NFL Nation: 2013 Week 14 STL at ARI

Abraham, Dansby rejuvenated in Arizona

December, 8, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So much for the NFL being a young man’s game.

The Arizona Cardinals are winning and back in the playoff conversation for the first time in three seasons thanks to a top 10 defense. But two cornerstones of Todd Bowles’ unit are causing people to do a double take.

John Abraham, 35, and Karlos Dansby, 32, aren’t supposed to be having Pro Bowl caliber seasons. They’re supped to be washed up, retired, relegated to a backup role.

But a little motivation can go a long way.

Both were castoffs from their previous teams, dumped into free agency without a life raft. The Atlanta Falcons parted with Abraham, opting not to re-sign the active sack king. The Dolphins released Dansby in March after signing a younger linebacker.

Abraham thought about retiring after 13 seasons. Picking up and starting fresh just didn’t sound appealing. His body was there. His mind was ripe. He made a few free agent trips and eventually landed in Arizona.

“You know how it is when you’re comfortable in a certain spot, especially at my age,” Abraham said. “At 35, that’s young in life, but in football that’s graveyard. That was a big thing, but being capable to play -- I never had a problem saying could I play anymore to this year.

“Just having this confidence and getting this confidence back, making me feel like I can play a couple more years, it just feels good having that right now.”

Like Abraham, who went from considering retirement to feeling like he has a few more years left, Dansby wants a new contract. After returning his second interception for a touchdown this season on Snuday, Dansby said he could play “three, four, five more years.”

And the thing is, they both mean it.

“It was disrespect,” Dansby said of his departure from Miami. “It was a lot of disrespect in that situation and it motivated me without a doubt, and you can see the outcome from that. A lot of teams were calling my agent trying to get me in, trying to get me there, but when I got this call, I knew it was perfect. The timing was right.

“People thought I was done, washed up. Not on my watch.”

It’s not like either are using a cane to get on the field. Abraham moved into the top 10 in the all-time sack list on Sunday, recording this ninth, 10th and 11th sacks of the season -- the eighth time in his career that he’s had 10 or more in a season.

Dansby leads the NFL in solo tackles with 100, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

They’ve proved what they’re capable of, but it’s time for Abraham and Dansby to reap the rewards.

For Abraham, that could mean a bust in the Hall of Fame. For Dansby, that’s a trip to the Pro Bowl.

“Why not?” Dansby asked. “Ten strong years they’ve been eluding me and right now, it’s just my time. I’m humble, I’m blessed and I’m going to keep God first and I’m going to keep grinding.”

Like the Pro Bowl, getting voted into the Hall of Fame is out of Abraham’s control. But sitting at ninth on the all-time sack list and with two more forced fumbles he could be the first player with 100 sacks and 50 forced fumbles, Abraham is making quite a case.

“I don’t know. I don’t have any defensive MVPs. I don’t have any Super Bowls or anything like that on my resume,” Abraham said. “The only thing I have is tenure and what I’ve done. I’m close to the top.

“It might not be first ballot but hopefully later on in my career. I know people that are 60, 70 years old that get in there. I might be one of those guys but it still counts at the end of the day.”

Not bad for two players who were left to fend for themselves.

The Cardinals saw what was left in them and Abraham and Dansby rewarded them nicely.

“Words can’t explain it,” said Dansby, who played for the Cardinals the first six years of his career. “They franchised me twice. They knew I could play the game at high level. For me to get the opportunity to come back, it’s been a blessing in disguise. Miami let me go at the right time. I appreciate it, definitely appreciate it.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It would take all day but right tackle Eric Winston would be glad to sit down talk about how the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line changed from its first game against the St. Louis Rams, a 27-24 loss, to this Sunday, a 30-10 victory.

But the short version goes like this: “We’re just a different team,” Winston said. “Different confidence. I wish we could go back and start over.”

Maybe then, Arizona wouldn’t have given up four sacks in that first game and let St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn dictate what the offense did. But the Cardinals lived and they learned, and Sunday was a different story.

