Cleat Geeks

Broncos Blast Cardinals

 

“I wouldn’t say it’s a must win, but we’re going to kick their ass, though.” -Von Miller

Von Miller is the Broncos’ best player. He’s an incredible talent and the heart that drives the engine on defense. That’s why he was the Super Bowl 50 MVP. But Broncos fans are used to him letting his play do the talking. That changed on Tuesday. In a press conference, following the team’s fourth loss and second straight game allowing more than 200 yards to a single rusher, Miller showed some fire. He offered a bold proclamation about Thursday’s tilt with the Cardinals.

And Thursday night his team backed it up. The Broncos came out with fire and more like the team that fans thought they’d see when the season began. The Cardinals (1-6), with dysfunction on offense and defense and a rookie quarterback still out of his depths, aren’t the class of the NFL. But a 45-10 win does plenty to boost confidence of Broncos nation and help embattled head coach Vance Joseph breathe a little easier, this weekend at least.

It’s been a season of record-setting, so it makes sense that the Broncos set marks again Thursday night. Todd Davis and Chris Harris, Jr., each had INTs returned for touchdowns. It’s the first time the Broncos have had two INT returns for touchdown in a game since 1989.

Offensively, Emmanuel Sanders continued his incredible season with two more touchdowns. The first was on an end around where he took the ball, rolled out and connected with Courtland Sutton on a 28-yard touchdown pass. He later caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum. With the passing TD, Sanders became the first Broncos’ receiver to score a touchdown rushing, receiving and passing in a season.

But everything began with Miller, and the game ended with Miller, who was a one-man wrecking crew. He hit Josh Rosen five times, sacked him twice, forced two fumbles and recovered one himself. He personally delivered on his promise to play better, and is starting to look like the defensive player of the year candidate that fans know and love. And his partner in crime, rookie Bradley Chubb, continues to shine, too. Chubb added two sacks of his own Thursday, with the team accounting for six. In short, Denver’s defense scored two touchdowns, grabbed five turnovers and kept Rosen under near constant pressure.

And about those rushing woes, David Johnson recorded 39 yards rushing on 14 carries, and the Cardinals amassed just 69 yards rushing on 21 carries as a team.

It was a big night, offensively and defensively, and now the Broncos have 10 days to prepare and show it wasn’t a one-time thing as they battle the red hot Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead on October 28.

News and Notes:

  • Phillip Lindsay continues to look like one of the best among a group of fantastic Broncos’ rookies. He rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, starting with a 22 yards scamper on his first carry and adding a 28-yard TD run.
  • Sanders threw that touchdown to Sutton, but also caught six balls of his own for 102 yards and a touchdown. He’s looking like one of the best receivers in the NFL in 2018.
  • Brandon McManus made his lone field goal attempt Thursday, a 41-yard kick. He also made all six of his extra points. Quietly, McManus has been one of the best Broncos this season, a perfect 11-for-11 on field goals and 18-for-18 on extra points.

Win, Lose or Draw Tonight, McCoy Should Be Relieved of Duties

Whether the Cardinals win, lose or draw against the Denver Broncos (2-4) this evening, Mike McCoy needs to be relieved of his duties as Arizona’s offensive coordinator. The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time now already.

In their loss to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals converted of their third down opportunities. They were 0 for 10 in that regard. Not only does the Cardinal offense rank last in most offensive categories, including, but not limited to, plays, 3rd down conversions, rush yards, they are also second to last in points, pass yards, & pass TD. The worst part about it is that they haven’t shown any growth at all from Wk-1 to Wk-6. As evidenced by the lack of converting even one third down last Sunday. We are six weeks into the season and the Cardinals are one of two teams (Buffalo) that have yet to have a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver.

The 21.9% third down conversion rate is the worst in the NFL since 2010. The 1,323 yards by the Cardinals through six games is the lowest amount through the first six games of a season in the NFL since 2009. Arizona has yet to even break 300 total yards as an offense. Last week in Minnesota, they put up a season best 268 total yards. That’s not going to cut it in any league.

One could argue that there would be no better time to make a move at replacing the OC than tomorrow morning.

Image result for byron leftwich cardinals

AZCentral.com

After tonight’s game, the Red Birds have 11 days off before the 49ers come to town. After that, they have another 14 days to prepare before heading to Arrowhead to take on Patrick Maholmes and the Kansas City Chiefs, thanks to the Bye week. That would give QB coach Byron Leftwich – or whoever else they would promote or hire to take over the OC gig – nearly a full month before taking on one of, if not the most, high-octane offenses in the NFL. If the Cardinals have any chance in that game they’re going to need to put up points (and probably a lot of them) to try and keep up with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and his prolific offense. In between those 25 days from the Bronco to the Chief game, AZ will take on SF, which would be a good opponent for the new OC to start with.

