Tag Archives: Tom Brady

So You’re Telling Me There’s Still A Chance ?

Believe it or not, there is… at least on paper.  At 2-4, the New York Giants are only 1 game out of first place in a fairly dismal NFC East.  This is where the optimism ends and reality set in.  Although the GMEN are very much in the race in the NFC East, anyone who has watched the NFL this season realizes that there is a great divide between elite teams and pretenders.  This Giants team falls into this latter category.

Early losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills were forgotten after the Giants inserted Daniel Jones into the role of starting quarterback. He proceeded to orchestrate an exciting tug-of-war win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a convincing win over the Washington Redskins.  The legend of “Danny Dimes” was alive and well.  Optimism ran rampant that they had found the steal of the draft; Giant fans began to think that perhaps anything was possible. That was until the Minnesota Vikings entered their building in East Rutherford.

The Vikings defense battered the GMEN, sacking Daniel Jones 4 times and hitting him countless other times.  Welcome to the NFL, lad!  The Vikings were far more physical than the Giants and won the game 28-10 (it could have been worse).  The Vikings had 490 yards on offense including 211 yards on the ground.  Whatever was accomplished in the Giants two previous victories appeared to be gone.

Next up was the New England Patriots who highlighted the Giants deficiencies even more in their 35-14 victory.  The Patriots forced 4 turnovers and dominated the GMEN as the game went on. The legend of “Danny Dimes” took a hit again with a 3 interception game. It didn’t help matters that they were playing against the best defense in the NFL.

Still, there were moments early in the game that reminded us of the magic that occurs when the Giants play the Patriots. When Lorenzo Carter (where has he been?) sacked and stripped the ball from Tom Brady only to be picked up and ran into the end zone by Marcus Golden for a Giants touchdown, flashback memories of Strahan, Tuck and Umenyoura came into the minds of Giants fans everywhere. At least for a little while.

Tom Brady did not have a good first half but did enough to keep the Patriots ahead at the half, 21-14. The second half was another story. Belichek’s defense made their necessary adjustments and dominated the GMEN exposing their injuries to their RB’s and WR’s.  When Jon Hilliman fumbled the ball late in the game which was recovered by Kyle Van Noy and returned for a touchdown, the Giants were down 28-14 and the game was officially over.

The Giants were severely outmatched in this game both on offense and defense; that much was clear. With injuries to several offensive players including running backs and wide receivers, and injuries to their defense at the linebacker position, the outcome of this game was a surprise to nobody.  Was it too much to count on David Mayo to have another 9 tackle performance as he did against the Minnesota Vikings?  (He actually had 13 tackles in this game).

Who, by the way, is David Mayo? David Mayo is the next man up or an undrafted free agent, the Giants answer to a depleted linebacking corps.  The Giants all but neglected the linebacker position relying on often injured Alec Ogletree and BJ Goodson who, by the way was beaten out of a starting job by rookie Ryan Connolly.  Connolly, after playing well the first few games of the season went down with a torn ACL in week 3.  Thus, the Giants had no choice but to turn to free agency using the likes of David Mayo.  Mayo actually had 13 tackles in the Patriots game and has to be credited for being around the ball often.

Linebacker was not the only position that the Giants failed to backup adequately going into the 2019 season.  Against the Patriots, the Giants suited up the feared duo of Jon Hilliman and Elijah Perry at Running Back.  The result of this decision; 16 carries for 52 yards. Hilliman’s late game fumble was likely the reason he was cut promptly after the game to be replaced by veteran running back Buck Allen, a castoff from the Baltimore Ravens.  The Giants better hope to have Saquon Barkley back in week 7 if they are to have any chance in a wide- open NFC East race.

So where do we stand at 2-4 after losing the last two games?  IN THE THICK OF IT IN THE NFC EAST!

Best case scenario:

Looking at the Giants remaining schedule, I believe they can defeat the following teams:   Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins

This would give the GMEN  6 wins. Throw in a few possible win games against inconsistent but talented teams such as the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and the GMEN are 8-8.  Not good enough to get into the playoffs. This, my friends is the best we can hope for I believe.