For starters, Quinn was going against a new left tackle in Bradley Sowell. Then the Rams’ defense was facing an offense that had three months to gel, and it made enough of a difference to hold the Rams to just one sack and two quarterback hits.

“It was a situation where I think we were ready for it,” Winston said. “We went into the week knowing we have two guys on the outside that we’re going to have to shut down.”

And that they did.

Every time Sowell read about his matchup against Quinn, the more personal it got for the second-year tackle. He heard all about Quinn’s three sacks and two forced fumbles in Week 1 and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen. There were times, however, where Quinn blew past Sowell and missed sacking quarterback Carson Palmer by a fraction of a second.

But, for the most part, Sowell was able to keep Quinn off Palmer. Quinn didn’t have a sack and hit Palmer just once.

“My goal was to go out there and every time I got my hands on him, try to beat him up,” Sowell said. “It was a good matchup between me and him. We had some physical battle up there.

“Today I end up not giving up anything so it was a big day.”

The coaching improved, too, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

“We covered our guys up and chipped, and helped a little bit more than we have in the past,” he said.

The plan throughout the week was to help Sowell often, but he didn’t get as much help as he expected. But Arizona chipped on Quinn and those guys, tight ends and running backs, ended up open. Palmer saw that and hit them quickly.

The Rams only sack was by Alec Ogletree, and it didn’t happen until midway through the third quarter.

“That defense rarely only gets one sack and they always get quarterback pressures and quarterback hits and knock downs, but protection was phenomenal,” Palmer said.

While the focus was on Sowell stopping Quinn, Winston was able to handle Long on the other wise but he noticed how frustrated Quinn was getting.

“I think when you can do that to anyone’s defense,” Winston said, “you can make sure their good players don’t get off on you and now you have a chance to go downfield and you have a chance to do some things.”

John Abraham passes LT on sack list

December, 8, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Within 27 minutes and 15 seconds Sunday, Arizona Cardinals linebacker John Abraham went from 11th on the NFL’s all-time sack list to ninth, passing one of the game’s greatest sack artists in the process.

Abraham finished Arizona’s 30-10 victory against the St. Louis Rams with three sacks and a forced fumble.

He woke up Sunday with 130 career sacks since 2000, 2.5 behind Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal, who finished their careers with 132.5 each and were tied for ninth on the all-time list. By the time Abraham walked out of University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday night, he sat alone at No. 9 with 133 career sacks.

“When you pass Lawrence Taylor and you get in the top 10 of all-time, that’s something special,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said.

When Abraham signed as a free agent on July 25, he had two goals: Get on the field and pass L.T. Both were accomplished Sunday. But one thrilled him and one didn’t. He was given the opportunity to get 11 sacks this season because of injuries to Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander in Week 3.

Sunday marked the 10th time in his career Abraham had three or more sacks in a game, tying him with Derrick Thomas. This is also the eighth season Abraham has had 10 or more sacks, and he was able to hit that mark in 2013 in the last seven games.

“Having 10 shows you can still play and, for me, personally, it’s an accomplishment mentally, just saying I still can play and I still can put up numbers,” Abraham said. “Passing L.T. was one of my goals coming into the year. I always try to get 10 every year and I knew 10 would put me right there.”

Abraham’s teammates understood the magnitude of what he accomplished.

“We’re watching history,” Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “To pass Lawrence Taylor on the all-time sack list, that’s unbelievable.”

Defensive end Calais Campbell, who helped Abraham get to the quarterback with his pressure up front, couldn’t help but smile when asked about the team’s sack master.

“That’s amazing,” Campbell said. “That’s what it’s really all about, being able to play with somebody like that who’s a potential Hall of Famer. It don’t get much better than that.”

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 8, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 30-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

What it means: For the second week in a row, the Rams suffered a decisive loss to an NFC West opponent on the road. What's more, the loss moves the Rams to 5-8 on the season and puts them on an almost certain trajectory to a last-place finish in the division.