Ironically enough, the Broncos are the same team that fired Mike McCoy as their OC after Week-11 last season. That was less than a full calendar year after the Chargers fired him as their head coach.

There’s no other way to put it, the 2018 Arizona Cardinals, especially the offense, have been a dumpster fire up to this point in the season. While the Broncos are the only team that has given up more rush yards on defense than the Cardinals, it wouldn’t be surprising if they can’t find a way to exploit it tonight. The fact remains, Arizona currently ranks 29th in the league in rushing attempts, yet they rank first in runs right up the middle in between the guards.

Unless McCoy can pull a rabbit out of his hat against Denver tonight and set season highs in nearly every offensive category – don’t hold your breath – it’s time for the Arizona Cardinals to move in a different direction. And no, that does not mean trading away key players like recent reports have suggested the may do. First and foremost, before even considering moving a Patrick Peterson, David Johnson, etc., they need to move on from Mike McCoy and his antiquated playbook/playcalling. The fans, players, organization and most importantly, rookie franchise QB Josh Rosen deserves better.

Broncos Seek To Halt Skid

 

Four in a row. That’s what the Broncos have done. After starting 2-0 for the sixth straight season, the Broncos have lost four games in a row. Last season, a historic eight-game losing streak tanked the season. At 2-4, having dropped four in a row, the Broncos are in danger of heading that way again. And now they get to face the Arizona Cardinals on a short week.

It hasn’t been a great season for the Cardinals, either. They have new coaches and rookie Josh Rosen is still learning the NFL game. Aside from a win in San Francisco in Week 5, the Cardinals have stumbled. They come into Thursday’s home tilt 1-5, among the worse records in the NFL. But they still have David Johnson, and that might be enough.

The Broncos, in addition to losing four straight, have been historically bad against the run the past two games. They allowed Isaiah Crowell to run for 219 yards, a career high and Jets franchise record, on just 15 carries in Week 5. In Week 6 at home, while they held the Rams’ passing game in check, the Broncos allowed Todd Gurley to run for a career high 208 yards. And with only three days between games, there wasn’t much time to work on a good fix.

The Cardinals haven’t been good this season, but Johnson is an all world running back who’s starting to find his form. He got into the end zone for the Cardinals in Week 6 and now returns home against a reeling rush defense in Denver. If they can’t contain him, Johnson could make it a long night for the Broncos.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense allowed Latavius Murray to go for 155 yards on Sunday. The Broncos are averaging 5.3 yards per carry through six weeks, so if the coaches can commit to the run, it could be a good night for rookie Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. But given the recent splits, that could be a big if. And if the Broncos’ losing streak extends to five games, it’s going to be a long 10 days before the Broncos head to Kansas City to face the red hot Chiefs.

Fantasy Impact:

  • It’s hard to feel great about the Broncos’ passing game, however Emmanuel Sanders has been a solid WR2 and Demaryius Thomas, especially given bye weeks, has been a decent flex of late. Case Keenum, while not being a great NFL quarterback, has been decent for fantasy the past two weeks, and the Cardinals’ defense isn’t what it once was. He might be a streaming consideration in deep 2 QB leagues.
  • I like both Lindsay and Freeman as starts this week. I know Freeman disappointed last week, but this should be a better match-up and he should be relatively fresh after getting less than 10 carries Sunday. If the Broncos can keep it close, or build a lead, they can keep it on the ground. And Lindsay provides explosive burst in the rushing and receiving game, showing he doesn’t need a lot of touches to return flex-worthy value.
  • If you are in a deep league and desperate, Courtland Sutton remains an interesting dart throw. He had a long gain on Sunday, and had a TD catch in Week 5. He’s getting plenty of snaps, and only needs one or two to salvage an OK deep league flex day.

Broncos Drop Fourth Straight

 

There was a moment near the end of the first half, with the Broncos trailing 13-3 and just a few seconds left, when the crowd let out a roar. Chad Kelly, backup quarterback, stepped on the field. All he did was kneel down to take the game to the locker room, and it was only because starter Case Keenum was being evaluated for a concussion. But on a cold, snowy Sunday in Denver, it was a sign of hope to fans desperate to see a spark.

The Broncos showed some spark in the second half. Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton all had 40-plus yard receptions. Bradley Chubb, the No. 5 overall pick in April, had three sacks, and Von Miller added 1.5 sacks. And the Broncos hung tough, closing the lead to 23-20 with just under 1:30 left in the game. But in the end it wasn’t enough. The Rams moved to 6-0, and the Broncos dropped to 2-4, losers of four straight games.

And for a team that was once 2-0, and had entered the team with playoff hopes, there are more questions than answers. And not much time to get things fixed before their next contest, a Thursday night game in Arizona.

