NFL Nation: Bradley Sowell

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Imagine getting interviewed for a job and your boss says it's just a matter of time before you're replaced.

Then imagine watching your boss actively -- and publicly -- try to hire your replacement.

Welcome to Bradley Sowell's world.

The Arizona Cardinals' starting left tackle for 12 games in 2013 was told that his future with the team wasn't guaranteed when he signed on Sept. 1, 2013. Now, in the days leading up to free agency, he's watching as the Cardinals try to sign a veteran left tackle to presumably take his starting job.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Bradley Sowell
AP Photo/Matt York"I know I'm an undrafted guy," Bradley Sowell said. "I always have to be competing."
"I always keep a positive attitude," Sowell said. "Whenever I first got the spot, [Cardinals general manager] Steve Keim told right me off the top he wasn't promising a spot. He was using me for the time being. He thought I could get better."

But Sowell, who gave up seven sacks last season, isn't closely following the Cardinals' search for a left tackle. It's not consuming his life. He isn't sulking about it. Whomever Arizona brings in -- if it brings in anyone at all -- will have Sowell on his tail from the moment he walks in the locker room.

"I know I'm an undrafted guy," Sowell said. "I always have to be competing.

"It doesn't matter who they bring in. It's a lot of ball, a lot of games, a lot of practices. A lot of things can happen. All I have to do is be prepared if my time is called again."

Arizona signed Sowell after he spent part of 2012 with current Arizona coach Bruce Arians in Indianapolis. Keim was up front with the 24-year-old. The Cardinals liked what they saw out of Sowell, but Keim wasn't handing him the keys to quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side.

And Sowell was perfectly OK with it.

"That's how this business is," Sowell said.

He struggled at times in 2013, but then again, so did the rest of his teammates. Yet once Arizona found its footing offensively, there were many games nobody heard a peep from Sowell. That's how it's supposed to be for an offensive lineman.

Overall, Sowell felt he made a case to be the starter next season, but it's a decision that's not up to him.

"I think I showed some signs of being a good tackle over the years," Sowell said. "I'm just 24 years old, and I have time to grow up. I made an argument that I'm a legitimate player in the NFL."

During their season-recap meeting, Arians told Sowell he thought the tackle battled hard but needed to get stronger. Arians also told Sowell that Arizona liked him, or else Sowell wouldn't still be on the team.

After that meeting, Sowell felt like he could compete with whomever Arizona signs during free agency. The bright side is that regardless of who Arizona signs at left tackle, it's unlikely that Sowell is released. He can play both left and right tackles, giving Arians options at backup.

For the next few weeks, Sowell will keep one ear to the ground. His future as a starting left tackle in the NFL is at stake, but Sowell won't let it consume him. If he's displaced as the starter, he'll be back on the Cardinals' practice fields for OTAs and minicamps working to earn his job back.

Just like he would've if nothing happened.

"I give full effort, and I live with the results," Sowell said. "I don't think I'm the greatest. I don't think I'm the worst. I am a hardworking guy who gives all the effort, and if you do that, you can live with that."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2013 season not even in the books for three weeks, it was time to decide who was the best of the best for the Arizona Cardinals this past year. My inaugural postseason awards were both standard and outside the box.

So, without further ado, I present my 2013 awards:

Offensive MVP: Michael Floyd, wide receiver. It may not be the popular choice, but Floyd was the most valuable player to the Cardinals offense. His breakout year eased the pressure on Larry Fitzgerald and caused teams to think twice about double or triple teaming Fitzgerald -- even though most did. And what did Floyd do? Just catch 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, setting career highs in just his second season. But that wasn't his most important contribution to the Arizona offense. For a team that was struggling to secure first downs, especially when the down marker ticked to third, Floyd was a beacon of first-down hope. Between weeks 10 and 16, he had 25 straight receptions that went for first downs. And of his final 34 catches, 30 moved the chains. There's not a bigger impact a player could have, with the exception of catching touchdowns, than giving his team a fresh set of downs. Add on the game-winning touchdown against Seattle and Floyd's contributions to the offense were worthy of him being the offensive MVP.

