NFC West: David Carter

Arizona Cardinals cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: Placing linebacker Daryl Washington on the reserve/suspended list for the first four games was easily the most significant move the Cardinals made, but that was a matter of course. Specific to the roster, Arizona kept only four wide receivers on this initial 53-man roster, an indication the team could remain in the market for a wideout, especially one with the deep speed coach Bruce Arians has sought for his office. Ryan Swope and Mike Thomas were candidates in that area, but concussions forced Swope into early retirement, and Thomas was one of the players Arizona released. The team does have plans to play cornerback Patrick Peterson at receiver, however. We should keep that in mind when looking at the overall numbers at the position.

QB numbers: There had been some thought that the Cardinals might choose between keeping a third quarterback (Ryan Lindley) or a fifth running back (Ryan Williams). Arians had already said Williams was going to stick around. We didn't know whether Lindley would remain on the roster after finishing his 2012 rookie season with zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Lindley played well against Denver in the final exhibition game, however, and he wasn't among the players Arizona released on this initial reduction to 53. It's still too early to say whether Lindley has any roster security.

What's next: The Cardinals could be in the market for another interior defensive linemen after the team released nose tackle David Carter. Carter played 272 snaps on defense last season. His status heading into camp appeared somewhat secure based on past playing time. Carter was excited about transitioning to a scheme that he thought would free up defensive linemen to use their talents as pass-rushers. Dan Williams appears to be the only true nose tackle on the roster.

Players cut: OT Jamaal Johnson-Webb, LB Kenny Rowe, DT Padric Scott, WR Kerry Taylor, LB Reggie Walker, S Jonathon Amaya, C Adam Bice, WR Dan Buckner, DT David Carter, TE Alex Gottlieb, WR Charles Hawkins, G Senio Kelemete, LB Zack Nash, LB Colin Parker, TE Richard Quinn, G Chilo Rachal, S Curtis Taylor, WR Mike Thomas

Camp Confidential: Arizona Cardinals

August, 2, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer's relationship with his new head coach, Bruce Arians, is unlike any the Arizona Cardinals quarterback has experienced in 10 NFL seasons or even in college under Pete Carroll at USC -- except for a nine-start period in 2011.

That 2011 season under Hue Jackson in Oakland was the only other time Palmer played for an offensive-minded head coach. In nine starts, Palmer posted a higher Total QBR score (64.8) than four of the seven quarterbacks accorded Pro Bowl honors.

Coincidence? Palmer, a week into his first training camp with Arizona, doesn't think so. He has played under Carroll, Marvin Lewis and Dennis Allen, all defensive coordinators before they became head coaches.

"There are so many defensive head coaches," Palmer said. "I had Hue for nine games. It was great. We lit it up on offense. We just didn't win."

Plenty of successful quarterbacks have played for defensive-minded head coaches, of course, but at this stage of his career, the 33-year-old Palmer wants to clear away all potential impediments to success. He wants his head coach to see the game the way he sees it, as a quarterback. Arians played the position at Virginia Tech.

"[Arians] is not sitting in the film room and saying my five-step drop was too shallow here or too deep there," Palmer said. "He's all about eyes and where the ball is coming out. That is the first time I've had that. To see it through his eyes and see what he expects and see what he thinks is something that takes time to get used to. It's phenomenal for me."

Palmer has much to prove. The metrics say he's been below average in recent seasons. The win-loss record says he's been worse. The Cardinals' quarterbacks over the past three seasons set the bar low enough for Palmer to clear it, but by how much?

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeTodd Bowles
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCan new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles keep the Cardinals defense operating at the same high level as last season?
1. Life without Ray Horton. The Cardinals ranked third in defensive EPA with Horton as coordinator last season. Arians beat out Horton for the head coaching job and cast off Horton in favor of his own coordinator, Todd Bowles. The switch was a clear downgrade on paper, but you'd never know it after a trip inside the Cardinals' locker room.

"Everybody is excited about this defense," nose tackle David Carter said. "Last year, everybody was like, 'I don't like the defense, but I'm going to play it because I have to.' Now, it's like, 'Hey, you want me to do what? OK, sure, I'll do that!' "

According to Carter, Horton was trying to replicate the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-4 scheme in the absence of the proper personnel. He sees Bowles tailoring the defense to fit the Cardinals' personnel, which is better suited for attacking up the field.

"We don't have the type of personnel to hold up and mirror technique and two-gap," Carter said.

The Cardinals have continued to add players who appear best suited for a 4-3 scheme. It's increasingly clear the 3-4 and 4-3 labels can be a hindrance to understanding how teams play defense. Teams don't necessarily commit 100 percent to the traditional core principles of either scheme.

