NFC West: Dan Williams

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was excited for the start of padded practices, which begin Monday afternoon.

"We were very fortunate yesterday," Arians said. "We were way too active to be in shorts. I was holding my breath a little bit yesterday, but it was an outstanding practice."

• Arians said nose tackle Dan Williams will have an MRI on his swollen left knee. Williams is expected to miss Monday afternoon's practice.

• With pads being donned Monday, Arians won't limit how much his players hit. "With the limited time you can hit now, you can't hit enough, in my opinion."

• Arians said he hopes to keep four tight ends, but the rotation will be "more tailored to what they do best."

• Arians won't "baby" tight end John Carlson because of his history of concussions.

• When it comes to using fullbacks, Arians would rather use a versatile tight end than a true fullback because defenses can't prepare for a tight end that can play both positions as well as they can for a fullback.

• Quarterback Logan Thomas will get more snaps than Ryan Lindley in practice because he's newer, Arians said.

• Arians isn't a fan of training camp fights. He'd rather buy his players boxing gloves -- like Bear Bryant used to -- than see them break their hands. But Arians said he won't fine players for fights, he'll just "cut them."
On Monday, my colleague Field Yates put together a list of five trades that could happen Insider (it's an Insider story) and one included the Arizona Cardinals.

Yates, who is an ESPN NFL Insider, made the case for the Cardinals to send defensive tackle Dan Williams to the Dallas Cowboys for cornerback Morris Claiborne. He makes solid arguments for both sides -- Williams will help the Cowboys improve against the run and Claiborne will be a better option behind Antonio Cromartie than what the Cardinals have now. Claiborne hasn’t been playing to his potential, as Yates noted, but the idea of him rejoining his former Louisiana State teammates Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu could bring life back to Claiborne’s game.

I don’t see the trade happening because Arizona would be losing a large piece (literally and figuratively) of its top-ranked run defense. What Williams brings up the gut of the defensive line is hard to replace, especially when his backup, Alameda Ta'amu is coming off an ACL injury. Williams pushes the center and guards back into the quarterback, which forces the QB to scramble one way or the other and into the arms of an outside linebacker or either Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Simply put, Williams is too valuable to let go right now.

But the idea of a Cardinals’ trade got me thinking: Who on the roster could be traded before the season? Trades don’t have very often -- only 47 have taken place since the start of free agency in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Player-for-player trades are even less common with only eight happening during that stretch, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Taking a few things into consideration, I narrowed the list to two names who could be traded: tight end Rob Housler and linebacker Sam Acho.

Housler has yet to live up to expectations that accompany a third-round pick and certainly didn’t produce what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expected of him in 2013. Housler had a career-high 454 yards in 2013 on 39 catches -- six fewer than 2012 -- even though he missed three games, two because of an ankle injury and one because of a groin injury. He also caught his first career touchdown midway through his third season.

He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract and his salary is poised to jump to a little more than $800,000. Even with the recent addition of John Carlson and the re-signing of Jake Ballard, the Cardinals are expected to draft a tight end in the early rounds next month, one that might better fit Arians' two-tight end scheme. Though Housler has shown flashes of being a talented receiving tight end, he’s not yet in the same category as Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis or Jared Cook. And one of his weaknesses is blocking, which Arians requires out of his tight ends. If Arizona got the right offer for Housler, he could be on the move before the season.

As could Acho. One of the most well-liked players in the locker room, Acho could be traded because of a stockpile at outside linebacker and the value he could command on the trading block. Acho is also entering the last year in his rookie deal, and his salary is scheduled to increase about $900,000 this season.

Acho missed the final 13 games of 2013 after breaking his left fibula in New Orleans in Week 3, and Arizona’s defense didn’t miss a beat, going on to finish the season ranked sixth overall and first against the run. The Cardinals are bringing back Acho’s replacement -- Matt Shaughnessy -- who's likely to start at right outside linebacker ahead of Acho. At 26, Acho has been steady throughout his young career. He had seven sacks and 30 tackles as a rookie, and four sacks in 2012 along with 32 tackles and two interceptions.

He’ll turn 26 in September and is still young enough to fill a starting need long term for a team who needs a hand-in-the-dirt linebacker. Arizona showed it could win without him, which would make the breakup a little easier.

GM Steve Keim: Cardinals are close

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s one thing for the Arizona Cardinals to want to get to the top. It’s another for them to be on their way.