The Giants will not go further than this until they can beat the more physical teams including Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay and others.  Winning the game on both sides of the ball is what is required, even if the magic of Danny Dimes returns anytime soon.

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Why I love this game

Few memories in a father and son’s relationship are as lasting and meaningful as a Superbowl victory. Especially when the road to achieving it was long and difficult. Such was the case for myself growing up a New York Giants fan in the 1970’s. I shared this bond with my father in 1986 when Bill Parcells’ New York Giants defeated the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XXI.

What the photo doesn’t tell you is how many Sunday’s, Thursdays and Saturday’s you gave up watching your team play and fail to advance to the Big Game. Don’t get me wrong, I am the furthest thing from being an Eagles fan.  But this photo brings back this very special memory for me.

Growing up in the shadows of the Meadowlands, I was a captive participant in my dad’s weekly pilgrimage to Giants Stadium from the age of 6 onward. A more humble approach to appreciating a team I could not imagine. The team had early wins in their team history that had earned them credibility with their fans. The Giants played in a number of classic games that took place before the Superbowl ever existed and won two NFL Championships. This success undoubtedly earned his trust and admiration for the GMEN.  My early experience was quite different, to say the least.

The Giants of my childhood had a tight end name Gary Shirk who would regularly catch passes on third down almost always one-yard short of the first down marker.  The Giant had a runner named Leon Perry who was often one-yard short of the first down on his third down running attempts.  God forbid the coach consider a trick play or ask the QB to get the first down using his feet.  These ideas were unheard of at the time.  First downs were a hard thing to come by until then GM George Young made a trade with the Houston Oilers to acquire journeyman running back Rob Carpenter.  The good news was that Carpenter still had something left in the tank when he came to the Giants.

The Defensive story was a little different.  From John Mendenhall to George Martin, the often berated Gary Jeter and of course Harry Carson, the defense had star players. Stars that will seldom be remembered because the Giants had losing records during those years. Good defensive performances didn’t matter that much if you could not put some points on the board.

The Eagles have experienced a long and difficult road to the Superbowl.  I have heard rumours that former Eagles QB Ron Jaworkski still has nightmares of being sacked Giants linebacker and all-time great Lawrence Taylor.  Yes, the Eagles history has been more frustrating than the Giants. The Giants have four Superbowl wins while the Eagles had none. Although I have tried diligently to pay as little attention to their franchise as is possible, I do know that Philadelphia had lost both of their previous visits to the Superbowl. Until Sunday.

The Eagles, with backup quarterback Nick Foles, played a game for the ages. They needed to be near perfect to beat this Patriots team.  And near-perfect they were.  Backup Nick Foles outdueled Brady. And the Eagles defense played until the final snap.  The Eagles played sixty minutes of football; the only way you are going to beat the New England Patriots.  The rest is history.

This NFL season could be characterized as one with questionable officiating.  It has become unclear what constitutes a catch. And penalty calling remains as inconsistent as ever.  But the outcome of this Superbowl feels fair and just.

As unbelievable as this may sound, the Philadelphia Eagles Superbowl victory should serve as inspiration to those fathers and sons who have suffered through losing season after losing season following their team.  The reality of today’s NFL is that a team can go from bad to good almost overnight as a result of good drafting and effective use of free agency. As the saying goes, in the NFL, on any given Sunday, anything can happen.  The Philadelphia Eagles Superbowl win is proof.

Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer is not Tom Brady

carson-palmer-over-concussion-eager-to-get-back-and-play

Ah, 2015.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer dominated opposing defenses last season—and players, coaches and fans clustered around his reflected glow like desert moths. He was the brightest light in a constellation brimming with talent and confidence. The Cardinals regularly occupied opponents’ end zones after precision air and land attacks, and Palmer drove the offense to a 30 points per game average. He finished with 35 touchdowns and a league-best quarterback rating of 104.6.

Enter 2016.

To the surprise of some, it now seems that Palmer is human after all. He has underthrown too many receivers this season, causing some observers to question his arm strength. And he has fumbled three times in his four games. There are murmurs that he has committed the great sin of being 36 years old in a young man’s league, and a glance at his birth certificate confirms it.

