Tag Archives: Todd Gurley

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

Larry Fitzgerald v. Rams

Arizona Cardinals: Sheet Cakes and Sparkling Wine

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

It’s not all sheet cakes and sparkling wine in Cardinals camp. Granted, Arizona sports a 9-2 record, has a three game division lead and has won five straight, but coach Bruce Arians has never acquired a taste for complacency. Last week the Cardinals were largely outplayed by the struggling 49ers, recent games have been uncomfortably close, and it hasn’t escaped institutional memory that last year’s team also started 9-2 before dropping four of its last six.

There will be plenty of time for celebration later if it’s warranted. There is a lot of work to do.

The Cardinals have flown to St. Louis to butt heads with the Rams today, the team that took Arizona down 24-22 at University of Phoenix Stadium Oct. 4, leaving a “nasty taste” in QB Carson Palmer’s mouth and no doubt the mouths of others. Arians said he would have dinner with the Rams, “…but I ain’t liking them. I ain’t drinking with them.” Division foes don’t tend to receive holiday cards from the Arians.

Palmer claims he doesn’t hold a grudge against St. Louis for the play that tore his ACL in 2014, ending his season. Palmer doesn’t, but the fans well might. There was a whiff of revenge in the desert air this week. Safety Tyrann Mathieu simply says, “I just think every time we play them it’s a 60-minute fist fight.”

The once-promising Rams have suffered through a four-game losing streak to fall to 4-7, and Arizona will need to stay alert for blows from a team that may well thrash about in its season-ending death throes. St. Louis doesn’t look or smell like a playoff contender, and a loss today will effectively bury the Rams.

St. Louis RB Todd Gurley ran roughshod over Arizona in the Rams Oct. 4 win, sprinting for 146 yards on 19 carries, the only 100+ yard effort this year against the Cards’ fourth-ranked rushing defense. That game started a four-game 100+ yard streak for Gurley, but he’s tucked away his cape recently while averaging a pedestrian 54.8 yards since the outburst. It didn’t take deep film study for teams to begin to realize that if you stop Gurley, you stop the Rams.

Gurley’s counterpart RB Chris Johnson suffered a tibial plateau fracture last week that will put him out for the season–or perhaps, as Cardinals doctors optimistically put it, until the Super Bowl. That was a sharp blow to the spirit as well as the leg of Johnson, and there is little solace in the notion that perhaps now he can complete a definitive guide to the blooming patterns of saguaro cacti in Lost Dutchman State Park. He’ll be missed.

Time for last year’s starting running back Andre Ellington to step in, right? No. He’s week-to-week with turf toe, and has been ruled out. Rookie David Johnson will be the lead dog this week. Johnson has four touchdowns in limited touches and has impressed in flashes. He has fumbled three times but Arians says he’s getting better with ball security, as most rookies must learn to do.

Healthy runners are in short supply, but the 2015 Cardinals feature one of the league’s finest passing attacks. Carson Palmer’s 27 TD passes are second only to Tom Brady’s 28. Palmer is third in NFL passing yards and QB rating. His favorite target is Larry Fitzgerald, who has risen from several sub-par (by his standards) seasons to grab 83 balls, good for third best in the league.

There is a beautiful symmetry in play today for Fitzgerald: He needs eight yards to reach 1,000 for the season and eight catches to notch 1,000 for his career. Fitzgerald is sure to see plenty of balls spinning his way off the right hand of QB Carson Palmer.

St. Louis will counter at QB with fleeting golden boy Nick Foles. After coming over from Philadelphia in the off-season, Foles uncorked a 297-yard passing effort in his first game with the club, leading the Rams to a 34-31 overtime win over Seattle. Results have been mixed since, and he has thrown for one touchdown and four interceptions in his last five starts. Now Foles has been supplanted on the depth chart by the uninspiring Case Keenum; but since Keenum is concussed today, Foles gets the start. I imagine there is a shipping container in Hong Kong stuffed with Foles bobble-heads that will never see the light of day.

A win today would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. The only team to do better? The 1948 Chicago Cardinals out of Comiskey Park, who raced to an 11-1 record under coach Jimmy Conzelman and led the league with 32.9 points per game. Despite a fine season, the Cardinals fell to Philadelphia 7-0 in the league championship game and did not return to the playoffs for 26 years.

Memo from Bruce Arians: keep the bubbly on ice until February 7.

– Eric Forgaard

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

NFL Around The League: 10 Things Learned In Week 7

1.  The Dolphins are a whole new team with their new head coach, Dan Cambell, and it’s a change for the better.  The Dolphins took an amazing 41-0 lead into the halftime against the Houston Texans, who did not gain a yard on offense until they were trailing 35-0.  Ryan Tannehill had only one incompletion, going 18-for-19 for 282 yards and four touchdowns, and Lamar Miller had 236 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.  Next week, though, they play the Patriots, so that is when we will really know how good this team is now.

2.  The Colts are not going to contend for the AFC championship this year.  Their 21-27 loss only looks close because of a late-game, garbage-time rally.  Luck played well at the end of the game, throwing two touchdown passes of 86 and 46 yards to T.Y. Hilton and an 8-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief.  But, still, it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of a huge deficit for the win.  Amazingly, though, the Colts are still leading the AFC South despite a two-game losing streak.  Even if the Colts win the AFC South, however, they’re likely not going anywhere.  They look so out-of-sync.