It was a game of highs and lows, as has been the case for much of the season for Denver. The offense kept it close, and Keenum tossed two touchdowns and threw for more than 300 yards. But he also threw an interception for the sixth straight game, and neither rookie Royce Freeman nor rookie Phillip Lindsay was able to do much on the ground.

On defense, the Broncos held the high-scoring Rams to 23 points, and recorded five sacks. Jared Goff was held without a touchdown pass, and to barely 200 yards. But the Broncos allowed a 200 yard rusher for the second week in a row, as Todd Gurley went for a career high 208 yards and two touchdowns.

Now the Broncos have a short week to lick their wounds, both physically and metaphorically, before trying to halt their skid in Arizona.

News and Notes:

  • Emmanuel Sanders needed three receptions to record his 500th career catch heading into Sunday, and he got it. He finished with seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Broncos played the hottest home game in team history on September 16, and less than a month later Sunday’s game was the coldest home game in October since 1969. It’s been a wild weather season for the Broncos and the season is only six weeks old.
  • The Broncos’ rushing attack cooled Sunday, as Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay combined for just 40 rushing yards on 13 carries. Lindsay did add 48 yards on six receptions to salvage his fantasy day.

Broncos Host Rams

 

The 2-3 Broncos return home, fresh off a 34-16 pounding at the hands of the New York Jets, riding a three game losing streak and hosting the best team in the NFL, the 5-0 Los Angeles Rams. Normally that would be cause for major alarm, and while the Broncos are still likely to drop their fourth straight, there is reason for optimism.

That optimism comes in one word: snow! The forecast for Sunday calls for temperatures in the 20s and snowfall on Sunday afternoon. That combined with the altitude gives the Broncos somewhat of a chance to cool off the red hot Rams offense. It might be a stretch, but for those who saw the Broncos give up long play after long play to Sam Darnold and the Jets on Sunday, hope is all we have left.

The Broncos also need to be better on offense. The weather might force the coaches to give more carries to Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, which isn’t a bad thing. If the Broncos can use the elements and put up a defensive show similar to what they did against the Chiefs, while maximizing potential on offense, they have a chance.

Stranger things have happened in the NFL in 2018, just ask the Vikings about that home game against the Buffalo Bills.

Fantasy Advice:

The Broncos have been rough for fantasy. I’m staying away from Case Keenum, though it might be an OK match-up. He hasn’t been consistent, and the elements won’t be great. I’m not high on starting any Broncos’ receivers, but if pressed I still think Sanders has the most potential. He’s more of a flex range for this game. I do like the Broncos backs given the conditions. I think Freeman might finally get more carries, and could have a chance to get a TD. But that might also be some wishful thinking.

Coaches, Receivers & Keim Among Those That Let Rosen Down In First Start

3 straight runs, 5 dropped passes, and another week that goes by without wide receiver reinforcements. The Cardinals beat themselves in rookie Josh Rosen’s first career start against Seattle last Sunday, as they let their first victory of the season slip through their grasps and right into the Seahawks arms.

Down seven midway through the fourth quarter, Rosen fired a 22-yard strike to 2nd-year-WR Chad Williams to knot the game up at 17. The touchdown was a career first for both Rosen and Williams. The defense made Seattle immediately punt back to Arizona after the TD, setting up a possible game winning drive by the rookie in his first career start.

Starting inside his own 25-yard-line with about seven minutes to go, the UCLA product drove the Cardinals down the field by going 4 for 5 and converting three first downs through the air. With over three minutes left in the tie game, the Cardinals had 1st and 10 at Seattle’s 32 yard-line, thanks in large part to their rookie franchise-QB throwing dart-like dimes all over the field. That’s where things go haywire for Cardinal fans.

Image result for Mike McCoy, Steve Wilks

Photo by; Clutchpoints

Instead of putting trust in their new face of the franchise, OC Mike McCoy and HC Steve Wilks chose to run on the next three downs to set up a 45-yard field goal for Phil Dawson, who already missed once on the afternoon. Dawson’s kick had no chance as he pushed it well right of his intended mark.

The miss gave Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense just under two minutes to move the ball about 30 yards to set themselves up for a game winning field goal. That’s exactly what happened, as Sebastian Janikowski drilled a 52-yard field goal to seal the deal as time expired.

Even if Dawson hit the mid-range field, Wilson would’ve still received the ball with over 1:30 on the clock just needing to get in field goal range to extend the game to OT. As expected, many fans and people covering the team questioned why the coaching staff decided to take the ball out of Rosen’s hands and seem to settle for a non-chip shot field goal while leaving a decent chunk of time on the clock for the 4X pro-bowler, Russell Wilson.

