NFC West: Larry Fitzgerald

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Every day that passes is another day the Arizona Cardinals get closer to making a decision on Larry Fitzgerald's future.

Do they eat his $23.6 million cap hit in 2015 and pay him the $16.25 million he’s due? Or do they part ways and move on to the Post-Larry era?

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill believes Fitzgerald will be a member of the Cardinals next season.

Bidwill said on KTAR 92.3 FM he thinks preliminary talks between the Cardinals and Fitzgerald’s agent, Eugene Parker, have gone well.

“I’m sure we’ll get it worked out,” Bidwill said. “We’ve had a couple of conversations that I think were productive so we’ll continue those discussions or at least (general manager) Steve Keim and his agent will.”

Bidwill said he wants Fitzgerald to retire a Cardinal but “that’s many years off.” Fitzgerald has spent all 11 years of his career with the Cardinals, but at 31 his production has tapered the last three seasons despite a spike in 2013. He had his lowest numbers for yards, catches and touchdowns since his rookie season in 2014.

Yet Bidwill still believes Fitzgerald wants to return to Arizona.

“Without getting into too much, I think it’s perfect for us and it’s perfect for him,” Bidwill said. “And we should be able to work this out.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The career of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning potentially ended Sunday night in Denver, while the future of another surefire Hall of Famer is still in flux.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald won’t likely retire anytime soon, but his career in Arizona may come to an end this offseason if he and the team can’t agree on a new contract. If 2014 was his last season with the Cardinals, his career would’ve statistically come full circle

The similarities between Fitzgerald’s 2014 season, his worst season in 10 years, and his rookie year of 2004 are scary.

Statistically, they’re almost exactly the same. Comparing them, however, comes with a few caveats: Fitzgerald was 31 in 2014 compared to 21 in 2004; he played in 14 games in 2014 and 16 in 2004; and the Cardinals went 11-5 and to the playoffs in 2014, compared to 6-10 in 2004.

A few other similarities:
  • The most Fitzgerald was targeted in any one game during each season was 12 times.
  • Fitzgerald's first touchdown pass of each season came in the fifth game.
  • He was targeted 10 times in the second game of each season.
  • Fitzgerald had 98 yards in Week 5 in 2014 and 94 yards in Week 5 in 2004 -- both were his first games of 90 yards or more in each season.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals’ offseason is less than three days old but there are enough topics to discuss for the next few months.

Here are the top 5 storylines heading into the Arizona Cardinals offseason:

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald's future: It doesn’t matter what else happens to the Cardinals this offseason, what they decide to do with Fitzgerald will trump it. As has been discussed all year, Fitzgerald is due $16 million next season with $8 million of that coming as a roster bonus in March. With that salary, however, comes a $23.6 million cap hit, which is the point of contention for the team and Fitzgerald. During the next two months, one of the following will likely happen: Fitzgerald will either restructure his contract, renegotiate a new one, get released or get traded.

Carson Palmer's progress: All hopes of a deep run in the playoffs went out the door when Palmer went down with the second ACL injury of his career. Palmer will return, that's as close to a certainty as the Cardinals can get this offseason, but when and at what level are the main questions. Having gone through the rehab process once before, Palmer understands what to expect and is prepared to go through it again. But if he returns either just before or into training camp, how will that impact the Cardinals’ offense?

Getting healthy: With 21 players – including eight on injured reserve – missing a combined 109 games during the regular season, the Cardinals spent the entire season trying to overcome injuries. Arizona’s locker room looked more like a MASH unit than anything else. With a few months before offseason workouts begin, the Cardinals have time to get the likes of quarterback Drew Stanton, running back Andre Ellington, punter Dave Zastudil, defensive tackle Ed Stinson and tight end Troy Niklas healthy before preparation for next season begins.

