Jun 112013
 

Arians and Palmer7. Arizona Cardinals
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
2012 Record: 5-11
2012 Offense: 250 points scored, 32st in points, 32nd in yards (28th passing, 32nd rushing)
2012 Defense: 357 points allowed, 17th in points, 12th in yards (5th passing, 28th rushing)

Key Additions
Head Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, DL Frostee Rucker, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Javier Arenas, CB Jerraud Powers, S Yeremiah Bell, CB Antoine Cason, S Curtis Taylor, DE Matt Shaughnessy, G Jonathan Cooper, LB Kevin Minter, S Tyrann Mathieu, G Earl Watford

Key Losses
S Adrian Wilson, QB Kevin Kolb, QB Brian Hoyer, QB John Skelton, S Kerry Rhodes, S James Sanders, CB William Gay, LB Quentin Groves, LB Paris Lenon, RB Beanie Wells, WR Early Doucet, CB Greg Toler, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, DE Vonnie Holliday, DE Nick Eason, LB Stewart Bradley

Why 2013 will be better
The Cardinals offensive line gave up 58 sacks in 2012… that’s right – 58. It’s hard to imagine the line performing that poorly again. So by default one can expect the offense to fare better than it did last season. Tackle Levi Brown spent last season on IR, so his return is good news for the Cardinals. Jonathan Cooper will start next to him, meaning the left side of the line will be a vast improvement over last season. Center Lyle Sendlein returns, flanked by another rookie in Watford. Only second year player Bobby Massie returns as a starter from all 16 games at right tackle. Carson Palmer will bring stability to the quarterback position and will love throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. That will result in huge fantasy number for the pair; it remains to be seen whether or not it will convert to wins. Despite a solid defensive last core from last year, this group also went through an off-season overhaul, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. If Mendenhall can return from injury (and attitude) to post 1,000 rushing yards, the Cardinals could be looking at an 8 or 9 win season.

Why 2013 will be worse
I’m not sold on Mendenhall as the answer at running back, and I’m really not sold on Carson Palmer. Palmer will put up big numbers for yards and will rack up some touchdowns, but he also has a knack for interceptions and lost fumbles, and has never proven to be a quarterback who can will his team to victory. He may stop the revolving the door and increase the point totals, but he’s not a guy I would stake the franchise on. The key to 2013 will once again be the defense, and as long as Palmer and the offense don’t turn the ball over with the frequency that the Cardinals’ offense did last season, the worst the Cardinals are looking at is another five win season.

Outlook
The Arizona Cardinals started off the 2012 season with four straight victories before collapsing the rest of the way, with an offense that scored 20 or more points only once in the team’s final twelve games. So it was no wonder that the Cardinals cleaned house in the offseason, on the roster as well as on the coaching staff. Palmer is an upgrade, but he’s not the answer, at least not by himself. Mendenhall has to bounce back in a big way for the Cardinals to rack up more wins, and an offensive line with two rookie guards has to find its chemistry early. Bruce Arians proved last season with the Colts that he is a tremendous coach, and it will take no less of an effort than the one he gave last season for the Cardinals to exceed six wins.

Sep 252012
 

Well, you already know the story lines for how Week Three turned out, given the immense amount of chatter in regards to the NFL and officiating. We would have had this posted a bit sooner, but you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been a little distracted. While there was plenty of great action on the field, this week of play will forever be overshadowed by terrible officiating that influenced the outcomes of at least two games and directly decided one.

Here are the Week Three scores:

Sep 162012
 

What Gronk giveth, Gronk taketh away.

Rob Gronskowski helped Tom Brady lead a feverish comeback against the Arizona Cardinals, overcoming multiple drops on the day, but then two late penalties against Gronk cost first a touchdown and then five yards on a missed field goal attempt that ultimately doomed the Patriots in a stunning 20-18 loss to the Cardinals in the home opener at Gillette Stadium.

Here is the game recap:

FIRST QUARTER

The Cardinals came out with a good game plan, trying to take whatever the Patriots defense would be willing to give. The Cardinals used a solid rcompleted tack, complemented by a Peterson wildcat and opportunistic passing to advance to the Patriots 20 yard line before being forced to settle for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. On the first play of the ensuing New England possession, the Cardinals were able to turn a pass deflection  into an interception to takeover the at Patriots 36. But the Pats’ defense stiffened forced the Cardinals into another field goal and a 6-0 lead.

The Patriots came out with a mix of running and passing in their first drive, assisted by a key third down offsides by the Cardinals on their way to a 46 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, closing the gap to 6-3.  However, the drive resulted in the Los of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was assisted off of the field with what appeared to be a painful ankle injury.

The Cardinals were then forced into a three and out, with a key third down stop by Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots then closed the first quarter with two Stevan Ridley runs netting 21 yards.