[+] EnlargeDansby
AP Photo/John CordesKarlos Dansby was all over the field this season -- setting career highs in tackles and interceptions while notching 6.5 sacks.
Defensive MVP: Karlos Dansby, linebacker. In his return to the Cardinals, Dansby proved age is just a number. He had a career season despite missing out on the Pro Bowl yet again. As the on-field conductor of the Cardinals' sixth-ranked defense, Dansby didn't just put his teammates in the right positions to make plays, he went out and made them himself, impacting games from all three levels of the defense. His career-high 114 solo tackles and four interceptions to accompany his 6.5 sacks proved his versatility. To top off a career year, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dansby came into training camp slimmer than he's been and it was evident in his ability to get in the backfield and chase defenders from sideline-to-sideline. And when he dropped back in coverage, he got his hands on the ball. His overall impact from front to back and side to side made him worthy of being the defensive MVP.

Special teams MVP: Justin Bethel, gunner. This was almost a no-brainer but I did consider punter Dave Zastudil. But how many gunners have special teams game plans built for them? He was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 21 special teams tackles, four downed punts inside the opponents' 10 and two blocked field goals. He also recovered a muffed kickoff. Bethel's ability to get past double teams constantly made him a threat to kick returners. Opponents would normally double and often triple team Bethel, forcing him out-of-bounds before he had a chance to break free. When he had a step on his defenders, it was tough for them to catch Bethel, who'd often bring down kick returners within a few yards of them fielding the punt which, in turn, would give the Cardinals great field position.

Assistant coach of the year: Brentson Buckner, defensive line coach. Buckner had a tough task. For as well as the defensive line did in pass rush situations in 2012, it was equally as bad against the run finishing 28th. He challenged the defensive line in an early-season meeting and it responded by becoming the No. 1 run defense in the league. Buckner's experience as an NFL player and his honesty endeared him to his charges, who laid it on the line for Buckner.

Rookie of the year: Tyrann Mathieu, safety. He made an instant impact, forcing a fumble in his first game, and didn't slow down until a knee injury forced ended his season after Week 13. Mathieu's athleticism and nose for the ball earned him playing time and his versatility kept him on the field. Other Cardinals' rookies contributed but none had as large of an impact as quickly as Mathieu.

Best offseason move: Trading for Carson Palmer. Without Palmer, all the interceptions included, where would the offense have been? In the hands of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Capable, I'm sure, but Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Palmer's addition gave the Cardinals a reliable thrower who made passes that hadn't been completed in Arizona since the Kurt Warner days.

Best in-season move: Trading Levi Brown. Signing tight end Jake Ballard, receiver Brittan Golden or linebacker Marcus Benard were also considered. But trading Brown set the Cardinals up for future success. He was moved after Week 4 and was instantly replaced by second-year tackle Bradley Sowell, a more athletic and nimble tackle, who found his footing along with the rest of the line midway through the season. Sowell brought athleticism and the ability to slow down an outside pass rush.

Veteran of the year (8-plus years): John Abraham, linebacker. Initially signed to be a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was thrown into the starting rotation after Week 3 and proved to everyone, including himself, that at 35 he still had what it takes to be an every-down player. All he did was have 11.5 sacks, to move onto the top 10 in history and earn his fourth Pro Bowl nod.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Cardinals

January, 15, 2014
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There’s something to be said for the Arizona Cardinals drafting a kid whose nickname is Ironman.

In his first mock draft, Insider Mel Kiper Jr. has the Cardinals selecting Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin, who set a school record with 52 straight starts in four years for the Fighting Irish. He’s 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, and while some draftniks believe he isn’t tall enough to play left tackle, his strength and athleticism may combat his size.

Martin was the foundation of an offensive line that gave up just eight sacks, tied for second most in the country, playing against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Stanford. His durability is intriguing for the Cardinals, especially since the offensive line has been hit with injuries during the past two seasons. The Cardinals need someone quick enough to redirect the likes of St. Louis' Robert Quinn or San Francisco's Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, or Seattle's Cliff Avril or Chris Clemons, just to name a few.

The Cardinals allowed 41 sacks last season, which ranks among the middle of the league pack.

Martin opted to return for his redshirt senior season and proved to NFL scouts that he got better with age. But his success in the NFL will depend on how well he can handle outside rushers at his height, when Arizona now employs a left tackle (Bradley Sowell) who’s 6-7, 315 and a right tackle (Eric Winston) who’s 6-7, 302.

If those three inches can come with fewer sacks, count coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim in.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The two most important pieces on Arizona’s offensive line have only heard about how loud CenturyLink Field in Seattle can get.

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Neither right tackle Eric Winston nor left tackle Bradley Sowell have ever played in the loudest stadium in the NFL. That may present a problem at some point Sunday, when the Cardinals are fighting to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Arizona will go with a silent count in Seattle, like it does for every road game. That part doesn’t concern Winston, an eight-year veteran. It’s getting the plays from quarterback Carson Palmer to the huddle and then changing the blocking scheme at the line of scrimmage that has Winston worried.