2. Arians' vertical passing game. Conventional wisdom says Arians' preference for the deep passing game will expose an immobile quarterback to excessive punishment behind a questionable offensive line. That could happen, and no one would need an explanation.

Let's also acknowledge the role quarterbacks play in sack avoidance.

Consider Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He took sacks on 8.8 percent of drop-backs over the three seasons before Arians became his coordinator. The rate was 8.5 percent for Roethlisberger over four seasons with Arians running the offense.

Palmer's career sack rate was 4.7 percent with Cincinnati and 4.6 percent with Oakland. In 2012, he took 26 sacks in 591 drop-backs playing behind a Raiders line that wasn't necessarily more talented than the one Palmer has in Arizona this season.

And if Palmer takes a few extra hits while looking for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd well down the field?

"That is my game," Palmer said. "My strength isn't making a guy miss and getting out and running for a first down on third-and-12. The strength of my game is, I'm 245 pounds, I absorb hits, I'll stay in the pocket and hold it to the very last second for a guy to come out on a certain concept -- not taking a sack, but holding onto the ball and waiting for the guy to get open to get that completion."

3. Who starts on the offensive line? First-round draft choice Jonathan Cooper will be the left guard. Lyle Sendlein will be the center. For the first time in a while, the Cardinals could have multiple decent options elsewhere on the line. The key word is decent, not great.

Levi Brown and Daryn Colledge must play well to justify their high salaries. That could be tough for Colledge, who is battling a nerve problem in his leg. The Cardinals need both veterans, but their longer-term futures are cloudy at best. It's clear that Arizona wants to keep adding youth to the line, which was badly neglected over the previous five drafts. Right now, neither is assured a starting spot.

The two young tackles from last season, Nate Potter and Bobby Massie, provide experienced young depth at worst. One or both could wind up starting.

Arizona does not list an offensive line coach, but three assistants are coaching the position, including coordinator Harold Goodwin. I think the line is getting more thorough coaching under the current setup than when Russ Grimm had been the line coach. Grimm's a Hall of Famer and he built a reputation as a top line coach, but the results simply weren't there in Arizona.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Palmer represents a three-victory improvement over his immediate predecessors if he plays the way he played for Oakland last season. The rest of the team should respond favorably to an upgrade at the most important position. The offensive line is healthier and deeper than it was a year ago. First-year general manager Steve Keim has brought a more proactive approach to personnel. The Cardinals have made themselves better throughout the roster as a result.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The current NFC West is no place to attempt a rebuilding project. Even if some defensive players didn't like the previous scheme, there's no denying the results. Arizona's defense ranked among the NFL's top five in interception rate, third-down conversion rate, red zone efficiency, Total QBR, passing yards, sack rate and first downs. Bowles' Philadelphia Eagles ranked a respective 32nd, 32nd, 27th, 32nd, 14th, fourth and 22nd in those categories during his run as coordinator from Week 7 through season's end. Also, Bowles won't have inside linebacker Daryl Washington for the first four games because of his suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
    AP Photo/Rick ScuteriCoach Bruce Arians wants more "explosive" plays from Michael Floyd and the Cardinals offense.
    The emphasis on big plays is obvious in practice. Palmer frequently pushes the ball deep to Fitzgerald and Floyd. Arians has told players he wants six to eight explosive plays per game. He defines explosive plays as passes covering at least 25 yards and rushes covering at least 15 yards. Arizona tied for the league low with 32 drives featuring at least one play fitting Arians' explosive profile, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The league average was 45 such drives, and San Francisco was two off the league high with 58, while Seattle had 45 and St. Louis had 35. Arians' Indianapolis Colts had 46. His Steelers ranked 11th with 230 such drives from 2007 through 2011, when Arians was coordinator.
  • Floyd opened camp by catching all three of the "50-50" passes Palmer threw his way. Palmer defines those throws loosely as jump balls into coverage, passes in which the receiver and defender should, in theory, have an equal chance at the ball.
  • Arians wants a physical camp when the team is in pads. He had every non-specialist, non-quarterback and uninjured player on the team, including Fitzgerald, engaged in what amounted to close-quarters combat on the team's first day in pads.
  • Rob Housler, who led NFC West tight ends in receptions last season, is the player Fitzgerald points to as among the most impressive in camp to this point. Fitz: "I know you have seen the Jimmy Grahams and Antonio Gateses and Vernon Davises and these tight ends who can do receiver-type angles, routes, things like that. [Housler] is turning into that type of guy. He has 4.4 speed, he can run with the best of them and he's improving in his blocking. He is coming into his own. That is exciting. To have a tight end that can do that is going to open up other things."
  • Rookie Earl Watford, a fourth-round draft choice, struggled getting into position in one-on-one pass-rush drills on the one day early in camp when I charted every rep.
  • Cornerback Patrick Peterson has already been to the Pro Bowl as a returner and as a cornerback. His timing and spacing in coverage has improved, allowing Peterson to better challenge routes. Watching Peterson work at receiver in camp, I don't see how Arians will resist using him on offense to some degree. Peterson appeared more natural in his route-running than some of the young receivers. I was standing with Keim, the GM, when Peterson thrilled the crowd with a reception in practice. Keim: "He is so natural. Watch him running routes, particularly stops and digs. You watch him drop his weight at 219 and accelerate out of the break, that's not what cornerbacks do. He can come out here and just run a route and you're just like, 'He looks like Percy Harvin running a route. How does he do that?' "
  • The newly acquired John Abraham worked with the second team and was trouble for the offense. He was moving through the backfield so quickly on one play that he collided with defensive lineman Matt Shaughnessy, who was rushing from the other side. Abraham signed a two-year deal with a $2.325 million average.
  • Rookie second-round choice Kevin Minter is going to deliver big hits on special teams, it appears. He "decleated" fellow backup linebacker Zack Nash during one punt return.
  • Fifty-one of the 90 players in camp weren't with the Cardinals at any point last season. Arizona focused on signing younger veteran players to one-year deals during what amounts to a transition year. The team signed no unwieldy contracts this offseason. The turnover means watching practice without a roster printout can be a confusing experience. Defensive end Calais Campbell: "I wish I knew everybody's name. I don't."
  • Bowles' defense requires the safeties to be more vocal in making adjustments based on personnel and formations. Bowles was a safety in the NFL for eight seasons. Rashad Johnson: "In the past, we more likely would come out in a call and if we got motion, we would just stay in it. We wouldn't change the coverages or change our look based on that. Now, we do things based off the personnel and based off what guys are giving us."
  • Palmer appears to have a good rapport with Andre Roberts, who figures to factor from the slot. The quarterback compared Roberts to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, his former teammate in Cincinnati, based on body type, route running and football smarts. Palmer: "It's almost like they have played quarterback all the way 'til they got to the NFL. They understand it from your perspective. Andre has that kind of IQ. He just gets it. He sees it, feels it, gets it, he reacts. That is a special trait."
  • The praise in camp for players such as Housler, Floyd and Roberts highlights just how horrible the quarterback play was last season. Even Fitzgerald had an off year. The Cardinals need Palmer to get much more from these players.
The Arizona Cardinals' defensive line depth is taking shape with Frostee Rucker joining Matt Shaughnessy among free-agent additions this month.