“The Rosen One,” which Chad Williams called the impressive first-round pick earlier this week, finished 15 for 27 for 180 yards, to go along with 1 TD and 0 INT. Not necessarily impressive, but considering the wide receivers accounted for five drops and left roughly 100 yards (and two possible TDs) on the field due to passes they failed to haul in, Rosen did more than enough to lead his team to their first win of the season.

Coming into the game, Larry Fitzgerald was nursing a sore hamstring, leaving the door open for another WR to step up and have a big game. That wasn’t the case. It wasn’t just one or two guys, rather the group as a whole that let down Rosen, even Larry, as he had one of his worst games of his career.

Fitz finished with 3 catches for 28 yards and two, yes, TWO drops on the day. Larry has 9 full seasons of two drops or less in his illlustrous career. After his 7 catch, 76 yard performance to open the season, ‘Larry Legend’ has 8 catches for 65 yards his last three games. He has also yet to haul in a TD this season. Larry did return to practice Thursday but is still listed on the injury report as questionable with a hamstring and now a back issue. He’s fully expected to play today though.

J.J. Nelson, Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones all had bad drops to go along with Larry, leading to Rosen’s 56% completion percentage. His adjusted completion percentage (accounts for drops) was 74%, a reason why he was the highest graded player for the Cardinals on Sunday, via Pro Football Focus.

But Could The Cardinals Have Helped Rosen More?

A month ago, GM Steve Keim and the Cardinals brought wide receiver Braxton Miller – 34 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns in 21 career games for the Texans – for a workout. Three weeks ago, they brought in Kendall Wright – 339 catches, 3,858 yards, 11.4yds/catch, 19 TDs in 82 career games; 59 catches and 614 yards in 2017 – to do the same.

Neither player signed, but admission that the receivers room needed help was more than implied.

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Photo by; CBS Sports

Even with Larry Fitzgerald’s slow start to the season (15 catches), he and Kirk have combined for 31 catches on 44 targets. The problem is, the three receivers behind those two have combined for well less than a catch a game. Through four games, the fifth WR on the depth chart, Trent Sherfield, has yet to even yield a target, let alone a reception. While Chad Williams hauled in his first career touchdown last week (and almost had another), that was his lone catch of the day. He and J.J. Nelson have combined for 34 yards on 3 catches so far this season.

That’s not going to cut it. And Keim knows it.

Just yesterday, Adam Schefter reported that newly released WR Rishard Matthews will visit Cleveland on Monday and the Cardinals on Tuesday. Matthews was cut by the Titans on September 27th after he demanded they drop him due to a lack of playing time. While Matthews had only three catches in three games prior to his release, he did have a combined 118 receptions and 1,740 yards (14.7 yds/catch) over the course of his two previous seasons. It’ll be interesting to see if the Browns let him leave the building without a contract on Monday.

Even though Steve Keim seems to understand just how poor the receivers room is, it’s somewhat baffling the lack of urgency he has shown to help upgrade it up to this point of the season. For at least one more week, it’ll be the same five guys that have combined for a measly 34 catches through the first quarter of the 2018 season.

 

Bradford’s Last Hoorah?

It’s safe to say that the Sam Bradford experiment has gone so poorly for the Cardinals that Valley sports fans should miss the days of the ‘Fernando Rodney Experience’. By now, everyone knows how historically anemic the Arizona Cardinals have been through the first two games of the 2018 season. Sure, the Cards are 0-2 for the first time since 2005, but it’s how they’ve gotten to 0-2 than just the record itself that has the fans and everyone else around the organization at a loss for words.

The six points through two games is the lowest total for the Red Birds since 1945, when the Chicago Cardinals got shutout in their first two games of the season. If they get shutout against the Chicago Bears (1-1), the 2018 Cardinals will share the worst offensive point per game mark through three games in the franchises 99-year NFL existence with that World War ll era team at 2.0 ppg.

Offensively, the current Cardinals rank dead last in the NFL in points per game, plays, rush attempts, longest run, pass yards, pass yards per attempt, pass TD’s, total yards, 1st downs, 3rd down conversions, 3rd down conversion percentage & time of possession. Entering Week-3, they are also second worst in penalties & rush yards.

Defensively, Arizona ranks bottom ten in rushing and passing yards & total yards. They are also the second worst in getting off the field during 3rd downs at 50%, as opponents have converted half of their 28 attempts.

Things have gone sideways so quickly that in an unheard of move, head coach Steve Wilks started piping in fan noise during practice this week. And no, not because the Bears are in town and he’s expecting their fans to take over the stadium – which in all likelihood will happen if the Cards fall behind early – Wilks piped in booing during practice, just in case the Sam Bradford led offense can’t get out of their own way for the third week in a row.