SECOND QUARTER

The Patriots opened the quarter with two straight incomplete passes, forcing a Mesko punt. Chandler Jones began asserting himself on the next Cardinals drive,stuffing one run for a loss and drawing a holding call while relentlessly pursuing Kevin Kolb. The Patriots got a good punt return from Julian Edelman to start the next drive on the Cardinals side of the 50. Ridley began the next drive with four hard runs to bring the ball to the 16, before the drive stalled and the Patriots were forced into a field goal to tie the game at 6. The officials blew an obvious offsides call on the field goal that would have extended a drive with an automatic first down, annoying the faithful at The Razor. The Cardinals were executing a solid drive until the Patriots forced a turnover near The Patriots 40. Two big Patriots losses led to a safe third down draw and another Patriots’ punt.

Brandon Spikes opened the next possession with a sack, and Hightower added a key stop on third down. The Patriots started their next drive at their own 10 and went into safe mode, but a big connection to Welker after the two minute warning ignited some offensive movement.  After a near miss in the end zone to Gronk, the Pats stalled near midfield to end the half.

THIRD QUARTER

The Pats opened with a huge pass play to Welker for 36 yards. But the drive stalled at the 32 and the Patriots were forced to settle for a third field goal and a 9-6 lead.  The Patriots forced a punt on the next possession, with Dont’a Hightower making his presence felt. The Pat riots then suffered a three and out deep in their own territory, before the Cardinals blocked the punt and recovered at the Patriots’ 2 yard linE and turned a third down into a Cardinals touchdown and a 13-9 lead.

The Patriots went to the air attack on the next series, passing three times before Ridley hammered out a first down run. Then they went back to the air to Lloyd, before Ridley again moved the chains. Hilliard churned out the next first down before the Patriots again we shut down by the tenacious Cardinal defense forced a Patriot punt. The next drive by the Cardinals was a methodical march down the field, aided by a personal foul by safety Steve Gregory.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Cardinals’ drive was capped by a 6 yard quarterback draw by Kevin Kolb for a touchdown and a 20-9 lead early in the fourth quarter. With no choice left, the Pats went back to the air and in two quick strikes were in Cardinals’ territory. An acrobatic catch by Brand on Lloyd netted another nine yards, but a bad play call on third down forced another Patriots’ punt. Frankly, I found Belichick’s decision not to go for it on fourth down to be a questionable call given the ability of the Cardinals offense to execute all day.  Predictably, the Cardinals used the running of Beanie Wells to mete out a first down, killing time off the clock, before the Patriots stiffened on the next set of downs.

Julian Edelman started off the next series bringing the ball across midfield and then Brandon Lloyd made a catch for another first down. But poor play-calling on a second down run and a nice pass defense on third down led to another  Gostkowski field goal and a 20-12 deficit.

The Cardinals’ next drive was stuffed by the Patriots defense, after a review of a third down non-catch by Larry Fitzgerald. The Pats took over at the 35, and the ensuing drive was vintage Brady, as he carved the Cardinals’ defense before connecting with Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown. The Patriots were unable to convert the two point try, and the Cardinals’ lead was cut to 20-18.

The Cardinals ran the ball for almost five yards to bring the clock to 2:00, and then Ryan Williams slashed through the middle for a first down, essentially ending the game… or so it should have. On the ensuing third down play, the Cards inexplicably handed the ball off to Ryan Williams, who lost it on a hit by Brandon Spikes, and the ball was recovered by Vince Wilfork. The Patriots then seemingly won the game on a touch won run by Danny Woodhead, but the play was called back on a questionable holding call on Rob Gronkowski. While Gronk did turn the player and thus draw the flag, the call was likely one that would have gone as a no-call with regular officials (or dare I say, real ones). The Patriots then moved into easy field goal range but lost five yards on a false start penalty, again on Gronk. Still, the Pats were set up for a 42 yard field goal by Gosttkowski, which he promptly pulled left to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory.

FINAL SCORE: CARDINALS 20 PATRIOTS 18

Post- Game Analysis:

The Cardinals wanted tis game more than the Patriots, and executed their game plan almost flawlessly. They were able to effectively move the chains on offense, and defensively took the Patriots out of their own game plan. Aaron Hernandez’ injury seemed to have the affect of knocking the Patriots off kilter. Wes Welker picked up the slack for Hernandez, solitude Cardinals’ defense repeatedly punched the Patriots in the mouth all afternoon, and the Patriots had few answers until the closing minutes, and then a failure to execute routine plays cost them the chance at their comeback win.

Patriots’ fans can take heart in knowing that the last time the team lost a home opener was in 2001, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl which, coincidentally, was in New Orleans.

When the Patriots Ran:

Stevan Ridley ran for 71 yards and Danny Woodhead ran for another 18, but the Patriots were unable to run at key times, or chose to run at times where a pass play was the better call. Despite the productive play, disruption caused by the Cardinals gives the cards the edge. Advantage: Cardinals

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady threw for 316 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Welker, Gronkowski, Lloyd and Edelman all had big receiving days in the absence of Aaron Hernandez. If anything, the Patriots didn’t pass enough today given the tempo of the day and the grittiness of the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals were able to apply consistent pressure on Brady, sacking him four times. Advantage: Patriots

When the Cardinals ran:

The cards used a balanced rushing attack, with five runners posting double digits in yards and outgaining the Patriots 105-86. It’s wasn’t an outstanding attack, but it was a consistent one. The error by Williams (really a play call error) nearly cost the Cards the game. That play had to be one of the worst play calls I have seen in recent years, as the Cards should have taken a knee to insure a punt and a long field for the Patriots. Advantage: Cardinals