In the eyes of Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, his team spent 2013 closing the gap between themselves and the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. A 10-6 season that finished with a 7-2 run and a bull rush toward the postseason still left Arizona sitting third in the division, but the Cardinals are as close as they have been since the recent resurgence of the Niners and the Seahawks.

Just how close are the Cardinals?

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsCarson Palmer and the Arizona offense found their groove in the second half of the season.
They have to consider the fact that their division is home to the now-defending world champion Seahawks, and both NFC Championship Game finalists.

“Moving forward, I felt like, on each side of the ball, we were at least two to three players away from being an upper-echelon team,” Keim said during his NFL combine news conference Thursday in Indianapolis.

“I think it's a great litmus test to play those teams (Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis) in those divisions, because it helps expose where your limitations are, where you feel like you need to improve,” he added.

More often than not against the West, the Cards were exposed. Through the first two days of the combine, Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have talked about their needs for next season. Keim said two or three players on each side of the ball. On offense that could mean a left tackle and a tight end. On defense, that is a safety geared to stopping tight ends, another cornerback, and a back up defensive tackle.

It took Arians just one season to make the offseasons in the West a chess match. Whatever one team does, the others will counter -- even St. Louis.

Based on how 2013 went, however, Arizona knows it needs to stock up in a few areas to compete for a division crown, namely on the offensive line. Keeping quarterback Carson Palmer protected, especially against the defenses the Cardinals face six times a year, can be the difference between 10 wins and 12, or even 13.

“You have to be on your A-game at all times,” Keim said. “All three teams that we're facing are very, very good defensively. You have to keep pace. It leaves very little room for error, not only in the draft but in free agency as well. You have to be physical on the offensive and defensive lines.

“You've got to have really good depth.”

After facing each team once last year, Arians began to adjust. He kept nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu around for depth behind Dan Williams, which kept the defensive line fresh down the stretch. And Arians began to trim the playbook, which helped the offense finally click.

If Keim needed a measuring stick last season to see how far the Cardinals had come -- or how far they have to go -- it came in Seattle in Week 16.

The Seahawks hadn’t lost at CenturyLink Field all season until Arizona’s defense stonewalled running back Marshawn Lynch and cramped quarterback Russell Wilson to his breaking point on Dec. 22 in a 17-10 win. It was the last time Seattle lost last season.

“Obviously, going to Seattle and beating them up there showed signs that we were headed in the right direction,” Keim said.

Said Arians: “The division we’re in is a great division. You’re battle-tested when you come out of it. The second half of the season, we competed very well in the division.

“If we were in the playoffs, we would have done some damage. We just didn't win enough games.”

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 26

Biggest surprise: No one expected Arizona to struggle like it did throughout the first half of the season because an offensive mastermind, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, was in charge. Likewise, nobody expected the Cardinals to go on a tear through the final nine, going 7-2 to finish 10-6. A 10-win season for the Cardinals isn't to be ignored. They're tough to come by, but Arians was able to accomplish it in his first season, which nobody expected. He proved himself as a head coach at 61 and showed how great his offense is when a team can learn and execute it.

Biggest disappointment: Arians was dead set on riding running back Rashard Mendenhall this season with rookie Andre Ellington as his backup. And while Mendenhall was serviceable, it wasn't a successful move. Mendenhall finished with 687 yards on 217 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry -- just 35 more than Ellington on 99 more carries. Partially to blame for Mendenhall underachieving was a turf-toe injury that limited him for most of the season, but when he was healthy, he showed his true speed in only two games. Other than that, he struggled to break through the line as often as the Cardinals needed him to. He's not the future for Arizona at running back. That belongs to Ellington.

Biggest need: Everyone thinks the most obvious need is a left tackle, but with how the offensive line played during the last eight games, it may be the least of the Cardinals' worries. Arizona needs a big, fast safety who can defend tight ends. The 29 tight ends who faced the Cardinals this season accounted for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns on 98 receptions. The yards accounted for 30.7 percent of the total by opposing receivers and the 98 receptions were 26.7 percent of the catches made by opponents. But the most telling stat, and the difference between wins and losses, are the 17 touchdowns by opposing tight ends, which are 58.6 percent of the 29 total allowed by the Cardinals' secondary.