Before delving back into the bad, there has been a couple bright spots. Per Pro Football Focus’ analytic grades, Larry Fitzgerald has graded out as the 18th best WR through two games, while Patrick Peterson ranks as the 9th overall CB & 7th in pass coverage, even though he has the second best passer rating allowed when the man he’s guarding is targeted.

There’s also two backups who are filling in as starters due to injuries that are making their case for more playing times, even when said starters are healthy. Since replacing Andre Smith (elbow) during the first game of the season at right tackle, John Wetzel is tied for second in allowing QB pressures (1 pressure) in 70 pass blocking plays. He also has the second best grade on the whole offense, only trailing Fitzgerald. Filling in for an injured Olsen Pierre (toe; hasn’t played this season yet) & Markus Golden (ACL) on the defensive line, Benson Mayowa has been playing well enough to garner some attention. Mayowa recorded his first two sacks of the season on Sunday against the Rams and currently has 9 tackles through two games at left defensive end.

For the first time since their major injuries last season, LDE Markus Golden and TE Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) were full participants during latter half of this weeks practice. Both Golden and Gresham are questionable against the Bears, as is Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring), but the assumption is that all will play. Olsen Pierre and Andre Smith are both ruled out, meaning Wetzel is going to have his hands full with the Bears’ Khalil Mack. Mack has a sack in each of the first two games and has the second highest ranked edge pass-rusher, with a grade of 90.8. New England’s Trey Flowers is at 90.9.

While the offensive line has kept Bradford off the ground for the most part – 3 sacks (T-9); hit 11 times (T-16th) – there haven’t been very many holes opening for David Johnson to do much on the ground, even though the Cardinals are 14th in the league with a 4.1 avg/carry, as backed up by the longest run of the year being 11 yards. The grades through two games aren’t very pretty to say the least, for not just Sam Bradford, but the entire offense. The Cardinals are certainly going to have their hands full if they expect to come a way a winner for the first time in 2018.

On the outside, Kirk and Fitz are the two receivers to catch a pass so far this year. 2nd-yr WR Chad Williams has yet to reel in any of his 6 targets and ranks 98th of 101 eligible receivers this season. With David Johnson being ineffective and looking to have missed a couple assignments in pass blocking, he’s also seen his grade dip in this offense.

Head coach Steve Wilks turned some heads early in the week when he said the offensive playbook will likely be ‘scaled back’ due to too many mistakes. It’s not just the fact that the offense is tied for last, with three other teams, on plays of 20+ yards (2X), or that they’re one of nine teams to not have a 40+ play thus far as too why Wilks’ comments were a head-scratcher, it’s also because of the usage of their star RB David Johnson.

DJ caught 1 pass last week & is on pace to finish with 48 receptions, after coming off an 80 catch season in 2016. This David Johnson play tree from last week shows no innovation as offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has continuously called run plays between the tackles instead of trying to get David in open space where he’s most dangerous.

While it might feel like the offense has enough of the blame to go around for the whole team, the defense which finished 6th in yards/game and 19th in PPG allowed, are currently 30th and 25th respectively.

One reason being Jamar Taylor. After starting poorly last season, the defense clamped down and became a much better unit once Tramon Williams was inserted into the starting lineup around mid-season. The Cardinals better hope that Bene Benwikere can provide that same boost, because Jamar should be hanging onto the starting gig by a thread. Not only has he been penalized with four defensive holdings in two games, he also ranks 102nd of 103 eligible players by PFF.

Taylor isn’t the only Cardinal defensive player though.The Cards have been playing a lot of three-safety sets (Baker, Bethea & Boston), even though Bethea is the highest rated of the three and he only has a grade of 61.6. Even safety turned linebacker, Deone Bucannon, has seemingly lost his spot as a starter, as he played 25 snaps Sunday (35%). For good reason too, as Deone has been graded out as the 4th worst LB, 3rd worst against the run & 5th worst in coverage in the NFL.

Haason Reddick, who seems to be in Wilks’ doghouse as well, played on only three defensive snaps against the Rams. While the 1st-round pick from a year ago has played only 17 snaps this season, he’s been graded out as the best defensive player on the team & would be ranked top-13 in the league in rush & coverage grades, as well as an overall grade if he had enough snaps under his belt. Josh Bynes also grades out as the 10th best overall linebacker thanks in large part to his 84.5 grade against the rush, which puts him at third in the league for that category.

 

What Steve Wilks should’ve done instead of piping in boo’s during practice this week, was have “ROOOSSSEEENNN” chants filtering through the loud speakers. Because if the Cardinals drop to a third consecutive big first half deficit, and after fans watched Baker Mayfield come off the bench down 21-3 to lead the Cleveland Browns to their first win in nearly two seasons on Thursday, everyone in attendance will surely be waiting for the first opportunity to let their voices be heard. After all, inserting the 10th overall pick in this years draft can’t break this offense anymore than it already is.