But savvy observers know that Palmer hasn’t hit full stride yet, nor enjoyed his full complement of weapons. The offense has missed the presence of Pro-Bowl guard Mike Iupati, who remains out. Speedy wideout John Brown was hurt early in the year and has yet to sync up with Palmer. And receiver Michael Floyd has vanished like Blockbuster Video, or perhaps civility in this political season. Floyd’s disappearance has put more pressure on Larry Fitzgerald to carry the receiving load.

Then there’s the unpleasant business of the Los Angeles Rams summarily slamming Palmer’s head into the turf in week four, putting him into the league’s mysterious concussion protocol and forcing him to sit out the October 6th game against San Francisco. His numbers this season are downright unPalmerian—six TDs against five interceptions—and the Cardinals have crawled out of the blocks with a 2-3 mark. But capable backup Drew Stanton led the Cards to a win against the 49ers, and Palmer is now back on the field.

Despite his slow start, faith in Palmer abounds, from GM Steve Keim to Coach Bruce Arians and all through the locker room. 36 years old? So what? Tom Brady is 38 years old, and he’s still performing at a high level on the field—and likely at home. Face it: Tom Brady married supermodel Gisele Bündchen and you didn’t. What did Brady do after being suspended for air pressure transgressions? Flew to Rome with Gisele and sunbathed nude, to the delight of the Paparazzi. What did Carson Palmer do when he missed time with a mild concussion? He studied the playbook.

Carson Palmer is not Tom Brady. And neither are you.

Still, Palmer has the resume, the tools, and the horses around him to lift the Cardinals out of their sluggish start and into contention.

Arizona hosts the New York Jets this evening under the lights. The Monday Night game has given Palmer an extra day to clear his head, and given the coaches more time to dig into the playbook and try to unearth remnants of last year’s offensive wizardry. Vegas likes the spot, installing the Cards as a touchdown favorite.

Fans have grown restless for the brand of success Arizona enjoyed last year. There is a faint gloom in the collective mood so far this season. The dust devils that swirl up from the desert floor seem more ominous. Cactus flowers seem duller.

Still—for Palmer, the Cardinals and their fans, there is hope. Stubborn, imperishable hope.

Eric Forgaard

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

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

fitzgerald-ponders

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

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.

Arizona Cardinals v. Green Bay Packers: Burn the Boats

The wait is over. The Arizona Cardinals have enjoyed a well-earned playoff bye and two weeks’ rest. It’s time again to lace ‘em up, strap it on and start slapping butts in the locker room.

The Green Bay Packers are in town, and they don’t expect a cordial welcome from 63,400 strong in University of Phoenix Stadium. It will be the venue’s 104th straight sellout.

Arizona’s 38-8 home triumph over Green Bay twenty days ago is still fresh in mind for the “Red Wave.” The Cardinals faithful watched their team sack QB Aaron Rodgers eight times and hold him to 151 passing yards Dec. 27. A vengeful Packers team will take the field today, fresh off a comeback win over Washington in the wild card round last Sunday. The contest will hinge on whether Green Bay has the firepower to match that of Cardinals, and conventional wisdom says no. Arizona leads the NFL in total offense with 408 yards per game and is second in points scored with 30.6.

But Green Bay has more playoff experience than Arizona. And Rodgers is one of the best at his craft, leading the Packers to a Super Bowl win in 2010.

Quarterback Carson Palmer has no NFL playoff victories to his credit. He shares that distinction with you, my attorney and the I.T. guy at work, the one with excessive chest hair. To be fair, Palmer’s only had two cracks at it, both with the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincy lost to Pittsburgh in 2005 and the New York Jets in 2009.

2009 was a bewitching playoff season in the Valley of the Sun, thanks to the late-career wizardry of QB Kurt Warner, who led Arizona on an improbable run that died in a crushing last-minute loss to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. With his heroic status cemented, Warner hasn’t had to pay for a drink since. Never mind that he doesn’t drink. He’s in the pantheon of Cardinals greats, and Carson Palmer’s on a quest to join that lofty fraternity.

Is Palmer too old at 36 to find playoff success in today’s speedy and powerful NFL? Warner was 37 in 2009. Tom Brady’s still agile and accurate at 38. Palmer has his health, abounding offensive weapons and has led the Cardinals to 13 wins this season. He set franchise records with 4,671 passing yards and 35 TDs. This is his time.

