Tag Archives: University of Phoenix Stadium

With Playoff Hopes Dashed, Cardinals Entertain the Saints

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Last Sunday, Miami kicker Andrew Franks booted a 21-yard field goal squarely through the uprights as time expired, propelling the Dolphins to their seventh win in eight games. Cardinals fans who made the trek to rainy South Florida sat soaked and blinking, resisting the gravity of the consequences. An Arizona team that finished one game short of the Super Bowl last season was suddenly and bluntly out of playoff contention.

For Cardinals Nation, this realization was a little like learning that Pluto was no longer a planet or discovering too late that sweetbread is really the pancreas of a calf. When the underpinnings of understanding are warped, the task turns to shoring up one’s bearings.

Management, players and fans will have long months to assess the shortcomings of this season. But at some point, maybe in the fiery heat of the Sonoran summer, thoughts will shift from autopsy to optimism.

Meanwhile, Cardinals fans, the time may be ripe to scratch a few items off your bucket list, such as:
– Compiling the definitive guide to shorebirds of the North Atlantic
– Tugging on Donald Trump’s hair
– Wrestling Peter Dinklage
– Assembling a parliament of owls
– Smiting a foe with the jawbone of an ass
– Committing heinous acts of Twittery (see Donald Trump)
– Milking a yak
– Throwing beads to Barbara Bush during Mardi Gras, hoping to be flashed
…and so on.

Speaking of Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Saints parade into town today to take on the 5-7-1 Cardinals. On the field, the lovable Saints bring a long tradition of substandard football. Off the field, they’re part of a city rich with the traditions of Creole, crawfish, Cajuns, and yes, Mardi Gras, where the colors of purple, green and gold—symbolizing justice, faith and power—are found in the costumes and floats of the revelers.

Will a Cardinals team embittered by missing the playoffs take out their frustrations on the 5-8 Saints today? Or has their zeal for victory now faded?

Tune in for the answer at 1:05 p.m. PST today. And take a moment to notice the panning shots of the crowd at this season’s final home game. You’ll likely see a stadium awash in Cardinals red—and precious little purple, green or gold.

– Eric Forgaard

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

 

Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd and other Desert Mysteries

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Veteran Cardinals scribe Darren Urban writes that receiver Michael Floyd’s season “will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.”  There are other desert mysteries, like the large sliding stones of “The Racetrack” in Death Valley, or the massive Nazca Lines–the Pre-Colombian geoglyphs of monkeys and spiders and hummingbirds etched into the desert sands of Southern Peru, which can only be comprehended from the air. Arizona fans would settle for simply solving the Floyd Enigma.

After his consecutive sparkling seasons at Notre Dame, the Cardinals selected Floyd 13th overall in the 2012 draft. He and Larry Fitzgerald were to be the double-barreled weapon flanking an Arizona touchdown machine, but too often this year Floyd has misfired. From 65 catches and over 1,000 yards in 2013, Floyd has regressed to 28 grabs and 410 yards this season. Most troubling are the dropped balls and the difficulty in creating separation, and now he has a balky hamstring.

But Floyd has not struggled alone. After 1,003 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last year, speedy wideout John “Smokey” Brown has managed just 399 yards and one touchdown this season, due largely to being slowed by leg pain from battling the Sickle cell trait. Without the disruptive zip and deep threat that Brown can provide, routes have been shorter and defensive coverage has been more focused on Fitzgerald, who has had to scuffle to get open enough for QB Carson Palmer to try to thread balls into tight windows. And due to injuries and shuffling of the offensive line, Palmer has had less time to throw. Less time, less separation and dropped balls are not a potent cocktail for NFL offensive success.

This was not in Arizona’s plans. In the glow of the off-season following a 13-3 record, there were visions of Palmer and Fitzgerald hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this year amid a swirl of confetti, bathed in a cascade of cheers, savoring a moment on the mountaintop before the twilight of their careers was snuffed out by the talents and desires of younger men. Instead there are retirement murmurs and the Cardinals sit at 4-6-1, needing a winning streak like Secretariat’s just to make the playoffs with five games left.

Any run for the postseason must begin this afternoon at 1:25 p.m. PST, when the Cardinals square off against the visiting Redskins. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is the second biggest story to come out of Washington since November 8th. At 28 years old and in a contract year, Cousins has quietly emerged as one of the best QBs in the NFL. He’s thrown for over 3,500 yards, and he’s just 47 yards from surpassing Drew Brees for the NFL lead. He’s also just a tick behind Brees with 322 passing yards per game, and has one of the best QB ratings in the league. The ‘Skins are 6-4-1 despite losing their first two games, and Cousins dropped 449 passing yards on Dallas last week. Sporting News writes that we should not be surprised if Cousins becomes the highest paid player in the game next year.