While the Rams have been playing without starting quarterback Sam Bradford since Week 7, they appear to have fallen behind yet another team in the NFC West. Before the season, many believed the Rams to be a sleeper to challenge Seattle and San Francisco for divisional supremacy. Instead, it's Arizona that has embraced that role, leaving the Rams searching for scraps.

The season-opening win over the Cardinals seems like a lifetime ago and remains the team's only divisional win against four losses only a season after going 4-1-1 in the same division. Perhaps most worrisome for the Rams is the real possibility that whatever improvements they believe they have made still aren't enough to keep them from the NFC West basement.

Stock watch -- up: Receiver Stedman Bailey -- Although his numbers don't leap off the page, Bailey has earned more playing time with his sharp route-running and consistent hands. He finished with three catches for 46 yards, but it's more instructive to note that he's the team's most reliable and trustworthy pass-catcher. It's been a rough year for Rams receivers, but Bailey is at least emerging as something of a bright spot in the final weeks.

Stock watch -- down: The Rams' secondary -- This isn't anything new, but be it scheme, personnel or a combination of the two, the Rams' defensive backfield continues to struggle. With cornerbacks playing plenty of soft coverage and drawing flags when they were more aggressive, Arizona's Carson Palmer made everyone forget he's battling an elbow injury. Palmer threw for 269 yards while completing 27 of 32 passes with a touchdown.

Clemens' rough day: It was established early that the Rams would have trouble running the ball, leaving the offense in the hands of quarterback Kellen Clemens. After some early success with bootlegs and rollouts, the Rams didn't have much more through the air. Once the Rams fell behind, Arizona deployed its seemingly endless variety of pressure packages and began battering Clemens.

When all was said and done, the Cardinals sacked Clemens four times and hit him seven, according to unofficial statistics. He was under fire plenty of other times and will certainly be sore on Monday.

What's next: A two-game western road swing comes to an end with the Rams returning home for the holidays for back-to-back games at the Edward Jones Dome. That's the good news. The bad news is the Rams welcome another tough opponent in the New Orleans Saints. Improving Tampa Bay follows just before Christmas to wrap up the NFC South portion of the schedule.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 8, 2013

A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 30-10 win over the St. Louis Rams.

What it means: It's hard to tell. The Rams played badly enough that it almost didn't matter how well the Cardinals performed. However, the defense is getting better each game and manhandled the Rams at the line of scrimmage, especially in pressuring quarterback Kellen Clemens. On offense, the Cardinals' line played among its best games of the season, holding Robert Quinn and Chris Long at bay. Some of the small improvements were progress, such as how the offensive line, in particular Bradley Sowell, corralled Quinn.

Stock Watch: For being questionable, quarterback Carson Palmer sure didn't look like he had an injured throwing elbow. He threw for 269 yards and one touchdown but he kept the passes relatively short, hitting Larry Fitzgerald for 96 yards on 12 passes. Palmer's elbow didn't appear to bother him as he was quick and timely with his passes. The week of rest looked to have helped Palmer.

Mathieu out: Tyrann Mathieu's knee injury looked gruesome as it happened on the field and even worse in replay. He left the game in the third quarter on a cart and did not return. If he can't play the rest of the season, Arizona's defense will take a hit of its own. Mathieu was a versatile safety who could play in base and nickel, but could also line up at cornerback, a skill Rashad Johnson -- Mathieu's replacement -- lacks. The Cardinals will also miss Mathieu's explosiveness and big-play capability.

Defensive points: Anytime the defense can add points, the odds of winning go up. On Sunday, Arizona's defense scored eight on its own: A safety by John Abraham and a pick-six by Karlos Dansby, his second in as many home games. Without the eight points, the Cardinals would've been sweating a 15-10 lead for most of the game.

What's next: The Cardinals head to Music City next Sunday to play the Tennessee Titans.