Palmer and coach Bruce Arians are pleased with the 13 wins but they’ve cast their eyes forward and are hell bent on notching three more and gripping the ultimate prize. To inspire his troops, Arians would do well to remember the story of Alexander the Great, whose army arrived on Persian shores and found it was vastly outnumbered. Alexander did not slip into retreat or call in reinforcements. Instead he gave the order to burn boats.

Nothing readies a man for a fight more than the savage realization that there is simply no avenue of retreat. You win or you die.

Welcome to the NFL playoffs.

Eric Forgaard

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

Philadelphia Eagles: Do Bold Coaching Moves Equal Permanent Changes?

DeMarco Murray had a clear-cut demotion against the Patriots, and Darren Sproles, along with ex-Oregon Duck Kenjon Barner, saw an increase in rushing attempts.  Sproles had 15 attempts, while Barner had 9, and Murray had 8.

Chip Kelly said the reason for Murray’s demotion was because the Patriots have a “big group of linebackers.”  The logic in that statement, according to Kelly, is that Sproles (5-9 190 pounds) and Barner (5-9 195 pounds) have an easier time evading “big linebackers” than Murray (6-foot 217 pounds) because they are smaller and more elusive.  Sproles and Barner combined for 105 yards rushing, so the strategy worked, but they will be playing smaller linebackers going forward.  Will the scheme change accordingly?  That Murray is not a great fit for the Eagles offense is becoming clear, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to see declining snaps going forward.

Murray finished the game with 24 yards, but, take away one 19-yard run, and he had five yards on his other seven carries.  He has not scored a touchdown in the last four games, has just 54 yards rushing over the past two weeks, and has just one 100+ yard rushing game this season.  Will Murray’s declining attempts become an ongoing trend?

The wide-receiver position was also in flux during the Patriots game.  Chip Kelly benched Miles Austin – and released him today – and rookie Jermaine Krause saw increased snaps in the game.  Krause had one catch for four yards, but he presents an interesting prospect for a team that needs improved performance from their wide receivers desperately right now.  The Eagles receivers underperformed as a whole against the Patriots – like most of the season: Riley Cooper (1 reception, 14 yards), Brent Celek (1 reception, 16 yards), Nelson Agholor (0 receptions, 0 yards), Josh Huff (0 receptions, 0 yards), Zach Ertz (2 receptions, 9 yards, 1 TD), Jordan Matthews (3 receptions, 36 yards, 1 TD).  Darren Sproles’ four receptions were the most on the team.

The Eagles need to start using Sproles, who had 100 all-purpose yards against the Patriots, to cover up for bad performances by the Eagles wide receivers more frequently.  Sitting Austin against the Patriots – and then releasing him today – was a small step towards fixing the problem, but the team needs to continue getting Sproles more involved in the passing game.

The defensive line and linebacker positions have continued to be an ever-revolving transition as the season goes along, yet the Eagles pressured Tom Brady frequently Sunday.  In relation, Vinny Curry saw an increase in snaps, playing 55 of 89 defensive snaps (62 percent).  He played 21 percent of snaps against the Lions and 19 percent against the Buccaneers (both 45-point losses), and he had not previously played more than 42 percent of defensive snaps all season before Sunday.

The change was based partly on scheme, with the Eagles playing dime and nickel to combat the three-receiver sets used frequently by the Patriots, and partly because Bennie Logan is nursing a knee injury.  Anyway, Curry has a knack for pressuring the quarterback, and, even though he did not get a sack Sunday, his performance helped the Eagles get four sacks against Tom Brady (two by Connor Barwin and two by Brandon Graham) and maintain constant pressure on the quarterback.  The team would be wise to use Curry more frequently in the future.

At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso played 79 percent of the defensive snaps, second-most among linebackers on the team.  He had more snaps than last year’s starting inside linebackers combined: Mychal Kendricks (54 percent) and DeMeco Ryans (24 percent).  Linebacker Brandon Graham (75 percent) also played more snaps than Ryans and Kendricks.  Alonso has seen wavering amounts of snaps recently (69 percent vs. Tampa Bay, 57 percent vs. Detroit), so it will be interesting to see if he gets on the field more often going forward.