Bowles
Todd Bowles’ future: Of the five storylines, this one will be resolved quickest. Bowles will make a decision whether to take a head coaching job one way or the other in the next couple weeks. He has four interviews this week and potentially two more down the road. If he leaves, the Cardinals will be on their third defensive coordinator in four years, but the basic tenets of the 3-4 scheme likely won’t change. Whoever Bruce Arians chooses to replace Bowles will be someone he trusts more than the average coach. Arians doesn’t tinker with the defense, leaving Bowles to do his thing the past two years and with the exception of the last six games of this season, what Bowles did worked as Arizona was a top 10 defense both seasons.

In-house free agent priorities: Two months from Wednesday, teams can start legally pursuing free agents but can’t sign them until March 10. The Cardinals have 10 unrestricted free agents, but how many will they re-sign? Six of the 10 are part of Arizona’s front seven – linebackers John Abraham, Larry Foote, Sam Acho and Marcus Benard, and nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. The others are tight end Rob Housler, right guard Paul Fanaika, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and long snapper Mike Leach. Ranking them in priority from No. 1 to 10: 1. Foote, 2. Cromartie, 3. Kelly, 4. Williams, 5. Abraham (a healthy and wanting to play Abraham), 6. Leach, 7. Fanaika, 8. Acho, 9. Benard, 10. Housler.
 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With every incomplete pass, with every interception, with every empty run, the minutes ticked away, bringing the Arizona Cardinals closer to next season.

And next season couldn’t come soon enough.

The Cardinals entered Saturday’s wild-card game against the Carolina Panthers with their third-string quarterback, two former practice-squad running backs and a former college basketball player turned tight end on offense.

And it showed.

[+] EnlargeRyan Lindley
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonRyan Lindley and the Cardinals had just 13 total yards in the second half against Carolina.
 The Cardinals walked out of the rain at Bank of America Stadium with the fewest offensive yards (78) in NFL postseason history and a 27-16 loss to the Panthers. Even though -- in a weird twist of fate only the playoff gods could come up with -- quarterback Ryan Lindley, on a pass to Darren Fells, and running back Marion Grice, who both started the year on San Diego’s practice squad, scored both of Arizona’s touchdowns in the first half.

The misfits led Arizona to a 14-13 lead at the intermission. In the end, however, Lindley showed he wasn’t Carson Palmer, and neither Grice nor Kerwynn Williams, another practice-squad running back, were Andre Ellington. The Cardinals gained 13 yards in the second half.

Yet, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he didn’t believe his team ran out of players.

“We have to make game plans to win games and ask players to do things we think they are capable of doing to win games,” Arians said. “I never buy into injuries losing games.”

But they did. And they lost a season.

The Cardinals started 9-1, winning a game after Palmer was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. But they limped to the finish at 2-4 and hobbled into the playoffs. The hot start, however, got them to the wild-card round Saturday afternoon.

And those few hours, under a bit of rain and a misting fog, could be the best thing to happen to this team when they get their injured teammates back.

“Everyone [will] remember the feeling, right now, to make it and come up short in the first game,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “It’s tough. Especially, you’re in here and hear hooting and hollering outside.

“Just feels like a bunch of salt in the wound. It’s tough. I think if we know what we need to do and come back strong and have that experience to be able to make that run and not fall short.”

Veldheer said it didn’t matter who started in Palmer’s place, losing him was tough.

Arizona has eight players on injured reserve, including it starting quarterback, tailback, defensive end, defensive tackle and punter. There’s also a tight end (Troy Niklas), whose role in the offense would have grown, and a defensive tackle (Ed Stinson) who would be Darnell Dockett’s replacement if he’s not brought back next year.

But the offseason will be among the most critical in the franchise’s history.

A decision will be made on Larry Fitzgerald’s future. He is due an $8 million roster bonus in March and carries a $23.5 million cap hit next season. Dockett’s future will also be decided because the 33-year-old will be earning $6.8 million with a $9.8 million cap number. Arizona will also await the future of suspended linebacker Daryl Washington, who could receive another four- to six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in 2013.

Give Arians and general manager Steve Keim another draft to continue to mold the roster and stock the positions they need to win, and the playoffs -- and another 9-1 start or better -- will be expected.