Team MVP: There were a handful of Cardinals who had good seasons on both sides of the ball, but there was one who really kept the pulse of the team alive. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby was shunned by Miami and took a huge pay cut to come to Arizona, and he proved to everyone in the league that, at age 32, he still had it. He was second in the NFL with 114 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks -- his most since his eight in 2006 -- and a career-high four interceptions. But his ability to impact a top-six defense near the line of scrimmage, sideline-to-sideline and then dropping back in coverage made him the most important player on the team.

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals’ defensive line room looks like all the other position rooms deep inside the team’s practice facility.

It’s set up like a classroom, with desks for the players to take notes on and a computer for their coach, the teacher. There’s a white board and an overhead projector. There are windows with blinds. And a heavy door.

It was in this room that the league’s top-ranked defense against the run was built. But it wasn’t done through drills or personnel moves, but instead through one speech in September.

After a Week 1 loss to St. Louis, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner gathered his charges for what they expected to be another classroom session.

[+] EnlargeCalais Campbell
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsA new scheme this season has worked wonders for Calais Campbell and the Arizona defensive line.
It was anything but.

“We just really talked,” Buckner said. “[I asked them] why do you play this game? Why are you here? What did you want to get out of this game? Are you in it for the cars you can drive? The money you get? Because there’s only so much money you can get and you can’t drive but one car at a time.

“It’s got to be something bigger than that and you got to find that and if not, you have to be man enough to say, ‘This is not going to work for me because this is the ultimate team sport.’ You can’t be about I. You can’t be, ‘Well, I didn’t make a tackle.’ We don’t count that. We count wins. We count having success.”

Buckner was shooting straight from the hip with them and his approach worked because they knew Buckner had been there. Having played defensive tackle for 12 seasons in the NFL, he knew what the trenches felt like, smelled like, looked like. He’s been in rooms like that before. He’s heard coaches try to give those speeches.

He’s also seen teams underachieve with talented defensive lines and he wasn’t about to let that happen in Arizona. Throughout that meeting, he called out everyone regardless of stature, longevity or success, but not in a way that drew their ire.

“I told them, ‘Honestly, I never make up stuff to make you look bad,’” Buckner told them. “‘I’m never going to make up stuff to make you look good. I’m a mirror. Whatever you showed me I’m going to show you a reflection. If you show me a bad play, I’m going to tell you you played bad. But, if you show me good play, were going to build on it.’

“And I think by doing that, a trust was built and guys were like, ‘Wow, maybe I do need to do a little bit better.’ And I challenged them.”

The Cardinals responded.

They enter the final week of the season ranked No. 1 against the run, a drastic turn from their 28th ranking last season, allowing 84.5 yards per game. Arizona hasn’t allowed more than 149 yards in a game and held Atlanta to just 27.

With the exception of a few backups such as Alameda Ta'amu, Frostee Rucker and Ronald Talley, it’s the same defensive line – Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams – as last year running the same 3-4 defense, but there’s one minor twist. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles eliminated the multi-gap scheme up front and replaced it with single-gap system.

“What it’s done is allow these guys to let their natural God-given ability play because they can play fast, they’re not thinking,” Buckner said. “They’re not wondering, ‘What is this offense going to do to me?’ We try to preach in our D-line room, they really should call us the offensive line because we’re going to attack you and you’re going to have to defend whatever we’re going to do to you. So that’s our mindset.”

The players have embraced not being restricted on how they get off the line, which has given Arizona’s defensive front more freedom and flexibility. And it’s helped the line regain its swagger. Campbell has eight sacks and Dockett 4.5 heading into the season finale and both were named Pro Bowl alternates. Last season, Campbell had 6.5 and Dockett 1.5.

“I think that it’s really just being able to attack and get off the ball and going forward,” Campbell said. “We have very explosive guys on this D-line, all of us, from top to the bottom, we really get of the ball. We’re aggressive, we attack and we make plays.

“This defense that we run, the scheme that we run now, benefits us and creates havoc in backfields, making running backs stop their feet and cut before they want to and allows linebackers to shoot gaps and make plays, as well. I love it.”

The ranking doesn’t mean as much to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians as it does to the players. They were here last year when the run defense was ranked 28th under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Arians is only concerned with two categories: points allowed and turnovers created.

Arizona isn’t bad in either. The Cardinals are allowing 20.1 points per game, seventh best in the NFL and have created 30 turnovers – 20 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries – which is the fourth most in the league.

Pairing the right scheme with the right players has been the biggest difference between last year and this year.