The changes Kelly made worked well yesterday, but the question now is if he will stick with the positive changes going forward.  Will he make more?  Will he go back to what he has done before?  Who knows? Only time will tell, but, at least, he would be wise to use more of Sproles and Curry.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

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.

Bills at Patriots Review – Week 11

Rex Ryan and the Bills approached playing the Patriots the second time around much differently than they did in Week 2.

Buffalo and their outspoken coach were relatively silent over the course of the week, and the focus on the game showed on the field on Monday.

The Pats were held to just 20 points on Monday Night. Their lowest output of the season offensively.

Luckily, the defense stepped up and delivered another solid performance. Coupled with a few big misses by Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Let’s take a look at what went wrong offensively, and how the defense got the Pats to 10-0:

On Offense

Offensive Line: By now you have heard many a times how awful the Patriots offensive line was on Monday night. What’s worrisome about Monday night’s performance was the amount of pressures the O-Line gave up just by getting beat in one-on-one situations. The Bills deserve a lot of credit for disguising the rush and dialing up some different blitzes that had Tom Brady guessing on protections. It isn’t the offensive lines responsibility to read the defense and change the protection based on what they see, that’s on the quarterback. If the Patriots want to continue to be the high-powered offense that they have been thus far this season, they need a better effort from the group upfront. Marcus Cannon, in particular, had a rough performance in this one. In all, Brady was hit 13 times, just an unacceptable number for any quarterback.

Wide Receivers: When both Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola went down in Monday’s game, the broadcast quickly became about the lack of weapons around Tom Brady, especially at the wide receiver position. The O-Line was woeful, but it was also clear that the Patriots receivers weren’t getting any separation from the Bills defensive backs. Brady had to get rid of the ball quickly, and there just weren’t enough opportunities being made by his receivers down field. Having said that, with the news that Danny Amendola’s knee injury is minor, I still think they have enough pass catchers to get by. Gronk, Amendola, and LaFell should be enough for Tom Brady to move the offense.

Credit to Buffalo: The Patriots had their worst offensive performance of the season on Monday, and the biggest reason for that (yes, even bigger than injuries) was the gameplan and execution by the Bills defense. You have to tip your cap to Rex Ryan. He had about as good of a gameplan against this Patriots offense as you can draw up. It was obvious that the Bills liked their chances with their outside corners vs the Patriots WRs, and for good reason. The Bills devoted multiple defenders to Gronkowski when he lined up as an in-line tight end. When Gronk went outside, he mostly drew the Bills best CB Ronald Darby. The Bills also did a great job of disguising who was rushing the passer and who was dropping into coverage. It forced Brady and the O-Line to react to the Bills defense instead of diagnosing the play call pre-snap. If it wasn’t for a few busted coverages and Tom Brady’s efficiency against the blitz (7-10 for 128 yards, TD) the Patriots never would have put up 20 points. That’s about as good as you can play this Patriots offense.

On Defense

Run Defense: One of the keys to this game was if the Patriots defense could slow down the Bills rushing attack (ranked 2nd entering Week 11). The Pats held LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and mobile QB Tyrod Taylor to just 94 yards on the ground. How did they do it? By two-gapping in the 3-4, setting the edge, and limiting the cutback lanes for Shady McCoy. McCoy is a tremendous running back, who likes to set up the defense for bigger runs by cutting back just when you think you have him stopped. The Pats defensive line deserves a lot of credit for holding up the Bills O-Line and playing discipline run defense.

Tyrod Taylor: In reality, the Bills lost this game because Tyrod Taylor couldn’t make the necessary throws to beat a team as good as the Pats. Taylor had good success throwing the deep ball in the first few games of the season, but has really regressed in that area as of late. Taylor was 4-9 for 107 yards on deep passes. The stats aren’t awful, but he under threw a number of open receivers, which cost the Bills at least a touchdown. He did connect on a few nice deep balls to WR Chris Hogan, and threw a nice pass to Shady McCoy that was broken up by Devin McCourty on a great play. Where this really hurts the Bills offense is its effect on second year receiver Sammy Watkins. Over the last two weeks, Watkins has been open deep a number of times and Taylor has flat out just missed the throw.

