NFC West: Rob Housler

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Flying under the radar on a football team is usually a sign that something is going right.

Take offensive linemen, for example. The less heard and written about them, the better. The same can be said for tight end Rob Housler.

He had a quiet preseason and training camp, working behind John Carlson and Jake Ballard until Ballard’s retirement. That move promoted Housler into the starting lineup, giving him a chance to redeem himself for an underachieving, lackluster 2013.

[+] EnlargeRob Housler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRob Housler will ascend to the starting lineup at tight end.
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable in what we’re doing,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “You can see him get better as a blocker, and passing-wise he’s catching the ball a lot better.

“I feel comfortable how he’s come along so far and hopefully he can keep it going.”

Expectations were high for Housler last season, coming off a career season in 2012. But an ankle injury last preseason hampered him during the outset and he never blossomed into the tight end Arians had hoped. Housler, more of an athletic, receiving tight end than a hulking blocker, struggled to adapt to Arians’ blocking role for the position.

That put Housler’s role into question in 2013.

When Arizona re-signed Ballard and added Carlson during free agency, Housler was relegated to the second team. Then Arizona drafted tight end Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame, pushing Housler further down the depth chart. But Housler’s experience trumped Niklas’ size during camp. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Housler is now slated to be the starter.

“This preseason, even offseason, has been good,” Housler said. “It’s allowed me to work on things. The reps have been down, so I’ve been able to focus and fine-tune a lot of different things because the reps aren’t there so you have to take them mentally or off to the side or wherever you can get better.

“This training camp, I’m healthy and it feels good to be healthy. Just looking forward to every opportunity on the field and take advantage of it. There’s only one ball to go around to a lot of people.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer will have one less option at tight end this season with Ballard retiring because of chronic knee issues. While his departure gave Housler a chance to re-enter the starting lineup, it was more of a blow to Housler than anything because Ballard was Housler’s closest friend on the team.

But Housler understood he and Ballard were different players. Ballard was taller and stronger, while Housler was faster and had better hands. But Housler never focused on the numbers game that could’ve squeezed him out of the rotation. He knew what he could offer wasn’t the same as the other tight ends.

“Jake and I are different players. He, Troy and Darren [Fells], those guys are big. They are big individuals,” Housler said. “I always felt like, regardless of the numbers, it’s all about your role. So when he went down, I didn’t like it at all.

“I always looked at it as I’m not Jake Ballard. He’s not Rob Housler. It’s never really a competition with names, it’s just what’s your role.”

Last season Housler set a career high with 454 yards but had six fewer receptions than in 2013 playing in 13 games. He also caught his first career touchdown. Those numbers might not increase because there are more options on Arizona’s offense than a year ago, but Housler seems content with his role.

“I think he’s a lot more comfortable in what we’re doing,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “You can see him get better as a blocker and, passing-wise, he’s catching the ball a lot better.

“I feel comfortable how he’s come along so far and hopefully he can keep it going.”
Sometimes bigger is better. At least when it comes to tight ends.

One priority for the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason was to improve their tight end room. Coach Bruce Arians wanted tight ends that fit his mold -- guys who are bigger, stronger, faster and love to block. Midway through last season, Arizona began to transition its tight end unit by signing 6-foot-6, 275-pound Jake Ballard. John Carlson, who's 6-5, 248, was added during the early part of this year's free agency and Troy Niklas -- 6-6, 270 -- was drafted in May.

Housler
Housler
Arians wanted his tight ends to be bigger. He got what he wanted.

"That's always been my philosophy," Arians said. "I don't want a guy that's really a wide receiver and you're only hope to run the football is if they put a nickel in there and he can block him and in base defense, not going to block anybody. My experience (is) it's always been a detriment rather than guys who can do both."

Arians has one of those tight ends that's more of a wide receiver than a bruising blocker off the line.

Rob Housler, who's entering his fourth season with the Cards, has a basketball player's body. He can be quick in the open field and looks as comfortable as most wideouts running a route off the line. But that's not what Arians wants.

He wants to see his tight ends be a combination of the old school definition of the position combined with a sprinkle of new school. And that's why Ballard and Niklas have coaches giddy with excitement. They're both big men who enjoy contact at the line of scrimmage yet they're both athletic enough to run routes, catch tough passes and turn up field to make plays. Ballard showed what he's capable of in eight games last season, but Niklas was sidelined for most of the offseason while recovering from sports hernia surgery before suffering a broken hand.

Carlson
But it's Carlson who's impressed the most during organized team activities and minicamp.