“It’s like a puzzle piece,” Buckner said. “You get all the pieces in the right places, the picture comes out perfect. But, you get one piece that don’t fit, then you’re like, 'What kind of puzzle is this?'”

But to the players who are locking horns every Sunday, being No. 1 is something to be proud of.

“That stuck with me the whole offseason and I was just upset with myself,” Williams said. “I felt like we could’ve did more [last season]. We put a lot of emphasis on it and it shows.

“We were aiming for top 5, but being No. 1, that’s being the best right now. We got to hold it up for one more week.”

Buckner used a word during his come-to-Jesus meeting in September that struck a nerve. He called the defensive line soft. When a team is ranked in the low 20s or even in the 30s, he told them that day, it means offenses are slicing through them like warm butter. Then Buckner turned on the tape and backed up his claims with visual evidence.

That meeting got Arizona’s defensive line focused.

It took a come-to-Jesus drive, however, to make the Cardinals see just how right Buckner was. With the Cardinals down two at San Francisco on Oct. 13, the 49ers started the game-clinching drive with 1:07 left in the third quarter. For the next 9:27, San Francisco milked the clock, running 12 times for 53 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run that broke Arizona’s back and put the Niners up 29-22.

The Niners had 149 yards that week and four days later, Seattle ran for 135 in a game Arians has dismissed because of the short break. Then started a stretch of performances that solidified Arizona’s place as a defense that’s not worth wrecking with. In consecutive games, the Cardinals held offenses to 27, 76, 32, 80, 105, 100, 66 and 103 rushing yards.

“I think after that game we realized we can’t do that and win games,” Campbell said. “I think we took a step as in we’re going to shut down whoever we’re playing against the run and make them have to throw the ball to beat you.

“And it has worked for us so far.”

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 15, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 37-34 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans.

What it means: It hasn't happened often this season, but the Cardinals' defense had an off day and it nearly cost them. The late collapse can't be blamed on the offense this week. Despite the poor coverage and stupid penalties, the offense made the plays when it needed to. It was the defense that let Arizona down, but it was also the defense that saved the Cards. Antoine Cason stepped into a more prominent role and had two interceptions Sunday, the second of which led to Jay Feely's winning, 41-yard field goal in overtime. The pass rush wasn't up to its usual snuff but, unlike last season when the defense had a bad game and eliminated any chance of the Cards winning, this season, the offense put together some nice drives that resulted in touchdowns.

Stock watch: Andre Ellington had been quiet for a few weeks but he returned with a bang. His 71 rushing yards were his second most of the season and his 87 receiving yards set a new career high. He showed again how formidable the one-two punch of himself and Rashard Mendenhall could be. Ellington's athleticism was on display from the onset in both facets, receiving and rushing. He caught two passes threaded through the secondary from Carson Palmer, showing his value in the passing game, and he made a couple Chris Johnson-esque runs in front of the star back's home crowd.

Missing Mathieu: One of the primary concerns when rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury was how the secondary was going to be reshuffled. Mathieu played three positions: free safety, cornerback and nickel back. His versatility allowed the Cardinals to not substitute; however, on Sunday, the secondary looked confused and out of sorts throughout the game. Coverages were mishandled, allowing Titans receivers to be left open in the middle of the field, and linebackers, at times, were matched up on running backs and receivers. The first week will most likely be the hardest, but now the Cards can re-evaluate their substitution patterns and coverages and make the necessary changes.

Penalties add up: Although the Cardinals had just nine penalties for 69 yards, it was the stupidity of the penalties that will irk Bruce Arians. On one drive in the third quarter, Marcus Benard was called for roughing the passer on a senseless hit. Then on the next play, Rashad Johnson was flagged for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver. In the fourth, linebacker Daryl Washington was flagged for taunting and Dan Williams received a late unnecessary roughness. All penalties that could've -- and should've -- been avoided.

What's next: The Cardinals head to Seattle for their second-to-last game of the season against the Seahawks at 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Wednesday’s practice started normal enough.

But when the offense and defense split off, the first thing the Arizona Cardinals’ eighth-ranked defense worked on was something so elementary, it’s usually covered during preseason high school practices. But for Sunday’s game, how the Cardinals substitute may be the difference between a wild-card playoff spot and a spot on their couch come January.