“What slows you down is, all of a sudden, backers shifting around and moving, that changes calls and all of a sudden we’re trying to make calls, [and it’s like] ‘What did you say?’” said Winston, who also hasn’t played at Soldier Field in Chicago and Ford Field in Detroit. “Everybody has calls to make. That’s what can get confusing with the crowd noise in a way, for me at least. The silent count doesn’t slow you down.”

Arizona has prepared all week with sound piped into practice, including Friday in the bubble. The Cardinals need to do everything they can to make the noise a non-factor, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

Easier said than done. Seattle’s noise isn’t just a myth that has made its away from locker room to locker room, the lore growing in stature each time a player retells his story about playing in vaunted CenturyLink Field.

The noise is real.

Against New Orleans on Dec. 2, the crowd noise inside CenturyLink Field reached 137.6 decibels, which set a new Guinness World Record. According to The Associated Press, a jet engine at 100 feet is 140 decibels.

“Everybody told me it’s really loud,” Sowell said. “But silent count is silent count regardless of how loud it is, we do a lot of silent count on the road. So, it’ll be the same thing this week and hopefully we’ll adjust to it.

“It’s really challenging to make it to where it’s an even jump off the ball. Sometimes if you’re a little late and they get a good jump, it could be tough.”

Sowell said he’ll be keeping one eye on the ball and another on his lineman. It’s basically the only thing he can do to make sure he gets a good enough jump when the ball is snapped.

Arizona has 17 false start penalties – including eight by Winston and two by Sowell – and going off a silent count against the top-ranked defense in the league in the loudest stadium in the NFL doesn’t bode well for that number staying where it is.

“It’s probably toughest on the guys that have to block the D-ends,” Palmer said. “You are a guy away from the ball and you are trying to use your peripheral vision. You have two very good pass-rushers, three very good pass-rushers that they have, so you have to try to jump the count, try to stay on sides.

“There is a fine line between those two and also worry about the guy that is coming at you.”

Winston and Sowell know all about 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.”

Quinn up next in Sowell's 'gauntlet'

December, 7, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Every week it’s somebody different.

It started with Carolina’s Greg Hardy and since it’s been San Francisco’s Justin Smith, Seattle’s Chris Clemons, Houston’s J.J. Watt, Atlanta’s Osi Umenyiora, Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis and Philadelphia’s Trent Cole.

This week the barrage doesn’t stop. Up next: St. Louis’ Robert Quinn.

Another week, another fast, strong, fierce defensive end for Arizona left tackle Bradley Sowell to block. Sure, it’s hard work, but it also gets exhausting thinking about who’s next.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Bradley Sowell
AP Photo/Matt YorkArizona left tackle Bradley Sowell has faced many of the league's best defensive ends this season.
“You look at the schedule and you kinda see who you have and you just watch them the best you can and see how it goes,” Sowell said.

“It’s a gauntlet. Like every week, you get really high and ready to go against Mathis. And then the next week it’s Trent Cole and then it’s Robert Quinn. So, you got to be consistent without getting over-hyped.”

Nine games into his stint as the Cardinals’ starter, Sowell has learned to control his emotions. The biggest difference, he said, between now and Week 5 against Carolina, when he was promoted to the first team following Levi Brown’s trade, is his ability to calm himself.

He’s more “chill” than he’s ever been.

“When I get beat, sometimes I used to freak out earlier,” Sowell said. “Now, when I get beat, (I think), ‘Hey, they’re paid to win, too.’ Got to let it go and keep playing.”

Sowell doesn’t get beat nearly as much as he keeps defenders at bay. Last Sunday against Cole, Sowell stopped him 69 times out of 71 plays -- that’s a rate of 97 percent. Not bad. But it was Cole’s two sacks that everyone remembers. One of the most important lessons Sowell has learned this season, besides how to punch and move his feet, is to have a short memory. He can’t weigh himself down with what happened a few plays ago because a guy like Mathis keeps his motor running every snap.

Sowell’s played some of the meanest ends in the game but none, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, stack up to Quinn. Arians compared Quinn to Mathis, but the Rams’ star is younger, quicker and just as crafty. Quinn abused Brown in Week 1, beating him for three sacks and two forced fumbles. That showing helped start the end of Brown’s stay in Arizona and opened the door for Sowell.