“We definitely have a lot to build on,” Fitzgerald said. “We were decimated by injuries this year, losing a lot of our key components to make our team go, and we didn’t ever make that an excuse.

“But, obviously, it’d have been great to have those guys on our team. And coming out to the offseason, we’re going to be able to get some guys healthy and be able to hopefully make a good run again next year.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As hard as it's been, coach Bruce Arians wanted to keep life for the Arizona Cardinals normal for a few more minutes Saturday night.

His plan was to give a two-minute speech to his players during their team meeting, like he always does, then show the highlight reel from Arizona's win over the Rams.

At this point of the week, not much more needs to be said: Sunday night is the de facto NFC West title game for Arizona. If Arizona beats Seattle, the Cardinals win the NFC West and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

It also happens to be the biggest game regular-season game for the Cardinals since Larry Fitzgerald was drafted in 2004. Maybe since they moved to Arizona in 1988. One can argue the season finale in 1998 was the biggest, when a win over San Diego sent the Cardinals to the playoffs for the first time since they moved.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports"At the end of the day, what more could you ask for?" Patrick Peterson said. "Sunday Night Football, division game ... everything's on the line."
But no regular-season game in the last 26 years had this much on the line -- especially when home-field advantage includes the Super Bowl.

"At the end of the day, what more could you ask for?" All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Sunday Night Football, division game … everything's on the line. It's probably going to be the most-watched football game this weekend, probably the whole year."

It'll be a playoff atmosphere inside University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night, but that feeling hasn't permeated throughout the Cardinals' facility, Fitzgerald said. But it's been tough for left tackle Jared Veldheer to not let himself think about this week.

He can feel a "heightened sense of excitement in the air" and it's followed him home. He's found himself opening his iPad to look at tape during any free moment -- even right before dinner. Veldheer, who signed with Arizona in March as a free agent, has a different perspective on the Cardinals' fortunes this weekend after spending his four years in Oakland.

"Not being close to a game like this, it means a lot to me," he said.

Arizona is the underdog -- despite being 11-3, despite leading the NFC West, despite holding the No. 1 seed in the conference. According to ESPN.com, Seattle is favored by between 7 and 9.5 points, depending on the betting site. The Cardinals are used to it. They've been favored in just six of 14 games this season, according to oddsshark.com -- and just once, against Atlanta, in their last five games.

And Arians loves it.

"Anytime you're an underdog at home, you understand what that means," Arians said. "You look forward to that challenge. It just adds a little fuel to the fire."

By this point in the season, Arians feels like his team deserves the respect it's not getting. But it's tough to be respected, however, when a team is perceived to be just getting by after injuries decimated all three phases of the game.

Arizona has lost 18 players to injuries this season for a combined 90 missed games -- including the first two quarterbacks on the depth chart. Being forced to play with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley will keep the doubters in business for another week.

But Veldheer feels the perception of Arizona can and will change with a win Sunday night.

"After this one, you can't deny it anymore," he said. "This is the chance to go out and take that respect.

"If you win this game, you take it. There's no question about earning it. It's there."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Larry Fitzgerald will downplay it until it snows in Arizona, but him being on the field has been the difference between winning and losing for the Arizona Cardinals.

Stanton
Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
And he’s helped Drew Stanton looked like a bona fide starting quarterback in the process.

The Cardinals lost both games Fitzgerald missed with a sprained left MCL this season. Without Fitzgerald, Stanton has thrown one touchdown against four interceptions and he’s averaging 6.6 yards per pass attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

With Fitzgerald on the field, however, Stanton has thrown six touchdowns to one pick and his yards per attempt increases to 7.7. When Fitzgerald returned to the lineup in Sunday’s victory over Kansas City, Stanton averaged 7.97 yards per attempt in a 17-14 win.

Fitzgerald caught four of nine targets for 34 yards against Kansas City, despite Stanton missing him twice on open passes.

“Larry struggled to get out of a couple cuts with that knee,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I thought the balls were thrown perfectly. Their timing was obviously off.