Rucker, 29, agreed to terms on a one-year contract, the team announced.

Rucker, 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, played 50 percent of the Cleveland Browns' defensive snaps across 16 starts last season. He had four sacks.

The chart shows stats for Rucker and Shaugnessy along with those for the Cardinals' defensive linemen last season.

The Arizona Cardinals' contract agreement with Oakland Raiders unrestricted free agent Matt Shaughnessy adds quality depth to the team's line rotation, presumably behind Calais Campbell in particular.

Shaughnessy, 26, played about two-thirds of the defensive snaps for the Raiders last season. He was a third-round choice (71st overall) from Wisconsin in 2009. A shoulder injury sidelined him for much of the 2011 season after Shaughnessy collected a career-high seven sacks in 2010.

As Kent Somers noted, Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour pointed to Shaughnessy's injury as the No. 1 reason Oakland's defense faltered in 2011.

"I think he's the best (end) in the NFL against the run," Seymour said at the time, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "It was a big blow for us when he went down. It messed up our rotation a lot. Guys that weren't normally in there were trying to understand what we were trying to do."

The chart ranks the Cardinals' defensive linemen from 2012 by snaps played. I've added Shaughnessy to the list for reference.

Update: Bill Williamson's post on the AFC West blog notes, in part, "Shaughnessy had potential and played well for Oakland, but he did not play well last season and was replaced by journeyman Andre Carter late in the season."

Batting around thoughts with Campbell out

November, 18, 2012
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When healthy, Calais Campbell is arguably the best player on the Arizona Cardinals' defense.

Campbell is not healthy. A calf injury will prevent him from playing Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. David Carter gets the start instead.

This is only the second time in five seasons Campbell will miss a regular-season game. The 6-foot-8 defensive end has 3.5 sacks and four passes defensed this season.

The Cardinals have batted only four passes this season after ranking third in the NFL last season with 18. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had only three passes batted this season, tied with Aaron Rodgers for fourth fewest among 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Brandon Weeden (12), Andy Dalton (11), Andrew Luck (10) and Ryan Tannehill (10) have had the most batted this season, followed by Mark Sanchez and a group of four others with nine. Sam Bradford (7), Russell Wilson (5), Kevin Kolb (4), John Skelton (4) and Alex Smith (2) rank lower on the list.

Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information.

Also, the Cardinals listed tight end Todd Heap among their inactive players. He has not played since suffering a knee injury in Week 2.
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals' defense:

Where was Dockett? Usually on sideline

October, 5, 2012
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News broke Thursday that Darnell Dockett would be available to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5.

Arizona's game against St. Louis began, and Dockett was on the field. But as the game progressed and the Rams moved closer to a 17-3 victory in the Edward Jones Dome, Dockett didn't appear to be making an impact. Most of the time, I couldn't even find him on the field.

The reason: Dockett played only about one-third of the Cardinals' defensive snaps. He was available, but he wasn't right. The hamstring injury that forced him to miss the Cardinals' Week 4 game was still a factor.

Arizona now has nine days between games. Dockett will presumably be closer to full strength when the team faces Buffalo in Week 6.

Hamstring injuries can linger, however. Dockett, one of the most durable Cardinals, had been a dominant force for Arizona at times during the team's fast start. The chart shows playing time stats for the Cardinals' defensive line, as tabulated by the NFL.
Looking back on three things discussed here before Arizona's preseason home opener Friday night against Oakland, a game the Cardinals led at halftime 24-11 when I filed this entry, and eventually won 31-27:


1. Ticking QB clock. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton led first-half touchdown drives on short fields. Kolb completed a pass for a third-down conversion on the opening drive. He held the ball too long on subsequent drives. Pressure was a problem as well. Kolb did not handle it well. He took a penalty for intentional grounding at the Arizona 1-yard line, then got sacked for a safety on the next play. Oakland defensive lineman Tommy Kelly ran off the field and yelled of Kolb, “That boy’s scared,” according to the Raiders’ preseason TV coverage. Kolb completed 3 of 6 passes for 22 yards.

Skelton completed all three pass attempts for 23 yards on his only meaningful first-half drive, the final one for a touchdown to fullback Anthony Sherman.

Rookie Ryan Lindley opened the second half as the Cardinals' quarterback. Skelton hardly played as a result, leaving the impression coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't looking for additional information on his top two passers. By then, the Cardinals had also lost left tackle Levi Brown to a triceps injury, raising additional questions about the offensive line. Pass protection was already an issue.

Skelton would appear to have the edge in this competition, in my view. Two exhibition games remain, however.

2. RB health. Ryan Williams played in a game for the first time since suffering a torn patella during the preseason 364 days earlier. This was a promising performance for Williams. He carried five times for 25 yards and a touchdown, with a long run of 15 yards. Alfonso Smith took over from there. Starter Beanie Wells, back at practice recently after undergoing offseason knee surgery, did not play.


3. Outside pass-rush. Outside linebacker Quentin Groves was the player I had in mind, but the Cardinals got most of their pressure up the middle, at least in the first half. Defensive end Darnell Dockett drew a penalty for hitting Carson Palmer in the legs. Nose tackle David Carter got pressure to force an incomplete pass near the goal line. Reggie Walker and Stewart Bradley got pressure on inside blitzes. I’ll check out the second half and report back Saturday if warranted.
Our two-day look at NFC West rosters concludes with projections for the Arizona Cardinals' defense and special teams.

Defensive linemen (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.2

Safest bets: Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, David Carter, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday

Leading contenders: Ronald Talley

Longer odds: Ricky Lumpkin, Landon Cohen

Comment: The position should be a strength for the Cardinals. Campbell and Dockett have earned most of the attention. Carter stood out immediately as a rookie in training camp last year. He came out swinging and quickly moved up the depth chart at nose tackle. Carter impressed enough as a rookie for Pro Football Focus to feature him in its "Secret Superstar" series. Williams has gotten his weight down. This is a big year for him coming off a season-ending arm injury.

Linebackers (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.2

Safest bets: Daryl Washington, Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Stewart Bradley

Leading contenders: Reggie Walker, Quentin Groves

Longer odds: Quan Sturdivant, Marcus McGraw, Paul Vassallo, Colin Parker, Brandon Williams, Antonio Coleman, Zack Nash

Comment: Washington is an emerging star and should command more widespread respect if the Cardinals' defense continues to improve. Lenon remains an integral part of the defense. He's the link between coordinator Ray Horton and the rest of the defense. Bradley hasn't come close to unseating him. A full offseason should give Bradley a better chance to earn playing time, at least. The Cardinals are counting on Acho and Schofield to provide their outside rush. The coaching staff also wants to get pressure with its inside linebackers. Washington has shown he can make that happen.