"John has done a really, really good job," Arians said. "First off, he's extremely bright. He picked up the system extremely quick. He plays full speed all the time and has got outstanding hands. His issue in the past ... he's not an overwhelming blocker but he's more than adequate."

Each new addition to the tight end room brought more competition. While some players wilt at the first sign of having to play for their job, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said that hasn't happened yet with the Cards.

"It's been phenomenal to have John here for a number of (reasons)," Palmer said. "Mainly, he's really pushed that tight end group. He's really brought the best out of Robby. Bringing competition to that spot has really helped Robby improve."

While Carlson, Ballard and Niklas look similar in stature, Palmer said each brings a different asset to the field.

"We have three different guys with three different strengths -- four guys really (including Housler)," Palmer said. "We all kinda feed off of each other. There's one guy that's fast. There's one guy that's big and powerful. There's one guy that kinda does it all. I think that's what Coach Arians kinda envisioned in that position -- not a bunch of the same guys but a bunch of different guys."
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
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.

Williams
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
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.

Acho
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.
Larry Fitzgerald may be 30 years old, but that doesn't mean he's not as sure-handed as ever.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Pro Football Focus computed the drop rates for wide receivers, tight ends and running backs this week and it should be no surprise who had the lowest rate for all receivers.

That's right.

Larry Fitzgerald dropped just one of 83 catchable balls, according to PFF, giving him a drop rate of 1.2. For comparison, the next closest is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, whose drop rate was 1.89. But the difference was that Fitzgerald caught 30 more passes than Hopkins.

Overall, Fitzgerald's 2013 was an improvement over 2012 even though he failed to hit 1,000 yards for the second straight year -- although his 10 touchdowns were his first double-digit haul since 2009.

But one area Fitzgerald has remained consistent in is his efficiency. He has 19 drops in the past five seasons, according to PFF.

Also in the top 15 last season was former Cardinals' receiver Andre Roberts, who had a drop rate of 4.4, letting two of 45 catchable passes hit the ground.

When it came to tight ends, Rob Housler's struggles last season dropped him to the bottom 15 of drop rates. He tied for 31st out of 36 tight ends, dropping five of 44 catchable passes for a rate of 11.36. One of the Cardinals' free-agent additions, tight end John Carlson, had the fourth lowest drop rate among his position. He let one of 33 catchable passes hit the ground for a rate of 3.03.

If the Cardinals want Andre Ellington to take on a larger receiving role, they might want him to learn a thing or two from Fitzgerald. He had the fourth-highest drop rate among running backs, letting six of 45 catchable passes (13.33) hit the ground.

The good thing for Housler and Ellington is they have a pretty good teammate to learn from.

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. – Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer watched his two backups run through their drills during the open portion of Arizona’s practice Wednesday without a helmet or shoulder pads.

Palmer
The 33-year-old said his left ankle, which he sprained Sunday at Tennessee, feels good and Palmer expects to be practicing again Thursday and Friday.

“Got a lot of treatment on it and [I will] be ready to roll,” Palmer said.

Palmer isn’t a stranger to not practicing. Heading into the St. Louis game in Week 14, Palmer didn’t take a single snap all week because of a sore elbow. The mental reps, alone, prepared him for the Rams’ defense. A sprained ankle, however, is different because it impacts Palmer’s mobility, which he’ll need against Seattle’s top-ranked defense.

The first-quarter hit on Palmer that sprained his ankle looked worse than it actually was. He stood up holding his legs and limping but after Arizona scored a touchdown on the next play, Palmer went to the sideline and got his ankle wrapped.

“I knew that he got a good shot on me and it probably tweaked my ankle a little bit,” Palmer said. “I didn’t think anything more than that or less than that.”

Besides Palmer, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, tight end Rob Housler and safety Rashad Johnson did not practice Wednesday.

Fitzgerald is still following protocol, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. The next step is for Fitzgerald to begin exercising.

“He’s fine so far with what he’s been doing,” Arians said.

Fitzgerald saw the doctor assigned to the Cardinals on Monday and then went for a second, independent opinion on Tuesday. He has to pass the NFL’s mandatory concussion protocol before he’ll be allowed to play.

Housler and Johnson were on the stationary bike for the open portion of practice.

Ballard to start in place of Housler

December, 15, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This may be the chance Jake Ballard needed.

As has been a trend around the Cardinals this season, another player will have an opportunity to see the field because of an injury to a teammate. Ballard will start Sunday against the Tennessee Titans because tight end Rob Housler was ruled inactive because of a groin injury.

Ballard has played 67 snaps this season, an average of about 13.5 per game. Although he was signed in early November, Ballard has been waiting for an opportunity to showcase his rebuilt knee. During his five games, Ballard has caught just two passes for 44 yards and has been used – when he does play – in primarily a blocking role.