“But, yeah, it was good to have Larry back out there.”

Fitzgerald said he didn’t play at his best Sunday.

“Hopefully I’ll be a lot better on Thursday and be better moving forward,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to need to have that bond not only with me but with everybody for us to go and reach our goals.”

Fitzgerald was listed as probable for Thursday’s game against the Rams. He was limited Monday and Tuesday this week and practiced in full on Wednesday.

“Larry’s going to give you everything he has,” Stanton said. “I think that whatever that percentage is for him we can rely on him, and if he’s out there and good enough to go then I want to throw him the ball when the opportunity presents itself.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – For the second straight Thursday, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said it's “highly likely” he'll play on Sunday.

This time, he might actually be right.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald has been limited in practice the last two days but he and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said Thursday that Fitzgerald did “everything” in practice. Fitzgerald missed the last two games with a sprained left MCL he suffered in Week 11 against Detroit.

“I feel good,” Fitzgerald said. “Been able to do everything the last two days. Great to be back in the huddle with the guys and getting the plays and running the routes. It’s been nice.”

Arizona's leading receiver hopes he can spark a downtrodden offense that scored one touchdown in the two games he missed. Before the Cardinals scored late in the fourth quarter of a 29-18 loss to Atlanta, they hadn’t reached the end zone on offense for 10 straight quarters.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said Fitzgerald’s return might be more important to the team’s energy.

“We know Larry’s going to bring energy to the game,” Goodwin said. “He’s going to get the receivers excited as well as the whole offense, just that leadership of him being out there should help us offensively.”

The offense might also have left tackle Jared Veldheer for Sunday’s game against Kansas City. He returned to practice Thursday in a limited role after missing Wednesday with a sprained ankle he suffered in Atlanta.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (hamstring) was also limited.

Linebacker Larry Foote, who did not practice because of his foot, was the only addition to Thursday’s injury report. Running back Andre Ellington (hip/foot), right guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) did not practice.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was evident how much the Arizona Cardinals missed wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
What’s not clear the day after, however, is when they’ll get him back.

“We still don’t know anything about Larry,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “If we were practicing today, he would not practice. We’ll see how he improves by Wednesday and go from there.”

Monday morning, general manager Steve Keim said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that Fitzgerald is day-to-day a week after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain against the Detroit Lions.

Keim thought Fitzgerald would tough it out and play against Seattle.

“For him not to play this past weekend surprised me a little bit,” Keim said. “Not because of the injury, just because Larry’s such a tough guy. He was disappointed, frustrated and I know he’ll do everything he can to get back out there this week.”

Fitzgerald was a game-time decision Sunday. During his postgame press conference in Seattle, Arians said Fitzgerald “couldn’t run” pregame, which led to him being inactive. Filling his role, Jaron Brown dropped a gimme touchdown pass in the second quarter.

The Cardinals missed Fitzgerald’s “sure-handedness” and his ability to be where he’s supposed to be in the offense, Arians said. But, Arians added, Arizona missed Fitzgerald’s intangibles more Sunday than his tangibles.

“You always miss Larry’s passion for the game,” Arians said, “but we’re deep enough at receiver that that’s not as big of an issue as it could be.”
SEATTLE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 19-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:
  • Larry Fitzgerald
    Fitzgerald
    Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was ruled inactive because “he couldn’t run" due to a Grade 2 MCL sprain he suffered last weekend against Detroit. It was the first game Fitzgerald had missed since 2007.
  • Arians said there were 10 men on the field when Seattle blocked Drew Butler’s punt in the third quarter. Running back Stepfan Taylor was the Cardinal not on the field.
  • Quarterback Drew Stanton didn’t appear to be walking with a limp in the locker room following the game. He got his left ankle taped late in the fourth quarter after a Seahawks defender rolled on it.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim didn't have an update on the status of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's knee during his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Monday morning.

"Larry came back after he got dinged up and made that huge third-down catch to ice the game," Keim said. "We'll find a little bit more out this morning."