Defensive backs (17)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.2

Safest bets: Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Jamell Fleming, Greg Toler, William Gay, Rashad Johnson

Leading contenders: A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams, James Sanders

Longer odds: Justin Bethel, Marshay Green, Blake Gideon, Eddie Elder, Crezdon Butler, Larry Parker, James Nixon

Comment: Fleming, the Cardinals' third-round choice, stood out among rookies at organized team activities and minicamps. Coach Ken Whisenhunt commended his quickness and ability to change direction fluidly. The team plans to try him in the nickel role during training camp. The other nine defensive backs listed among "safest bets" and "leading contenders" have started regular-season games in the NFL. Barring injuries, one or two players released from this group figures to play elsewhere this season.

Special teams (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Safest bets: Jay Feely, Mike Leach, Dave Zastudil

Leading contenders: none

Longer odds: Ricky Schmitt

Comment: Feely's field-goal percentage last season (79.2) was his lowest since 2004. Four of his five misses were outdoors. Arizona plays six games outdoors in 2012 (Arizona counts as indoors even though the roof can open).
It's possible some NFL receivers will spend more time catching passes from a division rival than from their own quarterbacks over the next five weeks.

Collectively bargained rules prevent players from holding informal practice sessions at their teams' facilities. Some of them will work out at their former colleges, where former teammates are sometimes current rivals.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Seattle quarterback Matt Flynn has plans to work out at LSU, where his former college teammate, Arizona Cardinals receiver Early Doucet, also works out. Flynn: "That’s kind of my home base in the offseason. There’s a bunch of NFL guys that are from LSU, so I get together with the Early Doucets, Brandon LaFells -- guys that I played with in college that are in the NFL. We all get together and we work out in the mornings." Noted: Players bargained for freer offseasons. The new rules assure freer offseasons. Allowing players to practice informally at team headquarters would put pressure on them to do so.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers in-depth thoughts on Seattle quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson. On Flynn: "I don’t care for his throwing motion. He has a bit of an elbow-first push to it. At first look, it makes him seem a bit unimposing as a passer. Many great quarterbacks have flourished with unique styles, though. Whereas Jackson has the look of a thoroughbred athlete, Flynn is less impressive on the hoof. The difference is in efficiency. Flynn identifies his target, anticipates the opening, and gets the ball into the receiver’s catching-window with great regularity. His timing and accuracy make him look like a quarterback who can move the sticks, and be a very nice fit in the Hawks' run-balanced offense."

Dan Hanzus of NFL.com says coach Pete Carroll has "no remorse" after incurring league punishment for the way his team practiced during recent minicamps. Carroll: "We get docked a little bit for that but we were trying to make the most of a situation that was not guided very clearly. There were some things written, but there's always been some things written. We saw no tape, nobody showed us, nobody talked to us about it. I have no remorse about it at all; we got 10 OTAs in eight days, that's all I can tell you."

Brian McIntyre of NFL.com revisits a recent Alan Branch interview for thoughts about how the Seattle defensive tackle plans to improve his pass-rush ability. McIntyre: "Branch played in over 60 percent of the Seahawks' defensive snaps last season and frequently remained on the field in nickel and dime packages. With Jones improving the team's depth, and Irvin expected to play a prominent role opposite Chris Clemons, Branch will likely rotate with Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Clinton McDonald in pass-rushing situations."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks back on R.C. Owens' career after the former 49ers receiver died Sunday. Maiocco: "Owens was also a standout basketball player at the College of Idaho. In 1962 while with the Baltimore Colts, Owens blocked a 40-yard field goal by jumping up and swatting the ball away in front of the goal posts. In those days, the goal posts were situated at the goal line. The NFL enacted a rule to make that play illegal. Now, field-goal attempts can only be blocked at the line of scrimmage."

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers safety Donte Whitner for thoughts on how coach Jim Harbaugh runs minicamps. Whitner: "It’s very intense. I don’t know if coach is just trying to run as many plays as we can, but I guarantee you if we’re not the team that runs the most plays in mini-camp, we’re in the top five."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com runs through the schedule for Rams rookies this week. Wagoner: "On Thursday comes perhaps the keynote event of the week as the rookies join the entire Rams staff for a trip to Joplin, Mo., to participate in the Governor’s Challenge. Following an early morning departure, the entire staff will arrive in Joplin to spend the day helping to build five houses in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity. After a day of work, the entire staff and rookies will arrive back in St. Louis late Thursday night."