How long Sowell can stay in Arizona will depend on how well he steps up every week. He’s under contract through next season, but in a league where left tackles come at a premium and are usually among the highest paid players in a locker room, the question of whether he’s the Cardinals long-term answer has yet to be answered.

But Sowell has already learned to expect the unexpected. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Tampa Bay and expected to spend his entire career with the Bucs. Then Indy signed him and he expected to be a Colt for life. Then the Cards signed him and, well, Sowell realized he won’t be in one place forever. Sowell has the business of the NFL figured out but still didn’t expect to be a starter in Arizona.

Arians called Sowell a “work in progress” and said there’s potential for him to be the Cardinals left tackle for years to come. He’s allowed just seven sacks and 28 quarterback hurries. The sacks, Arians can live with. It’s the strip sacks, such as the one Cole got on Carson Palmer on the Cards’ third play Sunday that “will kill you.”

It wasn’t a ringing endorsement, but then again, when Sowell, who went undrafted in 2012 and played in just 10 games for the Colts -- and just one game at tackle -- is facing a lineup of top-tier ends with less than a full season of experience, has to prove himself against the best.

“I don’t think any left tackle is ready to handle any left defensive end in this league but it’s a part of the business,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “We’re going to do whatever we can do to try to help both our tackle and our guards, as well. He’s got to get his mind right. He’s trying to and he will do a good job.”

The pressure hangs over Sowell every game. One bad block can lead to a touchdown, or even worse, it can end Palmer’s season. Cole’s sack on Palmer in the first quarter last weekend injured Palmer’s throwing elbow, leaving him questionable for Sunday’s game against the Rams.

Being a left tackle isn’t for everybody but it’s for Sowell, even with a guy like Quinn coming to play every week. But that’s just life in the NFL and Sowell has to get used to it.

“Every Sunday, it’s miserable,” Goodwin said. “I don’t think there’s ever a defensive end you go, ‘Ooh, I can’t wait to play this guy.’

“You think about it, that guy is probably one of the highest paid guys in the league and if I’m not mistaken, I think Mr. Quinn is coming close to a contract year so he’s playing at a high level.”

As if Sowell didn’t have enough to worry about.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has his team pointing towards the postseason.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For the first 11 weeks of the season, Bruce Arians would stand at the podium following wins and losses and dissect the Arizona Cardinals' performance.

He’d talk about big plays, crucial stops, failed third-down conversions and the Cards’ inability to convert inside the red zone -- but never about individual performances. That was saved for Monday mornings.

That was then.

This is now: "Normally, I’ll come in and talk about a statistic or two, but the only one that matters is a W," Arians said following the Cardinals’ 40-11 rout of the Indianapolis Colts. "From here on in, it doesn’t matter about third-down statistics, red zone statistics, rushing statistics or anything like that.

"It’s just about winning damn games."

That’s what happens when the offense finally clicks, and it leads to four straight wins, putting the Cardinals in the thick of the playoff race.

Oh, you haven’t heard? This season’s Cardinals aren’t the same team opponents used to beat up on after a weekend vacation in Scottsdale, Ariz. There’s no more penciling in wins against the Cards. At 7-4, Arizona is barely sitting on the outside of the NFC wild-card race. If the San Francisco 49ers fall Monday night, the Cardinals will take over their place as the sixth seed and hold the tiebreaker over No. 5 Carolina.

The last time Arizona was 7-4 was in 2009, and they went to the playoffs.

Yet nobody is paying attention to what’s happening in the desert. While the rest of the country is dusting off its winter coat, buying new snow boots and debating on whether to shovel or use a snow blower, the Cardinals are enjoying more than the sunshine in Arizona.

That’s just how the Cardinals prefer it.

"I kind of like flying under the radar," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "You want to earn your respect in January and February. Right now, being 7-4 and beating Carolina, Detroit and now these guys [the Colts] -- we’ve beaten some good teams. We’re giving teams our best shot.

"We go to Philly next week, St. Louis knows us and Tennessee. You look at records this time of year, and you start realizing who teams have beaten, and I think we’ll start gaining that respect."

After putting up 40 on the Colts and limiting them to 96 total yards through three quarters, that respect might be here before they know it. Arians has seen firsthand how a good story and a winning record can attract national media.

He’d prefer the attention stay away, but he brought it upon himself by believing in a 33-year-old quarterback and a system that carried Arians to two Super Bowls as a coordinator. By running over a division leader that had a 7-3 record, that noise is going to get louder by the day.