Philadelphia’s up-tempo offense has caused headaches for teams – and cramps. The Eagles' fast pace – averaging about one play every 23 seconds – hasn’t allowed teams to use their normal substitution patterns, which can leave the wrong personnel on the field for a few plays or an entire series.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Dansby
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellArizona will have to determine if Karlos Dansby's price tag is an affordable one in the coming weeks.
“They hand the ball back to the referee real fast and they get lined up, so we got to make sure we’re lined up and ready to play,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “You have to be ready to play and you have to be ready to get back up to the ball, and the only way to do that is to try to stop it.”

Arizona worked mainly on getting the defensive linemen off the field quick enough to have a chance to slow down Chip Kelly’s scheme, which he perfected at the University of Oregon.

“We ran, like, 20 plays in, like, seven minutes in practice,” said Alameda Ta’amu, who faced Kelly while in college at Washington. “I think I’m ready.”

Not everybody on the Cardinals’ defense, however, has faced Kelly’s offense, which made it hard to prepare for in practice.

Arizona’s scout team ran as many plays as it could remember in succession in an attempt to replicate the pace, but even Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said it was tough to give the defense a realistic-enough look.

“When you’re going against a team that doesn’t huddle and is an up-tempo thing, getting the right calls, getting everybody in the proper alignments is the hardest thing because it’s really tough to simulate that in practice,” Arians said.

“You keep trying to up the tempo as much as possible but it’s never the same thing as it is in the game. That’s one of the things that we’ll have to do in the first quarter, is get acclimated quickly to the tempo.”

The average pace the Cardinals’ defense has faced this season is about one play every 27 seconds. But those four seconds can be significant to getting players on and off the field. In the secondary, safety Yeremiah Bell said the back end knows how hard it’ll be to substitute.

Whoever starts a series, Bell said, will most likely finish it.

To help the defense counter the tempo, the unit began using wristbands this week with the plays listed on them.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby, who relays the plays from Bowles to the defense through a headset in his helmet, said the wristbands have been working “pretty well.” Whether Dansby gives the defense more than one play at a time will mostly depend on the down-and-distance, he said.

Nose tackle Dan Williams said it makes sense to use the wristbands against a fast-paced team. The Cardinals did it last year against the New England Patriots under a different regime and pulled off the upset.

The wristbands will help the call get to the players faster, Williams said.

“Just to counteract the fast-paced thing,” he added. “Also, I think, too, so we won’t have to panic.”

Besides the line, the rest of the defense tends to play the majority of the game, so conditioning isn’t as much of a concern.

Inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell said Daryl Washington and Dansby don’t come off the field unless there’s an injury. That’s how they played all season. That’s how it’ll continue.

“When the defense is out there, we expect those two guys to be out there and they’ll go hard like they always do,” Caldwell said. “If you’re not in shape now, you’re not going to get in shape. When you’re out there you’re going to play a certain amount of plays, if not we have guys that are prepared.

“The conditioning part, they’ll be in shape. When it’s time to play, those two guys, they’ll play.”

Same goes for the secondary.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson doesn’t think the tempo will bother the defensive backs one bit.

“We’re definitely in the best shape of our lives and a lot of guys take pride in their conditioning,” Peterson said. “So, we believe the tempo definitely won’t be an issue for the defense as a whole.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It all sounds so familiar to the Arizona Cardinals.

They're 4-4 midway through the season, the defense is carrying them and the offense is struggling. Is it 2012 all over again? Nope, not in the least.

Despite having the same mark at the halfway point of the 2013 season, this year’s Cardinals can feel a different vibe in the locker room than a year ago.

“This year there’s been less [of a] roller coaster of emotions,” offensive lineman Nate Potter said. “It’s been more back-and-forth, roll a couple off, lose one, get another one. So that just feels a lot more consistent.”

Before the wheels fell off in 2012 and Arizona lost nine straight, the Cards were the talk of the NFL. They started 4-0 despite sending out two starting quarterbacks. Throughout the team, the feeling that they were on the verge of something special permeated.

Then the first loss led to a second, which led to the third and the fourth and by time they were done -- nine straight. But at 4-4, Potter said there was still hope last season. Gunner Justin Bethel could feel the tension after four straight losses a year ago. Everybody was starting to get tight. Guys were pushing. Coaches and players were scrambling to figure out how to win a game.

This year, however, the overall feeling has changed.