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was scheduled to get an MRI on his left knee to determine the severity of an injury to his MCL, reported ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder. The injury occurred on a third-down pass late in the second quarter of Arizona's 14-6 win against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Fitzgerald then went to the locker room in the final two minutes of the half.

Overall, Keim believed the Cardinals came out relatively healthy.

"I'm sure there'll be a lot of guys that are sore," Keim said. "But for the most part on the surface it seemed like we came out OK."
  • Keim said he knew quarterback Drew Stanton would play well Sunday, when he threw for the first 300-yard game of his career. "I had a good feeling going into the game because he had an excellent week. Not only did he look poised and relaxed but he threw the ball extremely well."
  • Stanton
    Keim was also impressed with how Stanton tracked down Lions linebacker Josh Bynes and tackled him after Bynes picked off a pass intended for Troy Niklas. "The way he chased and closed on the defender, he looked like a safety running the alley there."
  • Keim said he understands the "take-it-one-game-at-a-time" mentality, but at the same time, he's a believer that players should understand what they're playing for. "These guys aren't na´ve. B.A. [Bruce Arians] keeps it real from Day 1 and that's what those guys need. They need someone who's going to be brutally honest with them, not only on how they're playing but what's at stake. I think when you look at the big picture, these guys understand what's at stake. ...I don't think you can underscore how big of a win it was for us."
  • After subtly complaining about the interior of the Cardinals' offensive line the past couple of weeks, Keim had nothing but praise for right guard Paul Fanaika, center Lyle Sendlein and left guard Ted Larsen, who helped Arizona not allow a sack of Stanton. "What was really nice to see was our ability to pass protect. Yesterday, I thought our offensive line did an excellent job for the most part pass protecting, and, really, the interior guys stepped their game up."
  • Keim felt cornerback Patrick Peterson jumped off the film more than any other player. He held Detroit's Calvin Johnson to five catches for 59 yards two weeks after limiting Dallas' Dez Bryant to two catches. "He is absolutely playing excellent football right now."
  • Peterson
    Peterson
    While talking about Peterson, Keim said a lot of people don't understand the stress Arizona puts on its cornerbacks by asking them to cover man-to-man for "several seconds." He said: "We don't give them a ton of help and those guys are out on an island for several seconds with Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant, and those kinds of guys. It's a tough task but Pat has played excellent football. He's played focused and he's played with a lot of urgency."
  • Keim said it was fun to watch rookie safety Deone Bucannon on Sunday. Bucannon led the Cardinals with seven tackles. "He brings a different energy level, particularly against the run. He chases and runs with the football like his hair's on fire."
  • When it came to Arizona's rushing attack Sunday, Keim said there's always something to "be nit-picky about, even if you are 9-1" after the Cardinals ran for 46 yards, led by Andre Ellington's 42. "Running the ball is always going to be at the forefront for me, but they're one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL and I thought, at times, we were able to run the ball effectively."
  • Even after linebacker Alex Okafor added two more sacks Sunday, Keim told him after the game that he's left about four or five on the field this season. "He stepped up and brought a pass rush that we were desperately seeking," Keim said.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald had already done his part.

By the time Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer gave rookie receiver John Brown a secret signal on third-and-5 late in the fourth quarter that led to the winning touchdown, Fitzgerald had already had the third-best receiving game of his career.

With a running game that yielded only two plays of 10 yards or longer, Palmer turned to the pass to get Arizona by the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20.

"We were a little stagnant offensively," Fitzgerald said. "Not just in the second half but throughout the course of the first half.

"I've been saying this for a couple weeks, but we have to do a better job."

Andre Ellington, who had 24 carries last week, had 23 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown on Sunday as Arizona's lone rusher.

Fitzgerald finished with 160 yards on seven receptions, which included an 80-yard touchdown catch and run that proved the 31-year-old isn't out of gas just yet.

"I haven't lost anything," Fitzgerald said. "That's all I'm saying. No, I haven't lost anything."