Without Housler, however, the tight end passing game won’t be as potent. Housler had the speed and athleticism to spread the field off the line. And while Jim Dray is more of a short-pass option, Ballard does have some speed to get away from defenders. His 29-yard catch against Indianapolis showcased how well his knee, which he blew out in Super Bowl XLVI and missed all of last season because of, has recovered.

Monkey finally off Rob Housler's back

November, 10, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rob Housler doesn’t like to plan his touchdown celebrations, but he had this one in mind.

Midway through his third season, the Arizona Cardinals tight end had yet to find the end zone, and this year, especially, he’s been hearing about it. When coach Bruce Arians was hired in January, he introduced a pass-happy offense that would feature the tight ends. This was the season Housler was expected to break through, but an ankle injury in preseason forced him out of the Cardinals’ first two games and slowed his progress.

Housler
Housler underperformed all season, until Sunday. He broke out in the Cardinals’ 27-24 win against the Houston Texans with a season-high 57 yards and his first career touchdown. After initially lining up as a fullback, then breaking out to the left side of the line, Housler was thrown a screen and took it 12 yards for a score.

That’s when he broke out the celebration. He viciously ripped the proverbial monkey off his back as his teammates mobbed him.

“I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble by asking them to get involved, so I was just like, ‘I’m going to take this monkey off myself,'" Housler said.

With the monkey now gone, Housler can be another option for quarterback Carson Palmer in an offense that’s starting to finally find its personality. When Housler was struggling, that facet of the offense was essentially erased. With him able to stretch the field, the Cardinals have more ways to benefit off the run.

And Arians thinks Sunday’s outing will benefit Housler.

“It should be a great confidence boost for him,” Arians said. “Carson was looking for him a number of times.”

Palmer had tried all season to get Housler involved, but something clicked Sunday. He wasn’t just catching passes, he was cutting back, getting extra yards.

With each catch, the burden of the past eight games seemed further in the distance. It wasn’t something Housler concerned himself with, it was just placed there by other sources. But none of that matters now. The burden and the monkey are gone.

“You try not to think about it, but it does weigh on you a little bit,” Housler said. “It’s just something we take in stride, because whatever you do to distract yourself, you’re not focused on your job.

“You hold yourself to a standard but you don’t really let it bother you. I think a lot of the external pressure’s off me, but it never really bothered me in the first place.”

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

November, 10, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 27-24 win against the Houston Texans.

What it means: There's still work to do, but the Cardinals seem to have found an offensive rhythm. Sunday's win against the Texans showed two things: a running game does wonders for an offense and the Cardinals can come back. Everyone knows how good the defense is, and while it produced a touchdown on Sunday, the offense finally came into its own. The Falcons' win could've been considered a fluke, but the Cardinals' win over the Texans showed this offense can win games, unlike in the first seven. A few tweaks, such as on third down and red zone -- the two areas that plagued Arizona all season -- could make this a fully-operational, and highly dangerous, team down the stretch.

Stock Watch: Rob Housler finally broke out of his slump with a 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and finished with 57 yards receiving. His return signifies the addition of another playmaker on offense, rounding out a tight-end unit that benefited from the addition of Jake Ballard. Housler's role may increase if Michael Floyd's shoulder injury ends up being serious. Throughout the game, Housler seemed to become more comfortable, shedding the burden that followed him because he wasn't living up to expectations.

He's still got it: The Cardinals' defense played well before John Abraham became an every-down linebacker but they've flourished with him playing the majority of the snaps. His two sacks against the Texans showed it. The sack on the first play of the game, in which he stripped Houston quarterback Case Keenum led to Cards linebacker Matt Shaughnessy scooping and scoring. Sunday was Abraham's 30th multi-sack game of his career.

Up and running: At first, it didn't look like the Cardinals learned a lesson from their win over the Falcons, but as the game progressed coach Bruce Arians went to the running game more, even lining rookie running back Andre Ellington at quarterback for three straight plays. Having a running game has opened the passing attack for the Cardinals, proved by wins against Atlanta and Houston.

What's next: The Cardinals travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars at 11 a.m. MT on Sunday at EverBank Field.
Andre Johnson and Calais CampbellGetty ImagesAndre Johnson and the Texans visit Calais Campbell's Cardinals without head coach Gary Kubiak.



TEMPE, Ariz. -- Emotions will be at a peak for the Houston Texans when they make a midseason trip to the desert Sunday. They will be without head coach Gary Kubiak, who will be at home recovering from a mini-stroke, but Houston brings the league's top-ranked defense to Arizona in hopes of ending a six-game losing streak.