3.  Odell Beckham Jr. has been struggling the past two weeks (hamstring issues?).  However, the Giants got a surprise performance from running back Orleans Darkwa.  With around 12 minutes left in the second quarter, Darkwa had a breakout drive of 4 carries for 41 yards rushing that ended with a 15-yard touchdown.  After the half, coach Tom Coughlin reportedly said that Darkwa’s run was the only thing that made him smile through the first two quarters.  Darkwa led the team in rushing with 8 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown.

4.  The Minnesota Vikings (4-2) seem to have found one of the best bargains in the draft this year with fifth-round draft pick Stephon Diggs.  In the Vikings 28-19 win over the Lions, he had 6 receptions for 108 yards and the first touchdown of his career.  Over the past three weeks, he has 19 receptions for 324 yards.  Next week, he plays a generous Chicago secondary, so he should be in line for another big day.  He is a rookie to watch closely.

5.  The AFC South is the worst division in the league.  As explained above, the Colts (3-4) are struggling.  But, the Texans (2-5) are still not out of the race after their embarrassing loss to Miami, even though they lost Arian Foster for the season to an Achilles injury.  The Titans (1-5) are only one game behind the Texans after their 10-7 loss to the Falcons.  The Jaguars (2-5), who finally won in London after losing the previous two years, had an emotional win and may be the best team in the division right now.  However, I think it’s safe to say that the next Superbowl champion isn’t coming from the AFC South.

6.  Devonta Freeman could be the best running back currently and at the end of the season.  Freeman got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season, but, since week 3, he has been almost unstoppable, rushing for 578 yards in that duration with 9 rushing touchdowns total in the season.  In addition, he is a dual-threat receiver with 34 receptions for 310 yards and a receiving touchdown this season.  He has an NFL-leading 621 total yards rushing, and Doug Martin, who ranks second in yards, has 541 yards.  That’s 80 yards less!  His NFL-leading nine rushing touchdowns are four more than Mark Ingram, who ranks second with five.  He is clearly one of the best players in the league right now.

7.  Tom Brady is like a fine wine: he just keeps getting better with time.  After a slow start in the first three quarters against the Jets, he played clutch football when it was needed most.  In the final quarter, Brady went 13-for-16 for 135 yards and two touchdowns.  On the last touchdown drive, he dared the Jets defenders to blitz him because he knew exactly where it was coming from, and a wide-open Rob Gronkowski walked untouched into the end zone.  He finished the day 34-for-54 for 355 yards despite 11 dropped balls by his wide receivers – six by Bradon LaFell.  However, what’s most surprising, though, is that he led the Patriots in rushing yards against the Jets, too.

8.  The Cowboys are going to be in serious trouble if Tony Romo does not return soon.  Since Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks injured Romo in Week 2, the Cowboys have been traveling a downward dive.  Brandon Weeden was not the answer as a backup, and Matt Cassel had a rough day against the Giants, throwing three interceptions.  Luckily, the Giants coundn’t capitalize on the giveaways, but the Cowboys will not be so lucky when they face more opportunistic teams.  Cassel had a great touchdown pass to tie the game at 20 with seven minutes, 14 seconds left in the third quarter and a good drive on the Cowboys’ last possession, but he could not create a clutch conversion on fourth down at the end of the game.

9.  Todd Gurley is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year.  He is at least looking like the best rookie running back at the current moment.  The Rams had trouble moving the ball through the air against the Browns, but Gurley compensated for their struggling passing game.  Nick Foles finished the game with 163 yards, but guess how many all-purpose yards Gurley had on Sunday: 163 yards (128 rushing yards, 35 receiving).  Guess who also led the team in receptions, with four: that’s right, Todd Gurley.  The Rams clearly made the right choice with their first pick this year.

10.  The NFC East is the least predictable division in the league.  The Redskins (3-4) rallied back from a 24-point deficit largely due to Kirk Cousins, who threw three second-half touchdown passes, for a 31-30 win over the Buccaneers.  The Giants (4-3) defeated the Cowboys, 27-20, after Dwayne Harris returned a 100-yard touchdown on a kick return, and Cole Beasley fumbled the ball on a return attempt of his own.  The Eagles (3-4) lost their matchup to the Carolina Panthers due to inopportune penalties, dropped balls, and an offense that is sorely lacking cohesion at the moment.  However, the NFC East can still be won by any of the four teams mentioned.

Key Injuries:

1.  Arian Foster: Arian Foster suffered an Achilles injury in the final minutes of the Texans 44-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  He is ruled out for the season.

2.  Josh McCown:  McCown suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 24-6 loss. That meant Johnny Manziel came in at the end of the game.

3. Matthew Stafford:  After getting sacked seven times in Detroit’s 28-19 loss to the Vikings, Stafford required x-rays on his hand.  However, Stafford reportedly said that it should not be an issue going forward.

Questions/Comments?  Follow me at: @sean__cumming

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