The Cardinals’ defense has performed admirably, and they know they must stop Cousins today and operate at peak efficiency the rest of season. This stat leaps off the page: they’ve allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL. Impressive, but a closer examination reveals that Arizona has allowed 20.7 points per game, which ranks a more pedestrian 11th. The Cardinals’ offense is averaging just over 22 points per game, and even the math-impaired can discern that at this rate, every win will be hard-earned.

Whatever the result today, with 19 yards Larry Fitzgerald would move into the NFL’s top ten in all-time receiving yards—and with eight catches, he would stand third in receptions. Those close to Larry will tell you he’d gladly trade those personal milestones for a win. Same goes for the gathered throng in University of Phoenix Stadium today. With a loss, the Cardinals’ playoff hopes would die along with the late afternoon light in the Sonoran desert.

Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: No Evidence that David Johnson is a Cyborg

Dec 27, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) carries the ball after a catch in the first half against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

One can be forgiven for thinking that Arizona Cardinals third-year running back David Johnson was created in a covert Midwestern lab by some mad genius. Johnson is a chiseled, 6’1”, 225 pound cyborg who rose from the corn fields of Northern Iowa to take his place among the NFL elite.

I have no evidence that Johnson’s a cyborg. It’s just a hunch, and even Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7 this week, “You wonder if he’s real.” Johnson has the power to run over you, the speed to run around you, and an instinct to burst through just the right crack in the line and then jump-cut to the outside, buckling the knees of would be tacklers and leaving them strewn all over the field. In 2015, Johnson became just the fourth player in NFL history to post 500+ rushing yards, 400+ receiving yards, 500+ kickoff return yards and 13+ TDs in a season, joining greats like Maurice Jones-Drew and Gale Sayers.

Oh, and he only started five games all season.

Johnson is averaging five yards per carry this year and a hefty 13.3 as a receiver. He has rushed for an NFL-high eight TDs in the first six games. He is one of the most elusive backs in the league and even if you can get your hands on him, he’s averaging three yards per carry after first contact.

Scouts didn’t see this coming. Johnson was selected 86th in the 2015 draft out of the University of Northern Iowa. The school enjoys a strong liberal arts tradition, and publishes The North American Review, a celebrated literary magazine whose past contributors include Mark Twain, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Walt Whitman. The university is not, however, known for producing pro athletes; one could pen the complete list before Usain Bolt breaks the tape in the 100-meter dash.

The well-spoken Johnson made the dean’s list twice, and since being drafted he’s acquired a wife, a house and a dog, and the couple is expecting their first child in late January. He’s doing it all, on and off the field.

The franchise has piled heavy expectations on Johnson this season, and he’s shouldered them with an easy grace. He’s lifted the spirits of Cardinals fans who are still drifting on memories of last year’s aerial circus, with ringleader Carson Palmer spinning floaters and bombs to a skilled and speedy receiving corps that lit up scoreboards all over the league. This season Palmer’s numbers have dipped across the board, and with the exception of Larry Fitzgerald the pass catchers have been hobbled by injuries and under-performance. As a result, Arizona is leaning more heavily on the ground game. Johnson’s out front, carrying the ball and the banner.

UNUSUAL SIGHTING
Patrick Peterson is one of the toughest shutdown corners in the NFL, and seems to be part man, part beast. Now there’s proof: https://twitter.com/AZCardinals/status/788139269256654848/video/1

MONDAY NIGHT MASTERY
The defense swarmed over the NY Jets last Monday night with barbaric urgency. The Cards held the Jets to only 33 yards rushing and a single field goal. That performance and Johnson’s three TDs were more than enough for a solid 28-3 victory. Arizona has won two straight to pull even at 3-3 on the season, righting a foundering ship after a 1-3 start. Arizona is now 10-3 in prime time games under coach Bruce Arians.

BRING ON THE SEAHAWKS
Buoyed by their Monday night performance, the Cardinals will play under the lights again tonight when they host rival Seattle in a pivotal division matchup. A Cardinals victory would pull them within a half game of the division lead and extend their winning streak to three. A Seahawks win would give them a 2.5 game margin in the division. The Seahawks boast the league’s #1 defense, and QB Russell Wilson has found his footing after suffering ankle and knee injuries early in the year. He’s hitting on 66% of his passes and Seattle has averaged 30 points in its last three games. Arizona has to find a way to shut down the Seahawks and gut out a win in what may be a low scoring game.

The Cardinals have been a cordial host to Seattle in recent years, allowing the Seahawks to win their last three games in University of Phoenix Stadium. Frustrated cornerback Patrick Peterson was at a loss for words when asked why this week. “Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question,” he said. Coach Arians offered an explanation: “They beat the s— out of us.”

