus in tow. Winston is fresh off Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 23 of 32 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a Buccaneers win over the Falcons last week. Arizona’s cornerbacks will have their hands full as Winston slings it to talented Buc receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, who are both tall and can stretch the field.

The Cardinals’ mood is more anger than panic. They aim to prove they still belong in conversations about the NFL elite.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  1. More touches for running back David Johnson. Johnson gained 89 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for a 10.8 yard average last week. Johnson may be the most elusive 225 pounder on the planet and he can plow over you if needed. He has a flair for first downs and touchdowns. Get him the ball.
  2. Help Larry. Larry Fitzgerald hauled in eight catches last week and scored twice. He has sticky hands and he’ll be in Canton someday. But he needs some help right now. Michael Floyd caught three passes last week. No other Cardinal wide receiver caught more than one.
  3. Boost Brandon Williams’ confidence. The rookie cornerback won the job in the preseason, though it would likely be Justin Bethel’s if he wasn’t playing with pain in his surgically-repaired foot. Williams blew a coverage and misplayed a pass last week, both leading to Patriots scores. Tampa Bay will want to throw his way, and the Cards will have to play more zone to help Williams.

KNITTING DOG SWEATERS
The following players will be unavailable Sunday and may be otherwise occupied:

Frostee Rucker, DT (knee).
Kareem Martin, LB (knee).

The season is young, but this feels like a pivotal game for Arizona. A win over Tampa Bay makes the Patriots game a blip. A loss makes it a trend.

Fans: If you need to push that panic button, please wipe the BBQ sauce off your fingers first. It’s mannerly, and simply good hygiene.

– Eric Forgaard

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

‘Twas the Night Before Week 1

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No it’s not Christmas, it’s football season. Well if you switch egg nog, Christmas movies, and presents with Bud Light, NFL Redzone and your favorite team scoring touchdowns then it may as well be Christmas season. The night before week 1(yes I know, technically that was Wednesday night but Sunday is the one that matters ok) of the NFL football season is the closest we’ll get to the excitement that was Christmas Eve as a kid. The air is filled with so much excitement, curiosity, and happiness that it’s impossible to get any sleep. Well as a young adult that Christmas excitement is long gone. We lay awake at 3am for a different reason, yes because we just stumbled in from the bar and devoured 2 hot pockets and a plate of bagel bites, but also because 2016 football is upon us! Instead of running downstairs in my PJs to check the presents, I’ll be running downstairs in my NaVorro Bowman jersey to turn on Fox NFL Sunday and set my fantasy lineup. Now while this season doesn’t necessarily look too promising for my 49ers, there’s still a lot to look forward to with a new season. The NFL is so unpredictable that only a silly person would try and make predictions. With that being said, here are my predictions for the 2016-2017 NFL season.

AFC West

  1. Broncos
  2. Chiefs
  3. Raiders
  4. Chargers

One of the strongest divisions in the NFL, this was a tough one to pick. Lots of people are going away from Denver due to their quarterbacks. Well Peyton Manning was pretty awful last year and they won the Super Bowl. Defense wins games and Denver has the best defense in the league. However, I wouldn’t be surprised by any of the top three teams winning the division. The Raiders have a really strong young core on offense and defense and will be worth watching.

AFC EAST

  1. Patriots
  2. Jets
  3. Dolphins
  4. Bills

I think the Patriots can manage to go 2-2 without Tom Brady putting them in good position for the division. While the jets have built a much-improved roster, once Brady is back the Patriots will be the Patriots again.

AFC North

  1. Steelers
  2. Bengals
  3. Ravens
  4. Browns

The Steelers have the best running back and wide receiver in the NFL. Even without Bell for the first 3 games the Steelers will be in good hands with DeAngelo Williams who excelled in replace of Bell last year. And that Antonio Brown guy is pretty good too.

AFC South

  1. Jags
  2. Texans
  3. Colts
  4. Titans

I personally think the Jaguars have put together a really really nice young squad. A QB emerging into a stud, an elite receiver in Allen Robinson, a pair of high quality backs in Ivory and Yeldon and a young tenacious Defense, I think the Jags can win the division. They are probably 2 or 3 more years away from really competing for a Super Bowl but they are certainly on the right track. Keep an eye on the Texans this year too. They added a dynamic running back in Lamar Miller and a serviceable (anything is better than the guys they had last year) quarterback in Brock Osweiler. They also have a guy by the name of JJ Watt, you might’ve heard of him.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card Round: Chiefs over Broncos; Bengals over Jags

Divisional Round: Steelers over Bengals; Patriots over Chiefs

AFC Championship: Steelers over Patriots

NFC West

  1. Cardinals
  2. Seahawks
  3. Rams
  4. 49ers:(

It pains me to pick my 49ers to finish last in the division but that’s how the times are. Anytime I get sad about the 49ers I just remember the Warriors signed Kevin Durant and that distracts me and makes me happy. But anyway, you could go either way with the Cardinals and Seahawks but I like the Cardinals offense a little more than the Seahawks.