And it’s all because of an offense that took the Cardinals weeks longer than anyone expected to learn. But that begs the question: Why, during the past four games, has it just started working the way it was intended to?

"We haven’t changed the way we have prepared," center Lyle Sendlein said. "We’ve been doing what we’ve been doing. I think we’re a confident team right now. I think everybody’s starting to believe in each other, and it’s starting to show."

That confidence isn’t built on false hope.

A few weeks into the season, players were saying the offense was complex, but, like anything, with time came the understanding. The receivers aren’t asking each other if their alignment is right just before the ball is snapped. And during practice, players are asking each other questions instead of running to Arians.

It doesn’t matter what finally clicked; it did, and the offense just keeps getting better. Last week in Jacksonville, Palmer threw for 416 yards. This week, the Cards scored 40. In the end, the opponents don’t matter.

"I think we’re finally where we need to be to be a team that, you’re not going to fear us, but you’re going to respect us," Arians said.

With an offense that has three formidable receivers, a tight end rotation that can burn teams on any given play and a backfield that’s capable of getting third-and-1 as much as it’s able to break an 80-yard run, the respect is deserved.

Yet, as well as the defense had been playing and the offense finally matching their effort recently, something was missing. Until Sunday, the Cardinals had yet to play a game that put them on the map.

"We’ve won some games, but we don’t feel like we’ve made like a statement game," left tackle Bradley Sowell said. "We’ve kinda chipped away at some, won some, but we haven’t put the whole thing together yet.

"All week we were like, ‘We’re at home against a team we’re familiar with. Let’s make a statement game.' And, man, we got out there and we executed exactly how we wanted to execute. I’ve probably never been part of a game like that, where everything was going our way. And everything -- whatever we worked on -- we ended up getting done. It was an awesome statement game."

But the Cardinals are not done yet, running back Rashard Mendenhall said. A big win in an emotional game in November is nice, but it isn’t what Arizona is striving for. The Cardinals are playing for January and, hopefully, February.

"I think there’s [an] understanding in this locker room," Mendenhall said, "that we control what’s going to happen to us."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Before his 13 previous matchups against Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, Cardinals right tackle Eric Winston spent hours upon hours studying the league's most feared spin move.

Winston would look for any tell -- a lean, a nudge, an extra breath -- anything that could give him an advantage to stopping Mathis. Winston couldn't find anything.

Winston
"There's very few of them," Winston said. "There really is. He does a good job of just being in the same stance all the time, however he's going to play it. There's a few alignment things here and there but that was back with the old defense. In the new defense, they kinda move him around so much that it's tough to get a read on him."

But Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who prepared the Colts offensive line every day last season to face Mathis, kept his instructions for the Cards' line basic: "Keep him away from the quarterback."

That's much easier said than done.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who benefitted from having Mathis on his side last season in Indianapolis, said Mathis isn't built like the prototypical linebacker. He doesn't have the perfect size nor the perfect speed, Arians said.

"But he is relentless," he added.

Goodwin called him the "Energizer bunny."

That has helped Mathis record a league-best 13.5 sacks, but it's also made Goodwin's job tougher. Goodwin knows when the Colts are in their base defense, Mathis will be on the open side. When Indy goes into nickel, he moves back and forth from right to left.

Mathis
Even when an offensive lineman knows Mathis' trademark move is coming, it's hard to stop.

"There's no one else in the league save (San Diego's Dwight) Freeney that can spin like him," Winston said. "It's violent, it's quick. He knows exactly when your weight's a little on the outside. He can spin inside. He's got all the moves, he's got the speed.

"It's hard to really sit on a move or sit on any couple moves. You have to kinda play it all. When you're trying to play it all, you're not really sitting on one move and he can get you with one."

Goodwin may have tipped his hand when he said Arizona will most likely use another offensive lineman or a running back as a second blocker on Mathis. It's not something anybody hasn't tried before. No matter what the scheme is, Mathis has seen it, and clearly not much has worked. Arians, however, was quick to point out that Arizona can't double Mathis on every play because of how Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky moves Mathis.

While most teams may have one tackle with experience against Mathis and his spin, the Cardinals have two with an extensive knowledge of how he moves. Left tackle Bradley Sowell faced Mathis in practice last season when he was Mathis' teammates in Indy.

He's seen Mathis' spin too many times to count, but Sunday has been circled on Sowell's calendar for a while. To play well against Mathis might be Sowell's best accomplishment this season.

"It's going to mean a lot," Sowell said. "Obviously, the team that cut you, you're going to want to come out and show they made a mistake. At the same time once the game starts I'll be settled down and playing the ballgame."