Awaiting the Texans will be a team with confidence. The Cardinals come off the bye week healthy and rested, having played only one game in 24 days when kickoff arrives. That'll either be a blessing or their demise, as the rust may have set in.

ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss Sunday's matchup.

Weinfuss: What kind of impact will Kubiak's health issue have on the Texans this week and on Sunday?

Ganguli: It was a chaotic, confusing and scary halftime for the Texans when Kubiak collapsed as he left the field Sunday. Kubiak is well liked by his coaches and players, so they'll miss him, but knowing he will make a full recovery will help the team emotionally. On the football side, the biggest change will be on offense. He's handing off offensive play-calling duties to coordinator Rick Dennison, who called the second half from the press box against the Colts. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips takes over as the overall decision-maker. They've tried to let their head coach rest, but they can't keep him from thinking about the team. He calls to check in a fair amount.

Can you give me one player who has been a pleasant surprise and another who has been an unpleasant one for the Cardinals this year?

Weinfuss: It might seem obvious but Tyrann Mathieu has been a pleasant surprise to a lot of people. He not only has earned playing time by making game-changing plays, but he recently has become a starter. I think the Cardinals expected Mathieu to be good eventually, but the fact that he has come on so quickly has been a pleasant surprise for everyone. As for the flip side, tight end Rob Housler has been an unpleasant surprise. After finishing strong last season, Housler's progress was hampered by a severely sprained ankle during training camp. It caused him to miss the first two weeks of the season and he hasn't returned to last season's form.

Does Case Keenum have what it takes to right the ship for the rest of the season?

Ganguli: Keenum is still learning a lot about being a quarterback. Phillips noted Wednesday that it's important for the team to not try to do too much with a young quarterback. He's learning how to read defenses and learning what chances to take and not take. I was always of the minority opinion that the quarterback situation was only part of the problem for the Texans rather than the whole problem. They're still having issues on special teams and defense that they had with Schaub.

It has been a frustrating season for Andre Johnson but he has been part of a lot of bad teams and doesn't complain. Larry Fitzgerald is another elite receiver who has seen some lean years, though he does have a Super Bowl berth while Johnson doesn't. Has Fitzgerald ever shown frustration with his team's situation, or is he also a guy who keeps that to himself?

Weinfuss: Larry Fitzgerald isn't the type of person to air his dirty laundry no matter how bad it gets, such as last season when he caught passes from four quarterbacks. There's no doubt he has been frustrated, especially during the past few seasons when his production has decreased. But Fitzgerald has kept his opinions to himself and I don't see him venting in the locker room. Fitzgerald has been the prototypical team player. He doesn't bash anyone and keeps talking about trying to improve and getting back to the playoffs, even making a run to the Super Bowl again.

Speaking of the playoffs, what do the Texans have to do during the final eight games to make a run to the postseason?

Ganguli: They have to be able to finish and put together a complete game. They've got to stop committing costly penalties. The most recent example was a hold on the return after the Colts' final punt lost them critical yards on a drive that ended with a failed 55-yard field-goal attempt. And speaking of that, kicker Randy Bullock has to improve. Being 2-6 means the margin for error is tiny. The Texans have shown the ability to dominate good teams in spurts (they had double-digit leads over the Seahawks and the Colts and played the 9-0 Chiefs close). But spurts won't get them there.

How do you explain the discrepancy between the Cardinals' road and home records?

Weinfuss: Like a lot of teams, the Cardinals are simply more comfortable at home. Their routines are set, they know what's coming, they know their surroundings. And University of Phoenix Stadium is also a tough place to play because of the noise levels, which the Cards have become accustomed to. Some might scoff at the notion of a true home-field advantage, but the Cardinals have one. As for why they can't win on the road, if I had that answer, I'd be making a lot more money.

Source: TE Ballard tried out for Cards

October, 21, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Free agent tight end Jake Ballard was in Arizona for a tryout last week, according to an NFL source.

The Arizona Cardinals didn’t sign the three-year pro because of concerns about his ability to endure the rest of the season.

Ballard tore his ACL while playing in Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants and missed all of last season as a member of the New England Patriots. Ballard was cut after training camp.

Ballard’s addition would have given the Cardinals another option as a featured tight end, most likely moving Rob Housler to the secondary role. In his rookie season, Ballard had 604 yards. Heading into this season, Housler had 618.

Coaches have been waiting for Housler to live up to the expectations levied on him during the offseason, when head coach Bruce Arians talked about the tight ends being a primary piece of his offense. But Housler has struggled with his timing and getting on the same page as quarterback Carson Palmer. However, Housler, who missed the first two games of the season with an ankle injury, made strides Thursday against Seattle with seven catches for 53 yards.