Howard Balzer explains why the Rams tore up an agreement with offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye earlier this offseason. Hypertension and high blood pressure were the culprits, the Vancouver Sun reported. Olafioye to the Sun: "I stopped taking my medication. Me, just being young, thinking about the workouts, I thought I would be all right if I just ate right. I thought, ‘I should be good.’ Was I trying to do the right thing, and it turned out not to be the right thing? Exactly. I’m taking my meds now and staying away from things like red meat. I’m eating lots of salads."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on a Pro Football Focus piece identifying Cardinals defensive lineman David Carter as a key contributor. Somers: "Coaches liked him from the day he stepped on the field and he made a great impression during training camp. He also played well early in the season, spelling Dan Williams, who was not in shape. PFF found it curious that Nick Eason, not Carter, became the starter when Williams suffered a broken arm against the 49ers on Nov. 20. ... Eason was a veteran of this defense, having played in it previously with the Steelers. The defense was just starting to turn the corner and coaches were more comfortable with a veteran. Coaches also thought Carter was wearing down toward the middle of the year."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com projects the team's starting lineup on defense for 2012. He's taking Greg Toler over William Gay at cornerback. Urban: "Yes, William Gay was there this offseason and yes, Gay has a good chance to be the starter. But for some reason, I think Toler finds his way there. Both are going to play regardless."

With Pettis out, revisiting NFC West drafts

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
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Rookie draft choices are making strong contributions throughout the NFC West, but less so in St. Louis after the NFL suspended receiver Austin Pettis.

More on the Rams' rookie class below. First, a look at how other teams' rookies have fared:
  • Seattle: Fourth-round linebacker K.J. Wright and fifth-round cornerback Richard Sherman are flourishing as starters for Seattle. First-rounder James Carpenter and third-rounder John Moffitt were starting for the Seahawks until injuries ended their season.
  • San Francisco: First-rounder Aldon Smith has become a candidate for defensive rookie of the year with 13 sacks in 14 games. Third-rounder Chris Culliver and fourth-rounder Kendall Hunter have become key role players on an 11-3 team. Seventh-rounder Bruce Miller has developed into the starting fullback. The team asked nothing right away from second-round choice Colin Kaepernick, the backup quarterback.
  • Arizona: The Cardinals' first-round choice, Patrick Peterson, has set records as a return specialist, returning four punts for touchdowns. He has started all season at cornerback and has increasingly made positive contributions to an improving defense. Fourth-round outside linebacker Sam Acho and fifth-round fullback Anthony Sherman have become solid starters. Acho has five sacks. Sixth-rounder David Carter has contributed as part of the rotation on the defensive line.

Back to the Rams. As the chart shows, first-rounder Robert Quinn and second-rounder Lance Kendricks remain on the 53-man roster. Pettis, a third-round choice, and fourth-rounder Greg Salas are out for the season. The Rams drafted four additional players, three in the seventh round, and none remains with the team.

St. Louis had no 2011 sixth-rounder after sending it to Baltimore in the Mark Clayton trade. Clayton made an immediate impact last season, but injuries have forced him to miss 24 of 30 games.
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Cardinals' youth movement is old news

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
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If the headline above this item sounds confusing, that was the point.

The Arizona Cardinals are at once a young, emerging team and an old, declining one.

As discussed earlier Wednesday in the Arizona section of this item, the Cardinals have the 15th-oldest players on offense and the second-oldest players on defense. No team in the NFL has older defensive backups in terms of average age. But that is only part of the story.

The Cardinals' five youngest players are starting. Their eight youngest players all own at least two starts this season. Their ninth-, 10th- and 11th-youngest players -- David Carter, LaRod Stephens-Howling and O'Brien Schofield -- are getting significant playing time and making positive contributions.

By my calculations, the Cardinals would go from third-oldest to roughly 15th-oldest in average age (not counting specialists) simply by replacing Vonnie Holliday, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Paris Lenon with players averaging 25 years old.

Haggans and Lenon remain productive players, but the team hopes to replace them with younger players. Schofield could realistically step in for Haggans next season. Free-agent addition Stewart Bradley, 28, will presumably play more next season as well.

Porter appears on his way out now that rookie Sam Acho is starting and producing (two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery against St. Louis). Acho has started the last five games. He has four sacks in those five starts, plus a fifth sack one game before he replaced Porter in the lineup. The 2011 fourth-round draft choice looks like a keeper.

The Cardinals will also get younger next season by welcoming back Ryan Williams from injured reserve. The team signed 32-year-old Chester Taylor as an emergency replacement when Williams, still not yet 22, landed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Nose tackle Dan Williams, 24, went on injured reserve more recently. His return will also make the Cardinals younger on average.

The goal should be to get better, not just younger. But if you're going to suffer through losing seasons, it's best to develop young talent along the way. The Cardinals are doing that. They could still stand to add young players throughout their roster.

For example, Arizona's backup offensive linemen are 28, 29 and 31 years old when 27-year-old Brandon Keith is healthy enough to start at right tackle. That gives the Cardinals the oldest backup offensive linemen in the league, by my calculations.

Plugging in an experienced player can be more comforting than turning to a raw rookie, but teams hire coaches to develop talent, not just manage it. Drafting for the offensive line (there's a thought) and defense would go a long way toward changing the overall makeup of the Cardinals' roster.