FEED DJ THE DAMN BALL

Less than 24 hours after signings his 3yr/$39M ($30M guaranteed) contract extension late last Saturday evening, RB David Johnson was underutilized by his new coaching staff as he received a mere 14 touches for 67 total yards and a rushing TD. After receiving five touches on the opening drive, they chose to go away from DJ as the fell out to a 21-point 2nd-Quarter deficit. He certainly wasn’t the only Cardinal to underwhelm during Sunday’s 24-6 snoozefest of a loss at home to open the 2018 campaign against the Washington Redskins.

In fact, the 14 first downs and 213 yards compiled by the Cardinals offense last Sunday was the lowest amount in each category since the 2014 Wild Card game in Carolina, when they posted only eight first downs and 78 total yards. The Ryan Lindley game.

On top of that, the Cardinals ran less plays in the first half than Washington had points (21; Cards ran 14 plays including a kneel), as Sam Bradford went 3 for 7 for 11 yards during that first half of play. As the offense turned one-dimensional in the second half, Sam went 17 for 27 for 142 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT in the third and fourth quarters. Cardinal wide receivers caught 8 passes for 80 yards. Larry Fitzgerald caught 7 of those for 76 yards. Rookie Christian Kirk caught the other pass. J.J. Nelson, Arizona’s only real deep threat, played only one snap in the embarrassing loss.

Even though he’s known more for his feet than hands, the Cardinals need J.J. out there to help open up passing lanes that otherwise wouldn’t be there. With his elite level speed, even if just acting as a decoy, Nelson being on the field would help keep the Rams secondary honest and give the Cardinals intermediate passing game more of a chance to be successful than it was against Washington.

This week’s opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, sport two cornerbacks, Aqib Talib (5X Pro-Bowler from 2013-’17) and 4th-year vet, Marcus Peters (2X Pro-Bowler in his first 3 seasons), that will in all likelihood make life miserable for Cardinal receivers for a second consecutive week. With that being said, it’s going to be vital to get David Johnson running downhill from the start in hopes of opening up the air attack as the game progresses. Last week, Talib & Peters held WR’s Jordy Nelson & Amari Cooper of the Raiders to 4 catches on 32 yards combined. Peters also had one of the Rams’ three interceptions on the day.

The L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer was on Arizona Sports 98.7 F.M. earlier this week and said he believes the Rams biggest weakness is probably their linebacker group. That was evident by the nine catches apiece that TE Jared Cook (180 yards) and RB Jalen Richardson (55 yards) had during Week-1 (both positions typically guarded by linebackers). The Cardinals will most certainly try and follow the blueprint laid out by the Raiders on how to move the ball against such a stout defense, that not only has Peters & Talib, but also the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald. Donald was mostly contained last Sunday as he finished with just one tackle to his name. Ndamukong Suh, who the Rams acquired this off-season, finished his first game with the team that drafted, now Cardinal, QB Sam Bradford first overall and one spot ahead of him in the 2010 draft.

On that note, it’s going to be imperative that the tight ends make an impact against the Rams. If Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) can’t go, Ricky Seals-Jones will be asked to shoulder the workload for a second straight week. RSJ finished last week with 18 yards on three receptions. Seals-Jones also failed to haul in a touchdown late in the game. Last season, the second-year tight end averaged over 16 yards per catch. While that number is probably unrealistic, the Cardinals need him and Bradford to combine for better than 6 yards a completion to help open the field up for Larry & David this afternoon.

Of the 11 victories with Johnson starting in the backfield, only twice did the Cardinals feed him less than the 28.6% that he received in last week’s loss. In victories, DJ receives over 36% of touches, while he’s closer to 33% in losses – not much of a difference but the Cards will want to be over 35% more times than not, especially in this offense with the lack of starpower in the skill players. With an offense in a state of flux while still learning a new system, to go along with an exceptionally unproven receivers room – of the 1,319 combined receptions from the five WRs, 1,315 have come from Fitzgerald (1,241) and Nelson (74) – offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Sam Bradford need to find a way to get their most potent playmaker, David Johnson, much more than 14 touches – or 28.6% of the plays – he received in the season opener.

Look for the Cards to try and get as close to that 30 touch magic number for DJ today – even though he worked through a minor back injury this week – as they look to pull off the biggest upset of the NFL weekend in LA (worst odds of the week in Vegas; 23% chance of winning).

 

 

 

 

 

The Cardinals “Invest” In David Johnson

So, David Johnson had a tale of two seasons. He was not a high draft pick, he set the football world on fire in his first year and earned his money and then some. But, his second year was a loss, through no fault of his own, but if the Cardinals are looking at this like a business, and they should be, they got no return on their investment in year two.