If the Cardinals had signed Ballard, it’s likely Jim Dray would have been relegated to the bench.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 7

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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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.
Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll recap the top storyline from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. – So much has been made about the tight ends on other teams, but Arizona’s Rob Housler has flown under the radar since he returned from an ankle injury.

It’s been four games since he was put back into the lineup, but Housler hasn’t fulfilled the expectations set by Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who spoke highly of the third-year player.

“I think we’ve all had high expectations as an offense and we haven’t been carrying the load,” Housler said. “Whether it’s points or giving the ball up, we’re not doing it. It’s been frustrating but we’re working at it.”

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin thinks Thursday night against Seattle could be the right time for Housler to have a breakout game. But the Florida Atlantic product doesn’t believe in such things.

"It’s hard to put a number on 'breakout,'" Housler said. "It’s hard to even determine what a breakout game is. For me I’m just trying to do my job, whether it’s blocking or catching. So whatever’s expected of me upstairs in the coaches’ office, I want to fulfill their expectations.

“For me it’s not about a breakout game, it’s about executing.”

Housler, who has six catches for 68 yards, said the offense he studied before his injury is still the one the Cardinals are running. But the timing with his fellow receivers and with quarterback Carson Palmer has been tough to get down.

“New Orleans week [when Housler returned] came up pretty quick,” Housler said, “and jumping back into practice, there was a little rust.”

Elsewhere:

Kent Somers of AZCentral.com writes about the Cardinals believing they can compete in the NFC West. Craig Morgan of FoxSportsArizona.com writes about the rigors and dangers of playing on Thursdays. And Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com writes about the Cardinals being ready to compete in the West.
Andre Roberts had 97 yards on eight catches while surrendering his body in the season opener at the St. Louis Rams. Roberts' performance that day showed what the Arizona Cardinals' offense could be: A devastating passing attack in which the third wide receiver had almost 100 yards.

But Roberts was getting passes that would normally been reserved for tight end Rob Housler had he been healthy. Housler was out the first two weeks of the season recovering from an ankle injury. Roberts got his chance and made the most of it.

Then his opportunities began to dissipate. He only had three catches in Week 2 for 36 yards, then one each in Weeks 3 and 4. In Week 5, Roberts did not have a catch and was targeted just once.

As Roberts' touches dropped, the Cardinals' offense began to slow down.

“He's played more outside receiver with Robbie back,” coach Bruce Arians said. “So that's going to probably affect his numbers and is something we'll look at.”

Of Roberts' 210 snaps this season, 92 have been from the left or right wide receiver position, 59 have been from the slot, and 27 have been from the inside and 27 from the outside slot when three receivers bunch next to the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The farther Roberts has moved toward the sideline, the lower his numbers have gone. He has long been the Cardinals' slot receiver, quick and willing to lay his body out, but this year he has been moving around, like his fellow receivers, in Arians' new offense. He has essentially played out of position and it has shown.

The statistics show that the Cardinals' offense is better without Roberts on the field.

Roberts and Housler have shared the field for 68 plays since the tight end returned on Sept. 22, but with Housler's workload increasing the last two weeks, he's been taking most of Roberts' passes. Here is how the Arizona offense has performed over the course of the season and the past two games with and without Roberts.

“I think we've tried to get other guys the ball,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Now that Robbie has come back, we have tried to call his number a couple of times.

“I expect [Roberts] to prepare this week and be ready to go in there. It's the type of offense where you don't know who it's going to be. It's not always going to be Larry [Fitzgerald] catching the ball. It's not always going to be [Mike] Floyd. Mike has had a number of opportunities. It just depends on how people are going to defend us."

Even though the statistics say the Cardinals offense improves without Roberts on the field, Arizona's performance has not shown that. The Cardinals' overall and passing yards have decreased in every game except against Tampa Bay in Week 4. Palmer threw for 187 yards against New Orleans and 175 against Carolina. At Tampa Bay, he had 248.

On Tuesday, Arians said the Cardinals ffense has deteriorated since the St. Louis game -- the same one in which Roberts had a major impact. Coincidence?

Here's a look at Palmer's numbers to Roberts compared to the rest of the receivers over the season and the past two games.

The numbers are skewed because Roberts was targeted just three times in the last two games, but his numbers were better when looked at through all five games. He was clearly effective, connecting on more than half his targets from Palmer. With Housler struggling to find a rhythm with the quarterback -- Housler dropped the only pass thrown his way Sunday -- Roberts may find a place in this week's offense.

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