Hidden key to Patrick Peterson's return

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
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The Arizona Cardinals weren't convinced the St. Louis Rams planned to punt on fourth-and-1 with 4:05 remaining in the third quarter Sunday.

They left their regular defensive personnel on the field -- Clark Haggans, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Adrian Wilson, David Carter, Paris Lenon and Calais Campbell among them -- just in case the Rams planned a fake.

But when officials flagged the Rams' C.J. Ah You for a false-start penalty, setting up fourth-and-6, the Cardinals subbed their full punt-return team onto the field. Cameras showed Wilson and Washington running off the field immediately. The next wide-angle shot available showed the punt-coverage team aligned in standard fashion, different from how the regular defense had lined up before the penalty.

Patrick Peterson returned the ensuing punt 80-yards for a game-breaking touchdown. The Cardinals won the game, 23-20. Would Peterson have scored without his usual blocking contingent on the field? It's impossible to know, but the odds would be against it, in my view.

2011 Cardinals Week 11: Five observations

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
4:51
PM ET
Five things I noticed while watching the Arizona Cardinals' most recent game, a 23-7 road defeat to the San Francisco 49ers:
  • Beanie Wells at less than 40 percent. The percentage reflects how much Wells played in this game, a season-low 36.7 percent of the offensive snaps. The Cardinals possessed the ball for 15:44, their lowest total for a game since at least 1981. That meant their starting running back was hardly on the field. Wells played 18 snaps, nine fewer than veteran backup Chester Taylor. This was probably a good thing for Wells in retrospect. He's been dealing with a knee injury. The Cardinals weren't likely to get much going on the ground against San Francisco. They fell behind, anyway. Wells should be healthier against St. Louis this week.
  • Dan Williams' bulk missed. The Cardinals' second-year nose tackle suffered a season-ending arm injury, leaving Nick Eason and David Carter as the remaining nose tackles. Williams, though not yet injured, was not on the field when the 49ers' Frank Gore broke his longest run of the game, a 14-yarder up the gut in the first quarter. Gore and fullback Bruce Miller lined up in the I-formation on first down. Delanie Walker and Justin Peelle were the tight ends. Michael Crabtree was the lone wideout. Formation and personnel said run, run, run. Miller blocked linebacker Daryl Washington. Center Jonathan Goodwin cleared out Eason. Guard Mike Iupati shoved aside Carter. The 49ers averaged only 3.3 yards per attempt overall, but they carried 49 times. This one was too easy.
  • Stewart Bradley got more snaps. Of course, there were more to go around. The Cardinals' defense was on the field for 87 plays, most in the Ken Whisenhunt era. Bradley played about a third of them. He has played less than 20 percent of the defensive snaps this season despite signing a five-year, $30 million contract. Bradley wanted to escape the 4-3 scheme he ran previously in Philadelphia, but the transition to Arizona's 3-4 has been tough for him, particularly without the usual offseason work. Bradley would have fit better initially in St. Louis' scheme, although the Rams did not need a middle linebacker. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo left Philadelphia before the Eagles drafted Bradley in 2007, but there would have been carryover.
  • Cardinals hurt themselves, literally. The final play of the first quarter summed up the Cardinals' experience in this game. Quarterback John Skelton slipped. Skelton dropped the ball when bracing himself. Tackles Brandon Keith and Levi Brown knocked helmets when diving toward the ball in case Skelton could not make the recovery. Keith suffered a concussion on the play. Cameras then showed Cardinals' medical personnel tending to Skelton's finger. I couldn't see whether one of the 49ers' players stepped on the finger or if Skelton injured it on another play, but whatever the case, this play was packed with all-around Cardinals badness and misfortune.
  • Cardinals hurt themselves again. Williams was pursuing 49ers running back Kendall Hunter toward the sideline late in the game when Bradley converged with him in an attempt to make the tackle. Williams stuck out his left arm to grab Hunter just as Bradley arrived. Bradley's helmet hit Williams' outstretched arm near the elbow. Microphones captured what sounded like a primal scream following the impact. The only breaks Arizona got in this game showed up on X-rays.

Arizona's defensive players kept hustling late in the game despite being on the field so long. Probably should have included that in the "silver linings" file earlier in the week.

Around the NFC West: On that chop block

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
10:23
AM ET
Coach Jim Harbaugh took the high road when reporters asked about the penalty that wiped out a 75-yard touchdown reception for his San Francisco 49ers.

The call was unlucky but also correct, Harbaugh said, following the 49ers' 16-6 defeat at Baltimore on Thursday night.