So, lets take this a step further and lets look at this as if you are an investor and David Johnson is a stock. You got lucky on your initial investment, you had a few “scouts” looking at a few options for you, and you took their advice and you bought low and got a good return. Last year, the stock did nothing for you, you may have even lost a minimal amount, but you made so much off the initial investment, you were able to absorb that loss and still come out ahead. Now the owner of the stock is saying that they believe their investment is again going to bring you a return similar to the first year of the stock, and they ask you to put an upfront investment of $30 million dollars into the stock, so you can guarantee that you and only you will get that big return that they see coming, but is not a sure thing. And to sweeten the pot for you, not only will you get that potential windfall for one year as you did before, but since you made a large upfront investment, your return, good or bad will be for 3 years. So, what do you do?

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Photo by; Arizona Sports

The Cardinals decided to invest in David Johnson. A dynamic and one year runaway success, that all your counterparts noticed and wished they had, followed by a year of no gains. They will hope that over the next three years that their investment pays off as the the Arizona Cardinals have completed a contract extension with running back David Johnson, the team announced Saturday night. The deal is a 3-year, $39 million extension, but no deal in the NFL is a straight deal, all deals with major superstars have a maximum and a minimum.  According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal has a maximum worth of $45 million and a minimum guarantee of $30 million.

Johnson was a third-round pick (86th overall) in the 2015 NFL draft out of Northern Iowa. He was a person no one really ever heard of, from a school no one knew existed, but he has made himself into a millionaire. Johnson became a first-team All-Pro in 2016 after bursting onto the scene and leading the NFL while setting a team single-season record with 2,118 scrimmage yards (1,239 rushing; 879 receiving). He also led the NFL and set a franchise record with 20 touchdowns. Then, in the first game of 2017 while playing the Detroit Lions in the motor city, Johnson broke his wrist and was lost for the season.

Who will the investment pay off for? Johnson, the Cardinals, or both? Leave your comments below.

Cardinals Wk-1/Season Preview

With first-year head coach Steve Wilks’ propensity to preach defensive turnovers, which was on full display during the Arizona Cardinals four preseason games as they created a whopping 17 of them, and with the calendar now flipping over to September, the hope is the Cardinals emphasis on takeaways will also translate to the regular season starting this week against Adrian Peterson and the Washington Redskins.

While the defense itself has changed schemes – from a 3-4 to 4-3 – the personnel on that side of the ball has, for the most part, remained intact over a hectically fluid off-season. The same cannot be said about the offense.

Considering TE Jermaine Gresham is questionable for Week-1, the Cardinals offense might only suit up four players against Washington who played at least one snap in last seasons Week-17 finale against Seattle: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Ricky Seals-Jones and John Wetzel.

On the bright side, Arizona will have LT D.J. Humphries, LG Mike Iupati and RB David Johnson all back from major injuries to go along with free agent additions at QB (Sam Bradford), RG (Justin Pugh) and RT (Andre Smith).

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While Bradford will catch most of the flak for being ‘injury prone’ – he actually played in 29 of a potential 32 games from 2015-’16 – the health of the two FA hogs up front might just be as important to the Cardinals success this season, as neither would be considered players with impeccable health records. In addition to the fact that Sam’s played at least 14 games in only 4 of his 8 seasons, Pugh has played in 19 games the last two season (8 in ’17) and Smith has played in only 40 of 64 games the last four seasons and hasn’t played more than 14 games since 2013.

Other than last season when he went 2-0, Bradford has never finished any of the other six seasons in which he’s taken a snap with a winning percentage above .500.

With the Bruce Arians philosophy of “no risk it, no biscuit” in the review mirror, and with an offensive line built around the run game (Iupati, Pugh and Smith all grade out as better run blockers, via PFF), don’t be surprised if the Cardinals rack up more carries than we’ve seen in the desert since the franchises arrival in 1988.

While new offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, isn’t necessarily known to have a ‘ground and pound’ mentality, player personnel would seemingly dictate that Arizona’s best chance to quiet the doubters and make a run at a playoff spot would be through the ground game and defense.

One of the bigger causes for concern on this team is the lack of proven weapons in the passing game. The four receivers on the depth chart behind Larry Fitzgerald have a combined 77 career catches. 74 of which are from J.J. Nelson, who certainly is more known for his legs than hands. Chad Williams had three receptions last season to round out the 77. The Cardinals did use a second-round pick on Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk this off-season, and while he could be a possible dynamic weapon this season, he’s still a rookie. We’ll find out soon enough though, as they’ll seemingly be forced to lean heavily on Christian this season, whether he’s ready for it or not.