Jerod Mayo: There have been a lot of questions about Mayo’s role in this defense and his lack of playing time. This was one of Mayo’s best performances this season. Mayo played in just 16 defensive snaps, but recorded five tackles and one run stuff. The Pats have opted to play Jonathan Freeny over Mayo in Jamie Collins’ absence. The lack of snaps for Mayo has a lot to do with the team easing him back into games after suffering two significant injuries in the last two seasons. In an ideal world, Mayo would be the third linebacker on the depth chart behind Hightower and Collins.

Bills at Patriots – Week 11 Preview

Rex Ryan has made it very clear this week that he doesn’t like the Patriots, Patriots media, or Patriots fans.

Rex might be a little salty because he has dropped eight of the last nine contests against Bill Belichick, and has already conceded the 2015 division crown to the Pats.

The Bills, however, do have the right formula theoretically to take down the Patriots.

They have a solid defenses that hasn’t performed up to expectations based on the numbers, but is very talented on paper, and they lean heavily on a good running game offensively.

Let’s take a look at the keys to a Patriots victory Monday night:

On Offense

Get Receivers Open: This doesn’t sound like much of a problem typically for the Pats, but with Julian Edelman sidelined with a foot injury, and a very good Bills secondary, it could be. The Bills starting cornerback tandem of Stephone Gillmore and rookie sensation Ronald Darby has quickly become one of the best duos in the NFL. Darby is in serious consideration for the rookie defensive player of the year award, and a case can be made for him for overall DPOY. He has been that good in his first year with the Bills. The Bills will throw multiple defenders at Gronk on every play, and it will be up to Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, and Aaron Dobson to create separation from these talented Bills corners.

Protect Brady: Like always, this is a key to a Patriots victory every single week. Having said that, the Bills have a formidable front four that can get after the passer. The Patriots negated the Bills pass rush in Week 2 with the quick passing game, and one would expect them to use a similar formula this time around. The Bills D-Line hasn’t been as good as advertised this season. They have tallied just 14 sacks as a team, good for 29th in the NFL. However, they do have the hogs up front to get to Brady and blocking Hughes, Williams, and Dareus will be a tall task.

On Defense

Stop The Run: The Bills are one of the best teams in the NFL in terms of running the football. They rank second in yards per game (142.3), fourth in yards per rush (4.76), and run the ball on 48.3% of their offensive snaps (3rd-most). Last week against the Jets, they ran for 148 yards on 33 carries against the best run defense in the NFL. The Patriots will also be playing without linebacker Jamie Collins yet again this week (illness), which is a big blow to their run defense. Shady McCoy, when healthy, has played up to expectations for the Bills this season, and he looked like vintage Shady last Thursday night in the Meadowlands. McCoy is the best pure running back in the division, and his vision, quickness, and cut back ability make him extremely dangerous in the open field. Combine McCoy with rookie standout Karlos Williams, and you have as good of a duo as you will find in the NFL this season.

Keep Tyrod In The Pocket: When the Bills got themselves back into the game in Week 2, offensively a lot of it had to do with Tyrod Taylor using his legs to extend plays. It’s not necessarily the scrambles that killed the Pats, but just Tyrod’s movement in the pocket to give receivers down field some extra time to create separation. Taylor is an exceptional athlete and his running ability needs to be accounted for. Expect the Patriots to deploy a mush rush gameplan against the Bills QB, much like they used against Russell Wilson in the Super Bowl. The mush rush allows the Patriots defensive line to get after the passer, but is more about containing the QB inside the pocket instead of rushing up field for the sack.

Key On Watkins: It didn’t translate in the stat sheet due to a few drops and some missed throws by Tyrod, but Sammy Watkins gave Darrelle Revis a tough time last Thursday night. Revis is still one of the league’s top cover corners, but it was apparent that the young Watkins had a major advantage in terms of speed and quickness. Watkins was a big part of the Bills comeback in Week 2, and is now healthy after dealing with some injuries throughout the season. Malcolm Butler did a nice job on OBJ last week, and has another tough assignment in Watkins on Monday.