Tag Archives: Tyrann Mathieu

Arizona Cardinals Pause, Reflect, and Return to War

christmas-truce

Christmas Truce – The Illustrated London News

As dawn broke on Christmas morning, 1914, entrenched British troops on the Western Front of World War I heard singing from the German side, across no man’s land, accompanied by a brass band. Soon after, German soldiers rose and walked toward the British side, calling out “Merry Christmas.” Eyeing them with suspicion but noticing the troops were unarmed, British soldiers lowered their rifles and took to the field themselves, their linguists calling out “Fröhliche Weihnachten.” Plum puddings and cigarettes were exchanged, carols were sung, and a soccer game broke out. The “Christmas Truce” was a welcome respite from the brutality of the Great War.

The Arizona Cardinals are coming off their much-needed bye week, a ceasefire in the hostilities of a long NFL season. The Cards sit at a disappointing 3-4-1, but some wounds are healing, such as speedy WR John Brown’s achy legs after treatment following diagnosis of the sickle cell trait. All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu was expected to be out several more weeks with a shoulder injury, but the Honey Badger was observed prowling the practice field this week. He’ll miss today’s home game against the 49ers, but his progress is encouraging.

Another beneficiary of the week off may have been Chandler “The Cat” Catanzaro, the Cardinals’ beleaguered placekicker. Cats are not known for their kicking, except perhaps for certain European breeds, but Catanzaro performed well last year, converting every kick from 46 yards and in. This season he missed game-winners in weeks one and seven, the latter a chip shot against rival Seattle that now surely visits his dreams. Arizona GM Steve Keim could be forgiven if over the break he had auditioned former NFL kickers, a couple of Rockettes and a mule.

To clear his head, Catanzaro retreated home to South Carolina during the break to visit family and friends and to “self-medicate.” No word on the nature of the medication but Cardinals Nation is praying for its potency.

Coach Bruce Arians and his staff settled in over the bye week to review game video, noshing and gnashing and trying to solve the puzzle of an underperforming offense. The films are unlikely to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but they may reveal clues to a team that has fallen from number one in offense last season to 16th this year.

Even to the naked eye, the receiving corps has vastly underachieved after being one of the league’s most feared units last season. Michael Floyd has declared himself a top receiver in the NFL, but his numbers (19 catches, three TD’s, multiple drops) have yet to reflect that in the last year of his rookie contract. Larry Fitzgerald has gone 15 games without a 100-yard effort, his longest such streak since 2004.

Field General Carson Palmer simply hasn’t looked like himself all year. He’s been slowed by ailments and he hasn’t connected on the big plays that lit up scoreboards last year. The Cardinals aim for at least five “explosive” plays per game—22 yards or more—but that feature of their attack has been muffled so far. It doesn’t help that 6’8”, 321 pound offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is on injured reserve with a torn tricep, giving Palmer a tick less time to throw.

Arizona continues to lean heavily on running back David Johnson, the only player in the NFL with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season. And despite its share of injuries, the defense has sparkled, allowing the fewest yards in the league.

Arizona hosts the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers today at University of Phoenix Stadium, which may be just the tonic to settle the nerves. It’s a must-win game for a team still stocked with talent and with playoff aspirations. After today, the Cardinals set off on a lengthy road peppered with land mines—three early games in the Eastern Time Zone, a looming skirmish in Seattle, and five of their last seven contests away from the comforts of home.

After a welcome break, it’s back to business for Arizona today at 1:25 p.m. PST for the season’s second half. Cardinals Nation is hoping it only faintly resembles the first.

– 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

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.

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.