The play was sprung by a Ted Ginn block that was a tick away from being a flagged as a pick. Fitzgerald made the catch, cut back to his right and took off. As he was sprinting down the right side of the field toward a 14-7 lead, he saw he was pulling away from Eagles defensive backs when he looked up at the videoboard.

"It was nice and clear," Fitzgerald said. "So, I was able to see where the guys were behind me and not look back."

Fitzgerald and Brown showed how dynamic Arizona's passing game can be with Palmer leading it. After Fitzgerald's touchdown, Palmer, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns on 20-for-42 passing saw the Eagles start keying on the Pro Bowl receiver more often, which, in the end, may have helped give Brown the opportunity he needed.

On third-and-5 from the Arizona 25 with 1:33 left and the Cardinals trailing by three, Palmer saw the coverage he wanted and gave a signal to Brown. He faked an in route, made a double move and took over. As soon as he saw the defensive back flat-footed, Brown said he knew he had him beat. After splitting Philadelphia's Cary Williams and Nate Allen, Brown initially thought Palmer overthrew him, but Palmer had seen Brown's extra gear before and knew the rookie would catch up to it.

"We're a pretty well-built offense," Palmer said. "I think we have a lot of things you can't key on. There are a lot of guys you have to worry about. Obviously, Larry is going to get a lot of that key from a defense that is going to be very keen on where he is in a formation because his motions and adjustments are right before the snap."

Brown's touchdown capped his first career 100-yard game. He finished with 119 yards on five catches.

"He's had that opportunity for that catch twice and didn't quite make it," coach Bruce Arians said. "Now, it's more time at practice.

"It was a great throw, but again, it was a great, great catch of him adjusting to a Willie Mays' catch over his shoulder."

The Film Don't Lie: Cardinals

September, 23, 2014
9/23/14
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A weekly look at what the Arizona Cardinals must fix:

Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been targeted more in the last two weeks after a firestorm erupted in Week 1, but it hasn’t been enough, especially early in games. The Cardinals are off this week before they travel to Denver in Week 5 to face a Broncos secondary that’s allowed the second-most passing yards per game. Arizona can spend that time working on getting Fitzgerald involved in the game plan earlier. If there was a game to get Fitzgerald involved again, this would be it.

When Fitzgerald is involved in the first-half offense, the Cardinals can move the ball more efficiently and score at a higher clip -- as was evident again in Week 3, when Arizona scored just six points in the first two quarters, when Fitzgerald was targeted just twice. It’s easy to say Fitzgerald is involved in the offense, but when you compare Weeks 2 and 3, the lack of his presence is obvious. Against New York in Week 2, the Cardinals scored 10 points in the first half after targeting Fitzgerald seven times.

During his progressions, Drew Stanton looked Fitzgerald’s way more often than Carson Palmer did in Week 1, but even those were few and far between, a review of the game film proved. Fitzgerald, whose first catch didn’t come until the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided, often drew single coverage underneath in the first half. With deep help over the top, the short routes to Fitzgerald were open in the first half. A few passes to him could’ve opened up the rest of the passing game in the first two quarters.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The avalanche of off-field stories continued for the Arizona Cardinals when running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on assault charges.

Being asked about contracts, injuries, play-calling and, now, a teammate’s legal issues, has become routine for the Cardinals.

Foote
Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
"We move on," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It’s not a distraction. It will not be a distraction. Our team’s kinda gotten used to what everybody else would consider a distraction, and get ready for a huge football game this Sunday."

The Cardinals have answered a lot of questions, but not many about the 49ers, who come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The series of off-the-field stories came full circle Friday when linebacker John Abraham was put on injured reserve because of a concussion he suffered in Week 1. Abraham started the list of off-the-field stories when his June arrest on suspicion of DUI in Atlanta was reported during the first few days of training camp.

Since then:
Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t think he has seen this many off-field stories this early in a season in the first 10 years of his career.

"Adversity, it comes in all different sizes, shapes and forms," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be able to deal with it. Everybody’s dealing with it in some way or form. We got this type of issue here. Washington’s dealing with injuries.