“Losing here and there is a lot different,” Bethel said. “This year we’re 4-4 in the same position in the same part of the season. This year I feel like we got a better chance of making things happen.”

Of course, anything can happen at this point, with the exception of a nine-game losing streak. That’s mathematically impossible coming off a win with eight games left in the season. But nobody is sitting around resting on their laurels.

And nobody is forgetting about what happened a year ago.

“Definitely a different team and a different mentality,” noseguard Dan Williams said. “I think as far as the guys who did go through that last year, we keep that in the back of my mind. Our goal this year is to make it to the playoffs.

“I mean, you can definitely tell it’s a different feeling in the locker room. We want to be playing in January.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 7

October, 18, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Passing by: When the Cardinals did find opportunities to throw the ball Thursday, their options included two familiar faces. Tight end Rob Housler caught all seven of his targets for 53 yards. And after starting the game with three quick catches, Andre Roberts wasn’t targeted again until the second half, but he finished with five catches for 33 yards. In all, quarterback Carson Palmer completed passes to nine receivers including cornerback Patrick Peterson. Michael Floyd had a team-high 71 yards on six receptions.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham and Russell Wilson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsVeteran LB John Abraham's playing time and productivity have recently picked up for the Cardinals.
Sack sighting: As if the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t good enough already, another dimension came to life Thursday night. Linebacker John Abraham got his first two sacks of the season. He came into this season as the NFL’s active sack leader with 122. With Abraham finding a groove from the outside, the Cardinals now have another way to get to the quarterback. And with the middle being plugged by Dan Williams and Alameda Ta’amu, having Abraham off the edge could continue to create problems for offenses. Abraham was pleased with his performance, especially since his two sacks caused fumbles (one recovered by the Cardinals), but losing put a damper on his two-sack day.

Not a sack party: In one game, the Cardinals increased their sacks-allowed by more than 50 percent. They entered Thursday allowing 13, but four in the last three games, a steady improvement from the nine allowed in the first three. But against Seattle, Arizona gave up seven, giving them 20 for the season. After seven games last season, the Cardinals had given up 28 sacks. Eight Seahawks accounted for the sacks. Seattle had 16 heading into Thursday night.

Wake-up call: The Cardinals’ defense didn’t seem to wake up until early in the second quarter when it forced the Seahawks into a turnover on downs after stopping them at the Arizona 43-yard line on fourth-and-1. Then it was like the Cardinals’ alarm clock went off. On Seattle’s next possession, Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy strip-sacked Russell Wilson and Cards defensive end Calais Campbell recovered. Arizona continued to rub the sleep out of its eyes with another strip-sack of Wilson but the Seahawks recovered the fumble. The pressure the Cards’ defense applied kept the offense in the game. Twice the defense set the Cardinals’ offense up in prime position to score: once at the Seattle 3-yard line after Shaughnessy's strip-sack and the other at the Seattle 15 after Abraham’s strip-sack.
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's pretty typical for the offense to praise the defense and the defense to do it right back.

But it's not as often the offense flat out says the defense saved its rear.

“I really tip my hat to the defense in the first half because we could’ve been out of it in (the first) seven minutes,” Cardinals left tackle Eric Winston said.

Without the Cardinals’ defense, Sunday’s 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers could’ve been over long before seven minutes passed. Arizona held the Niners to no more than four plays on their first four drives, two of which ended in field goals. Arizona's offense, however, kept giving the Niners opportunities, throwing two interceptions in the game's first 6 minutes.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals defense limited the 49ers to field goals on several red zone trips in the first half.
But it wasn’t just that the Cards were stopping the Niners on third down, it was where they were doing it. Arizona held on its own 7-yard-line for three straight plays and then from its 11, 6 and 8 on another drive. Then in the second quarter, Yeremiah Bell intercepted Colin Kaepernick on the goal line from the 2.

Another red zone trip. Another trip without points.

“Our motto on defense, like Coach always said, (is) defend every blade of grass,” nose tackle Dan Williams said. “Just cause they’re down there, doesn’t mean they have to score a touchdown.

“We actually don’t want to give up any points. They get down there and we want to hold them to a field goal and when they get to a field goal we want to block that.”

Before San Francisco started its last drive of the first quarter, the one that ended with Bell’s interception, the Niners had a total of minus-1 yard. The defense saw the dividends of its work when the offense turned a corner midway through the second with a three-play touchdown drive.