When the Cardinals passed:

Kevin Kolb only threw for 140 yards with one touchdown and no interception, but it was his headiness that won the day for the Cards. Kolb made good decisions, took what the defense would give, and knew when to take a loss.  Todd heap caught five passes before leaving with an injury. Still, the Patriots once again kept their opponents from any long gains, holding the longest reception to 36 yards. The Patriots shut down Larry Fitzgerald (1 catch for 4 yards) but Kolb took advantage of his other options. Advantage: Even

Special Teams:

The Ghost made four field goals and two from beyond 50 yards, but missed a makable 42 yarder that would have won the game. The Patriots were able to contain the Cardinals’ return game, and Julian Edelman was the more effective returner today. Still, we will remember the last play as the key in the Patriots’ loss. The punt block was a key play, setting up the Cardinals on the Patriots’ two yard line, which the Cards punched in for a score. Advantage: Cardinals

Key Moment: Holding call on Rob Gronkowski that cost the Patriots a 30 yard touchdown by Danny Woordhead. While it was a questionable call, any holding was unnecessary on the play, as Gronk had effectively shielded his man on the play.

This week’s game ball goes to Calais Campbell, who registered seven tackles and two sacks

Sep 132012
 

As much as I enjoyed live blogging last week’s contest, I am not so sure it is in “cards” (pardon the pun) this week. We are having a house warming/wedding celebration this weekend out at the house on Saturday, and I have a feeling that having three hours dedicated to writing while we are picking up debris from the party and managing five kids is going to prove unrealistic (Rat’s Widow is quietly nodding in agreement somewhere as I write this!).

So on the very likely chance that I won’t be able to live blog this week, here’s a quick look at the upcoming contest between the Patriots and the Cardinals.

Three keys for the Patriots

1. Good Health. The Patriots are coming into Week Two in good health, as all players participated in practice on Thursday. The most significant health note is the return of right guard Dan Connolly, who suffered a head injury against the Titans, and while concussion tests were negative he was held out until today.

2. Neutralizing Larry Fitzgerald. Like they say on ESPN, you can’t really stop Larry Fitzgerald; you can only hope to contain him. The Patriots’ secondary will be tested this week, but looks to be vastly improved over 2011. Of course, a good pass rush is a secondary’s best friend, and the Patriots appear to be greatly improved here as well. The front seven suffocated the Titans last week, and this week faces off against an offensive line that has been besieged by injuries. Look for the Patriots to pressure Kolb and give him little time to find Fitzgerald.

3. Maintaining the run/pass balance on offense. Every game plan is different for the Patriots, but last week was rare in that there were more designed run plays than pass plays called by the offense, and the Titans never seemed to know what to expect from the potent Patriots’ attack. The Patriots will likely rely heavily on their dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but another effective performance by Stevan Ridley would give the Patriots enough of an edge to once again break 30 points, this time against a much more stout defense than what they faced last week.

Three keys for the Cardinals

1. Pressuring Brady. This is true for all Patriots’ opponents, but the Cardinals have a solid defense and the Patriots’ offensive line is still coming together. Consistent pressure on Brady is a primary key in the Cardinals pulling off an upset. The Cardinals safeties may be able to give Gronk and Hernandez problems if the defensive line is able to apply pressure, but given any time to throw the tight ends will be able to pick apart the Cardinals’ secondary.

2. Protect Kevin Kolb. The opposite of #1 is also true; the Cardinals must keep Kevin Kolb on his feet and keep his passing lanes open if he is to move the Cardinals down the field with any effectiveness. Like the Patriots, the Cardinals offensive line is a work in progress, and will have its hands full with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Kyle Love, Jermaine Cunningham, Jerod Mayo, and Dont’a Hightower. The Cardinals are unlikely to be able to sustain long scoring drives against the Patriots and will need big strikes down the field.

3. Capitalize on Special Teams. Patrick Peterson is an explosive return man who is capable of providing the big plays that the Cardinals will need to get good starting field position. Mesko is an excellent punter, so this battle will be an interesting one to watch.

Tidbits:
* The Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 regular season games. This is surpassed only by the Patriots, who are 9-1.

* Tom Brady has won all 10 of his home openers as the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots.

* Interestingly, the last time the Patriots and Cardinals met, the Patriots won 47-7. That was also the year the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have not beaten the Patriots since 1991.

PREDICTION: The Patriots might be facing a “trap game” here with a Week Three road matchup on tap in Baltimore, but I’m not buying it. The Patriots are hungry and seem to be intent on proving that they have an improved team over a year ago. I anticipate that the Patriots will blanket Fitzgerald and force Kolb to beat them elsewhere while bringing major pressure to bear through the front seven. On offense, I expect both Gronk and Hernandez to have productive days, and expect to see Ridley rush for at least 80 yards. Look for Welker and Lloyd to be targeted as well in a game that will be close in the first half, but that the Patriots will dominate in the second half. PATRIOTS 31 CARDINALS 14