Running back Frank Gore went low to block the Ravens' Bernard Pollard. Gore had already made his block when right guard Chilo Rachal shoved Pollard high.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Harbaugh this way: "It was a bang-bang play for Chilo. He really just got his hands on (Pollard). I wish he could have seen that and not put his hands on him. It certainly was a chop block and it was a good call." Noted: A 75-yard touchdown strike to snap a 3-3 tie would have changed the dynamics of this game. The call from referee John Parry's crew might have been technically correct, but if the call had never been made, would there be any outcry? I don't think so. The rules governing chop blocks exist to protect players from serious injuries. No defender should have to worry about getting chopped at the knees while another offensive player engages him in a block. This penalty did more to demonstrate Parry's knowledge of the rules than it did to protect Pollard from a dangerous block. NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk explained this well on the broadcast. Harbaugh was exceedingly gracious in his response. He also set the right example for his team by refusing to embrace potential excuses. The Ravens were the better team on this night and deserved to win the game.

Also from Inman: postgame thoughts on various aspects of the 49ers' performance. Inman: "The 49ers' defense played OK. But OK isn’t good enough when the 49ers' offense is getting pummeled. True, the Ravens scored only 16 points and the 49ers still lead the league in points allowed and rushing yards allowed. But the 49ers' defense was terrible on third down, aside from a goal-line stand in which Joe Flacco foolishly tried running for the goal line and got stuffed for no gain by Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. The go-ahead touchdown pass by Flacco looked too easy, and I don’t know if that is because Donte Whitner came over too late to cut off the angle of that catch. One more thing: Actually no things, as in NO SACKS and NO TURNOVERS. In other words, NO CHANCE." Noted: The Ravens did not let the 49ers play this game on the 49ers' terms. That exposed the limitations San Francisco has covered so well most of the season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers have many issues to address offensively following this defeat. Alex Smith: "We've haven't felt like this in a long time. But we are 9-2. This was a very tough game. Every guy in the locker room is hurting. No one is OK with this. That's a big difference from previous years. We invested in each other so much and that's why we are winning. This has left a bad taste in our mouths."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says a communication error led to Smith's interception right before halftime. Harbaugh: "We were taking a shot. We were more hoping for the back shoulder. Alex saw Braylon inside the corner and he threw it and it was an unfortunate play. I don't know exactly who was right, but (the corner) made a good play. That happens. You try to take a shot, and we didn't get it."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers failed a fourth-quarter test against the Ravens.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gets thoughts from Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels regarding the team's offensive approach against Seattle. Thomas concludes by saying the team plans to shuffle its offensive line, with right guard Harvey Dahl possibly moving to left tackle. Previously benched center Jason Brown would play right guard. Noted: My first thought upon seeing Dahl at Rams training camp was that the veteran guard looked more like a tackle. He was taller and leaner looking than anticipated given Dahl's reputation as a brawler. There was never any thought, however, that Dahl would actually play tackle, let alone left tackle. But his experience and tenacity should make him better suited for the position than undrafted rookie free agent Kevin Hughes at this time.

Also from Thomas: Mark Clayton's knees continued to give the receiver trouble, leading to Clayton's placement on injured reserve.

More from Thomas: a closer look at the Rams' offensive line. McDaniels: "We're at that point now where we're going to have to potentially play a guard at tackle, potentially play a center at guard -- swing guys left and right. And then if something does happen in the game, there's no question there's going to be some moving parts and pieces within the four quarters, too. They've accepted the challenge and the burden that we have. It's normal. Every team goes through it. We've got to deal with it well this week."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com profiles Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis evaluates the Rams' roster.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times explains how Red Bryant helped transform the Seahawks' thinking on defense.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks placed right tackle James Carpenter on injured reserve, replacing him on the roster with Allen Barbre.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says coach Pete Carroll has gone to unusual measures in an effort to reduce penalties. Farnsworth: "In his quest to eliminate penalties, Carroll had the unit that committed the most against the Rams purchase turkeys this week for the unit that was not penalized. So today’s turkey dinners for the linebackers are on the offensive linemen." Good quotes from middle linebacker David Hawthorne: "I got my turkey. It’s in the oven as we speak. Linebackers just don’t get penalties. We're just bred to be the smartest guys on the field."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com updates Kevin Kolb's injury status and says the Cardinals quarterback has suffered no setbacks during the week. Noted: All signs point to Kolb returning Sunday. The team might have an easier time giving Kolb additional rest if backup John Skelton were coming off a strong game. But after Skelton completed 6 of 19 passes with three interceptions at San Francisco, getting Kolb back onto the field at less than full strength has more appeal.

Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic explains how the Cardinals plan to replace injured nose tackle Dan Williams. Nick Eason and David Carter will get more snaps. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We're going to miss Dan because Dan's been playing really good, he's come on. I think we've got a veteran presence in Nick, and David Carter obviously has made some plays for us there this year. We feel good about them being able to step in there and handle that."

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