But it started to slow in the second half, when the defense began not adhering to gap assignments and freestyling more, Williams said. The Cardinals couldn't stop the same running play no matter how many times the Niners ran it, rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu said.

“I thought our defense played outstanding until they were out there too long again,” head coach Bruce Arians said.

Sunday, linebacker John Abraham said, was an example of a true team effort. One side wasn’t going to let the other fail. They’d have each other’s backs, Williams added.

“I think it’s just the character of our defense,” Bell said. “We feel like we’re a strong unit. We feel like we can hold up against anything.”

Against the 49ers, the Cardinals showed they could.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- To some Arizona Cardinals, Candlestick Park will forever hold a few select memories that helped shape their football careers.

To another group, Candlestick Park was just another stop on the schedule, another metal and concrete structure that came to life for a few hours on Sundays.

And to others, if they never saw Candlestick Park again, life would be just the same.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsArizona WR Larry Fitzgerald has had his share of bright moments while playing in San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
All three will diverge to the bay Sunday when Arizona makes its last regular-season trip to Candlestick. The emotions will run the gamut. The stadium, originally built for the baseball Giants, holds a special place to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and quarterback Carson Palmer.

Fitzgerald’s first NFL touchdown came in Candlestick during his 2004 rookie season off the hand of former Cards quarterback Josh McCown. It was against defensive back Ahmed Plummer in the end zone away from the locker room on the right side. After Fitzgerald scored, he landed in the arms of former Cardinals left guard Reggie Wells.

Those are the details Fitzgerald remembered this week. Those are the details that come to mind whenever he thinks of Candlestick Park.

“Candlestick is probably one of my favorite places to play aside from Lambeau Field, if you think of the history, not only football history but baseball history, in that stadium,” Fitzgerald said. “Just the great plays … Dwight Clark’s big catch in the back of the end zone, the countless championships 49ers teams that played there.

“The greatest receiver of all time played on that field for 15, 16 years. It’s a lot of great memories.”

For Palmer, its where football all but began for him.

It was either in 1992 or 1994, Palmer couldn’t remember which, when he was in the stands for a 49ers-Dallas Cowboys playoff game, his first NFL game.

“I do have an affection for it because growing up in California, you saw a lot of games on TV at Candlestick,” Palmer said. “I’m excited to play there.”

It was also where Jay Feely made his NFL debut with the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, hitting two field goals and an extra point two days before the 9/11 attacks.

Nose tackle Dan Williams won’t miss Candlestick but he won’t ever forget it. It was where he broke his arm in 2011, trying to tackle San Francisco running back Kendall Hunter.

But Williams appreciates the history within those walls. From the great Niners teams of the 1980s and 1990s to the great players, like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, Williams understands the legacies left in the stadium.

To others, however, that’s all blocked out.

Candlestick is just another stop, just another stadium for linebackers Daryl Washington and John Abraham. But that’s just how it is for some players.

Safety Rashad Johnson doesn’t have any special ties to Candlestick and when the Cardinals go to San Francisco next time, they’ll be playing the same old 49ers, just in a different venue, he said.

The general consensus around the Cardinals is that not many will miss Candlestick, as run down and decrepit as it is, including the team’s head coach.

“No,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Not in the least.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 4

September, 30, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 13-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Offense needs work: Arizona''s offense struggled to move the ball last season, and it seems to be carrying over into the Bruce Arians era. The offense seems to get stuck in the mud and spin its tires for most of the game until it gets a light nudge from the defense or one of its receivers. And, as much as the Cardinals have talked about fixing the problems, the same things keep happening. Arizona didn’t convert a third down in the first half and was 1-for-10 overall. Six of their 10 third downs, including the one conversion, were for 10 yards or less. The Cardinals managed just 87 yards of total offense in the first half, and they were lucky to win. Since 2001, the Cards are 20-47 when totaling less than 100 yards in either half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There could be a simple fix, but it’s a matter of finding out exactly what’s wrong.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Larry Fitzgerald
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLarry Fitzgerald wasn't targeted in the first half but got going after the break.
Run D showed up: No wonder the defensive line wanted to know how many rushing yards it allowed right after the game. The Cardinals held Bucs running back Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries, his lowest total of the season and the lowest of his career when he has 27 or more carries. Martin is averaging 137 yards per game in the four contests in which he has 27 carries or more. According Mark Dalton, Arizona’s vice president of media relations, with information from the Elias Sports Bureau, Martin is the eighth player to have 45 or fewer yards on 25 or more carries since 1935.