"It’s all different. But come Sunday, it doesn’t matter. The best team has to come out there and win."

As far as Arizona’s on-field performance goes, the Cardinals are 2-0, having won with two different starting quarterbacks. Arians said the off-field issues haven’t strayed onto the Cardinals’ practice field this week. He called Wednesday and Thursday’s practices "great."

Larry Foote, a 13-year veteran, said Arizona needs to approach Dwyer’s absence like an injury: Next man up.

"We just got to keep rolling,” he said.

Fitzgerald said Arizona’s focus hasn’t waned.

"It hasn’t changed one bit," Fitzgerald said. "If anything, it’s even sharper.

"You come in the locker room (Thursday), I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this kind of media contingency here at the Cardinals, Thursday, Week 3. It’s just like the Super Bowl a couple years ago. We understand that there’s a lot of eyes on us. We have to [home] in. We have to have that bunker mentality. We got to just rely on each other and fight for each other."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Rookie nickelback Jimmie Ward, all 5-feet-11, 193 pounds of him, had his NFL baptism by fire at the hands, and feet, of the Chicago Bears' 6-4, 229-pound Brandon Marshall last Sunday.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Tony AvelarSan Francisco rookie Jimmie Ward went up against a bigger body last Sunday in Chicago's Brandon Marshall and goes up against a similar player next in Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.
The San Francisco 49ers' first-round draft pick was victimized for all three of Marshall's touchdown receptions, from 17, 5 and 3 yards, in the Bears' 28-20 comeback win at Levi's Stadium.

"It's only going to get me better," Ward said after the game.

"I was challenging him ... I was trying to press him and [get] in his face, but he made some great catches. He's good with his body."

And now, after enduring a -1.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, Ward figures to get a healthy dose of another physical wideout in the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, who is 6-3, 225 pounds and has lined up in the slot 36.7 percent of the time in two games.

So how can Ward improve in that potential matchup, especially in the red zone?

"Play a little firmer," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Know that the body that he's going against is bigger than his and get him some help. He's just got to play a little better. He was trying to do things right the other night, but just weren't good enough.

"It's not a major overhaul or panic button, he's just got to be a little bit better."

Fangio as well as other players have talked with Ward this week to keep his confidence up after a rough outing.

"He's a confident competitor, but yet accountable," Fangio said. "He knows if a play isn't good enough, he knows that. He doesn't start to look for excuses or point the finger. He just looks at himself. But, yeah, he's a confident guy."

As is the eight-time Pro Bowler Fitzgerald.
This is an examination of what the Cardinals must do after their win over the Chargers.

When a future Hall of Famer isn’t targeted until the fourth quarter -- late in the fourth, at that -- something needs to be done by the Arizona Cardinals.

For the first time in Larry Fitzgerald’s career, he wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. It wasn’t necessarily an oversight by quarterback Carson Palmer, who said after Arizona’s 18-17 win over the Chargers on Monday night that he doesn’t want to force passes to Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald isn’t always double-teamed. And with his new role in the slot, there are plenty of options for Arizona to find him.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald needs to be a priority for the Cardinals’ offense Sunday against the Giants, if not just to get the football into the surest hands in the NFL but to help give the rest of the offense single coverage. By going to Fitzgerald early at MetLife Stadium against a New York defense that allowed 341 passing yards to Detroit in Week 1, the Cards won’t just get the offense into a rhythm, but will force the Giants to start paying attention to Fitzgerald. That opens the offense for Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn, John Brown, Andre Ellington and the tight ends.

Palmer learned his lesson last season about forcing passes into Fitzgerald, especially when he’s double- or triple-teamed, which is often the case. But he’s also one of the best receivers in the league at using his body to get himself open. A few quick passes to him and a safety might spend more time on Fitzgerald’s side of the field, which means Floyd, who had 119 yards receiving against the Chargers, might draw single coverage. That, in turn, opens the running game as well as the tight ends.

Arizona has plenty of options, but in order for them to get rolling, it all starts with getting Fitzgerald involved early and often.

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