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The fifth wideout to make the club is undrafted rookie FA, Trent Sherfield, from Vanderbilt. The 6’1, 205-pounder impressed enough during training camp and preseason that the outright released veterans Brice Butler & Greg Little in favor of the rookie. Sherfield finished his college career with 136 receptions for nearly 1,900 yards and nine TDs in 48 games.

With the lack of proven weapons on the outside, and even though it wouldn’t be surprising if teams keep an extra eye on Fitzgerald, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Larry finishes top-3 in the NFL in receptions this season for the third year in a row.

Whatever the case is, the Cardinals are going to need at least two of the wide receivers, outside of Larry, to step up so that defenses don’t stack the box against their dynamic running back, David Johnson. In all likelihood, David will finish with the second most receptions on the team, as he did in 2016 when he finished with 80 receptions for 879 yards. After injuring his wrist Wk-1 last season, Johnson will look for a bounce back year similar to ’16 when he racked up over 2,100 all-purpose yards.

While there are new faces galore on offense, the defense will also be integrating a couple new ones as well with seemingly their biggest loss on that side of the ball being fan favorite, Tyrann Mathieu.

Steve Wilks, who has a defensive backs background, will be inheriting a defense that, while was 6th in the NFL in yards/gm against, was also 19th in points/gm at 22.6.

The Cardinals also lost CB Tramon Williams to the Packers in free agency. Williams wasn’t the teams number two starter – opposite Patrick Peterson – to begin last season, he actually rarely played during the first half of the schedule, but once he stepped in as starter, he never looked back. Trying to fill that void will be Jamar Taylor, who the Cardinals traded a 6th round 2020 pick for this off-season from Cleveland. If he falters, Bene Benwikere, who followed Wilks to the desert from Carolina, would be the next man up. Even though Taylor has much more of a pedigree than Benwikere, the ex-Panther looked phenomenal this preseason.

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Even with the loss of Mathieu, the defensive backfield looks to be the strength of the Cardinals entering the 2018. Not only did they add Taylor and Benwikere, Arizona also added one of the better Safeties in the league to team up with an already potent combo of Antoine Bethea and Budda Baker. Last season with San Diego, Boston finished with 5 interceptions to go along with a Pro Football Focus ‘coverage’ grade of 89.0.

If all goes according to plan, defending NFL sack leader Chandler Jones should be receiving a lot of free meals from the DB’s for making their jobs that much easier. Not only did Chandler lead the league in sacks with 17, he also led the league in QB pressures with 76. Having a player of Jones’ caliber will only make life that much easier for the DB’s, as QB’s will consistently be pressured to release the ball before they, or their WR’s, are ready.

The other side of the two-headed sack monster for the Cardinals, Markus Golden, is ruled out for Wk-1, but isn’t expected to be too far away from taking the field for the first time since Wk-4 of last season. Entering his 4th season in the league, a healthy Golden returning to 2016 form (12.5 sacks), or even better, will give Arizona one of the deadliest one-two pass-rushing combos in the league.

Even though he’s learning his third position in three years, the Cardinals should also be asking for a lot from their second-year, first-round pick, Hassan Reddick. Reddick, just like most rookies under old-coach Bruce Arians, didn’t play much last season. With his sideline-to-sideline speed and athleticism, it’ll be interesting to see how much they utilize Reddick out of the gates this season.

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Other than practicing everyday against their own starting QB, Sam Bradford, this will be the first game action that Arizona’s defense has faced an opposing teams starter since last seasons regular season finale in Seattle, against Russell Wilson. Coming off a career year where he threw for over 4,000 yards for the the first time in his career, and a career-high 26 TDs to go along with a career-low 5 INTs (had 4 INTs in only 7 games in ’07), Alex Smith will look to put his best foot forward in his debut with Washington to open the 2018 season.

Considering defensive lineman Olsen Pierre and Robert Nkemdiche are both questionable to play, the linebackers, including Deone Bucannon and Josh Bynes, should have their hands full against Washington and ex-teammate Adrian Peterson. Peterson – was the Cardinals leading rusher last season – is expected to get the bulk of the carries, but the defensive front can’t sleep on the ‘Skins’ other RB, Chris Thompson. Thompson is a good duel-threat RB, as he’s averaged nearly 5 yards/carry and has 88 receptions out of the backfield over the last two seasons.

If the Cardinals can find a way to shut down the running attack of Peterson and Thompson, so that Washington has to become one-dimensional, there’s a very good chance that the defense can translate those preseason turnovers into the regular season and come away with a big victory to open their season. This Wk-1 matchup feels bigger than just one game, as they don’t want to be 0-1 heading into next week in L.A. against the reigning NFC West Champion, Rams.

 

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