Fitz needs to be fed: As Carson Palmer attempted each pass during the first half, none of which were intended for Larry Fitzgerald, the shock spread. Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted once in the first two quarters for the first time since Week 16 of 2010 against the Dallas Cowboys, when the Cardinals also squeezed out a win, 27-26, according to ESPN Stats & Information. As soon as Fitzgerald was worked into the game plan Sunday, Arizona moved the ball with ease because it put the Bucs on alert.

Injuries hurt defense: If the Cardinals weren’t decimated on defense already after New Orleans on Sept. 22, they might not want to go into the training room Monday. Arizona lost three more players to injuries, all at key positions. Linebacker Vic So'oto left the game with a possible concussion. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett left with a groin injury, as did linebacker Jasper Brinkley. This is on top of the rash of injuries suffered two weekends ago and the loss of Dan Williams for the game. So’oto’s injury could be more serious than the others, but Dockett and Brinkley have until Wednesday to rest, otherwise it’s another run through the waiver wire.
NEW ORLEANS -- Darnell Dockett had a career day but the 10-year veteran wouldn’t speak of it.

For just the third time in his career -- and the first in four years -- Dockett recorded three sacks in a game. Yet, he didn’t want to focus on his the superlative day following Arizona’s 31-7 loss to New Orleans.

“We played well up front. We got chances to get after the quarterback, we did a great job at it,” Dockett said. “Me, personally, I don’t care about what I did in the game. I don’t care about stats. I’m not one of those stats people. I care about wins and losses. Anytime I go on the road, you can give me zero tackles, zero everything and give me a win, and that’s good enough for me.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Darnell Dockett
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsDarnell Dockett celebrates one of his three sacks against the Saints.
“That’s my main focus. We fell short as a team and this business is all about wins and losses, and we lost today.”

Dockett picked up the slack from Dan Williams' absence. Williams missed Sunday’s game after his father, Thomas, was killed in a car accident while driving from Memphis to New Orleans. Williams’ nose tackle position was filled on a rotation, but Dockett was steady all day.

He had four quarterback hits and was disturbing the Saints’ offense on a few plays.

“There were times I thought he got after the quarterback and was back there in the backfield being disruptive,” said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who wouldn’t elaborate on Dockett’s play until he watched the game film.

Dockett was emotional, even introspective, after the game, showing a renewed passion that coincided with Todd Bowles’ new one-gap, 3-4 defense.

“We were better than that,” Dockett said. “I mean, Saints is a good team. They’re not that good. They made plays. They made more plays than we did. I told my team today, ‘The only thing about today is we can’t go 15-1. It’s the only thing bad about today.’

“There’s a lot of football left. Nobody should be feeling sorry for themselves, pointing fingers and all that. Sometimes it takes a good loss like this to re-evaluate yourself and tell yourself you’re not that good and you work harder with your craft. We will perform better next week, I’ll be sure of that.”

Locker Room Buzz: Arizona Cardinals

September, 22, 2013
Observed in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 31-7 loss against the New Orleans Saints.

Thinking about Dan: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians opened his news conference talking about nose tackle Dan Williams, who lost his father last week in a car accident while the Williams family drove to New Orleans from Memphis. Arians said Williams' mother is in the hospital. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said the incident put football in perspective.

Injuries plague Cards: Arians didn’t address the injuries suffered specifically, but said they were “critical.” Linebacker Sam Acho left the game with an ankle injury, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander left the game with a foot injury, and safety Rashad Johnson left with a finger injury.

Honey Badger’s reception: By time the Arizona media made its way to the Cardinals’ locker room, the crowd around New Orleans native and LSU product Tyrann Mathieu was already three deep. His return was big news, but to have his first career interception in the Superdome was too good of a storyline.

Offense stalled: Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was blunt in his evaluation of Arizona’s offense after its opening drive: “It didn’t go anywhere.” The Cardinals accomplished their goals of matching the Saints’ energy and quieting the atmosphere of the Superdome, but it stopped at that.
We don't know much at this point but Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Dan Williams will miss today's game after his father was killed in a car accident driving from Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans for this afternoon's Cardinals-Saints game, according to a team spokesman.

Kent Somers of tweeted that William's mother and sister were in the car and both survived.

I'll update this story as I get more information.