NFC East

  1. Redskins
  2. Giants
  3. Cowboys
  4. Eagles

Cowboys would’ve ran away with this division if Romo hadn’t got hurt. But with the way things are, I like the Redskins and their offense to take the division. I’m expecting a huge season from Odell Beckham Jr (I have him on my fantasy team)

NFC North

  1. Packers
  2. Vikings
  3. Lions
  4. Bears

The Packers have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. The Vikings losing Teddy Bridgewater for the season made this choice an easy one.

NFC South

  1. Panthers
  2. Saints
  3. Falcons
  4. Bucs

Returning with pretty much the same roster that went 15-1, I see no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t win the division. The Saints should also be much better this year. Along with emerging star WR Brandin Cooks and RB Mark Ingram, the Saints drafted a big receiver in Michael Thomas in the 2nd round and added Coby Fleener to improve the tight end position. Expect that offense to carry them to 9 or 10 wins.

NFC Playoffs

Wild card round: Seahawks over Panthers, Redskins over Saints

Divisional round: Cards over Seahawks, Packers over Redskins

NFC Championship: Cards over Packers

Super Bowl: Cards over Steelers

Defense wins championships. While I love this Steelers team and their top-notch offensive talent, this Cardinals team is just too lethal. They have a young star running back in David Johnson, they have an elite WR group with Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown and they have an already elite defense that traded for proven pass rusher Chandler Jones in the off season. Cardinals are my pick to win Super Bowl 51.

Individual Awards

NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive player of the year: Antonio Brown (Almost picked him to be MVP)

Defensive player of the year: Khalil Mack

Coach of the year: Gus Bradley

Offensive rookie of the year: Ezekiel Elliot (duh)

Defensive rookie of the year: Jalen Ramsey

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Arizona Cardinals: Enjoying the View

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

Riding the momentum of last season’s 11-5 record, the Arizona Cardinals stand alone atop the NFC West after two games. Arizona is putting up nearly 40 points per game and has yet to allow a sack. Is it time for misty-eyed fans to book passage to the Super Bowl? Will a beaming Coach Bruce Arians throw the championship banner wide to the wind Feb. 7 in Santa Clara?

Early season success can be ephemeral, good fans. Just when everything’s going well, you might dust off your Remington pump-action shotgun for a relaxing day of waterfowl hunting and accidentally kill the last Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in Maricopa County. One mustn’t confuse winless New Orleans and Chicago—the Cardinals’ first two foes—with, say, Green Bay and New England. One must maintain perspective.

Still, Arizona supporters are tantalized by the early results.

Last season, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had the Cardinals defense performing at a high level, and the unit was largely responsible for that shiny 11-5 mark. The rest of the league took note, and the New York Jets hired away Bowles as their new head coach. The Jets have given up an NFL-low 17 points through two games and currently sit tied atop the AFC East with New England.

How have the 2-0 Cardinals made up for the loss of defensive wiz Bowles? Offense. Pure, adrenalized firepower.

A peek at the numbers bears this out.

Last season the Cards had 32 rushes of ten yards or more. This year? Nine in the first two games. Rookie David Johnson is toting the ball at a robust 8.4 yard clip after five touches, and he took his lone reception to the house from 55 yards out. In Chicago last week Johnson ran back the opening kickoff 108 yards for a score. Carson Palmer has completed passes to eight different receivers, five of whom have scored touchdowns. And 32-year-old Larry Fitzgerald’s game has acquired a youthful sheen. He’s averaging nearly 100 yards receiving per game and has scored three times.

But on to current business.

Arizona hosts a NFC West division scrap against San Francisco today. The 49ers were an off-season train wreck, when Coach Jim Harbaugh’s, um, resignation touched off a flurry of retirements and player cuts. Still, the team looked solid in a 20-3 win against visiting Minnesota in week one. But this was followed by a near-biblical 43-18 smiting at the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, and the murmurs in San Francisco rose audibly.

Today’s game will be played under clear skies, and scenario-runners’ forecasts are equally sunny. Remember, Seattle has limped out of the gate 0-2, but should take care of Chicago today, and 1-1 St. Louis has to contend with high-flying Pittsburgh. When the dust clears Sunday evening, optimists feel that the Cardinals might sit at 3-0 and enjoy a two game lead over every team in the division.

Today’s matchup against the 49ers exudes the essence of a key early season test. To the hardcore Arizona fan, it smells like victory.

Eric Forgaard

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