The players are hell-bent on halting the recent home slide against Seattle, and they’ve drawn a line in the desert sand. The biggest challenge will be to get the running game going, which has been thoroughly squelched in the recent home losses to Seattle.

Maybe David Johnson will somehow run wild against the Seahawks’ punishing defense. If he does and Arizona wins, as far as Johnson’s devotees are concerned he may as well just keep on running to Canton, OH and install himself as the first living exhibit in the NFL Hall of Fame.

He has the talent to get there someday. Why wait?

–  Eric Forgaard

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

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

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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 v. SF 49ers: Farewell, Candlestick Park

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

The Arizona Cardinals grappled with the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night in a game featuring all that is great and good about the NFL—pinpoint passing, bone-crushing hits, lead swings, mood swings, valor and heartbreak. In the end, the Cardinals won out 34-31 when a 32-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal attempt proved true as time ran out. The Cat Man would have had to hit from 47 yards were it not for a rare strain of unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of Cincinnati’s defensive tackle Domata Peko, who was flagged 15 yards for yelling out offensive signals in an effort to confuse the Cardinals. Real schoolyard stuff.

Arizona improved to 8-2 and enjoys a three game edge on rival Seattle.

The Cardinals have winged west for an afternoon tilt today with another division rival, the San Francisco 49ers. Arizona is a solid wagering favorite to defeat San Francisco, a team that is barely recognizable from a year ago. Coach Jim Harbaugh fled to Michigan, all-pro players retired or signed elsewhere and starters all over the field have fallen to injury this season. This dumpster fire landed in the lap of former 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, whose previous experience includes stints with the Division II Catawba College Indians and the Scottish Claymores and Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe. San Francisco sits at 3-7 this season, and the Super Bowl appearance in 2012 is a simply a distant fond remembrance for fans.

San Francisco 49ers fans once included irascible veterans of old Kezar Stadium and the early years of wind-battered Candlestick Park, men who looked to have scuttled out from under the wharves on Sundays like shore crabs, leathered faces pelted by driving December mists, one hand tucked into the pockets of faded metallic gold satin jackets and the other clutching plastic cups of $2.00 Budweiser, which helped numb the senses through back-to-back 2-14 seasons in the late ‘70s before Bill Walsh and Joe Montana flashed onto the scene and lifted the team to preternatural heights in the early ’80s. Those sorts of beer-soaked, relish-stained memories seep into the bones, cementing a fan base and spawning generations of devotees.

Cut to the present.

Pristine, tech-savvy Levi’s Stadium has risen 40 miles south of San Francisco in the cradle of Silicon Valley. Their hearts bruised, some of the old guard swore they’d never visit the foreign environs of Santa Clara and they’ve stayed true to the oath. Were they to make the trek, they’d inch along traffic-choked streets near the stadium, pay a minimum of $40 to park, tailgate only in designated areas and then shuffle to their seats in a stadium sterile enough in which to have one’s spleen removed without preparation or worry.

Those fans likely wouldn’t be lounging in one of the 165 luxury suites half-filled with startup mavens distractedly hatching schemes over Asian steamed buns and muffuletta paninis to convince potential VCs that their vaporware can somehow monetize by Q2. They may well end up squatting on the dreaded, sun-splashed eastern side of the stadium, squinting like an Iditarod musher against the glare and baking to a fine crisp like a sourdough loaf. No, the memories of Candlestick Park sufferings will do just fine, thank you.

Cardinals supporters don’t have to contend with such untidy business. The retractable domed roof of University of Phoenix Stadium helps keep things comfortable. And fans’ psychic wounds don’t run quite as deep. The honeymoon phase that began when the Cardinals moved to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988 helped subpar seasons go down a little easier. And fans’ hearts leapt in 2008, when grocery store bagger turned NFL MVP Kurt Warner nearly led Arizona to its first Super Bowl victory. That marked the beginning of a cultural shift in the mindset of players, coaches, fans and the front office. This team could win, and a championship was no longer out of reach.

Some NFL sages have called today’s Cardinals-49ers contest a trap game. Arizona has had to rally late to notch wins against powerful opponents Seattle and Cincinnati the last two weeks, and some key players are either out or questionable with injuries. San Francisco QB Blaine Gabbert has recently breathed life into the position, and the 49ers are playing at home with nothing to lose. Arizona is a 10 point favorite, but a letdown is plausible.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians will have none of it. Yes—he’s a good family man, he works tirelessly for abused children, and he’ll raise a pint with you and give you a shoulder-squeeze of support. But San Francisco fans should be reminded: with the Cardinals leading the 49ers 31-7 at halftime of their September 27th game, Arians told the team, “If you relax, I’ll be looking for new people. Put your foot on their throat.”

San Francisco fans can handle such things. They have endured worse.

– Eric Forgaard
11/29/15

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