After facing Mathis for all eight years of his career, Winston knows what's coming -- he's known every game -- yet he's still not ready for what he sees.

"It's like a knuckleball pitcher," Winston said. "You just don't see it very often. So it's really hard to practice. It's hard to imagine if you haven't played him a lot. You get out in the game and you're kinda surprised by the stuff he can do."

O-line will have hands full with Watt

November, 8, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's a chore no offensive lineman wants, yet every week five poor souls get the unenviable task of trying to stop Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

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And that's when they're healthy. Imagine coming off the flu and attempting to block 6-foot-5-inches and 289 pounds of speed and power. Welcome to Bradley Sowell's world. The Cardinals' left tackle returned to practice Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday with the flu. He will start Sunday against the Houston Texans, Arizona coach Bruce Arians announced.

While he was out sick, Sowell was able to follow the game plan and watch film on a team-issued iPad. He didn't miss any of the preparation but the two days away set him back in terms of technique, assignments and film study with coaches, Arians said.

But most of all, Sowell had two fewer days to prepare for Watt.

"It's not ideal to block him when you're fully healthy," Sowell said. "He's a tough guy to block. But there's different things we can do. Hopefully we can run the ball a little bit and hopefully get after him a little bit."

Sowell won't be the only Cardinal charged with blocking Watt.

Right tackle Eric Winston, who played for the Texans in 2011, Watt's rookie season, thinks Watt will line up across from both tackles and over right guard Paul Fanaika. Arians took it one step further and said Watt will most likely line up across from everyone on the line. But just because they know he's coming doesn't mean the Cardinals can stop Watt.

Midway through his third NFL season, Watt's numbers are off from last season's frenetic pace. He has 5.5 sacks and 38 tackles as the Texans are 2-6. Last season, his 20.5 sacks led the NFL to complement his 81 tackles.

His numbers are down because more teams are double and triple teaming Watt. But even then, Winston sees him as a threat.

"I don't see anybody out there blocking him regularly," Winston said. "He's going to be a load in the run game."

Arians, who coached against Watt twice last season while in Indianapolis, said one thing that makes Watt so tough is his ability to play with his hands and eyes. He'll rush the quarterback while keeping his hands on an offensive lineman, and still find the quarterback.

Winston backed up his coach, saying Watt's ability to go around a block and still make a play is uncanny. And frustrating. Most of the time, Winston said, if the offensive lineman can beat the defender to a spot, he can secure the block. Not with Watt. He'll just go around the the blocker.

"You're kinda damned if you do, damned if you don't against him," Winston said. "There's not a clear way to make sure you got him blocked every time. You got to hope you're getting the proper help."

None of what Watt does surprises Winston.

As a rookie, Watt came into training camp with a skill set of player two or three years older. His leverage as a rookie was most noticeable to Winston, who found out how hard it was to knock Watt off balance.

While he's not surprised by Watt, Winston said nobody expected him to be this good this fast.

"He's the best of the best," Winston said. "He's an elite player. I don't think it's an overstatement when [Texans interim coach] Wade [Philips] in the beginning of the season said he's going to be a future Hall of Famer if he keeps it up."

So how do the Cardinals block an elite future Hall of Famer? Just ask him.

"That's a good question," he said with a chuckle. "I'd use two guys."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell is expected back at practice Friday after missing two days with an illness, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

But whether one day of practice will be enough for Sowell to prepare for the league’s top-ranked defense is yet to be seen. Goodwin will evaluate Sowell during Friday’s practice and then make a decision about the player's status for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

Potter
Sowell
“After practice tomorrow I’ll have a better feel,” Goodwin said. “I don’t want to say so right now, but obviously missing two days of practice, [with] whatever illness he has, hopefully it hasn’t affected him too much and hopefully he’s been studying and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Goodwin guessed that Sowell was out with the flu, since the virus has been making its rounds this time of year.

If Sowell doesn’t start Sunday, Nate Potter would fill his slot. Potter started six games at left tackle last season, allowing seven sacks. His first significant action in 2012 came against the Green Bay Packers and linebacker Clay Matthews. This season, his first start could come against Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

But Potter has learned to fill in on the fly.

“It’s just part of the process,” he said. “It’s part of the league, part of the position, part of my role. I just got to accept and play the best I can.”

Potter spent most of the first half of 2013 learning how to play guard. That versatility helped him stay active on game days and made him an attractive option to coach Bruce Arians.

“He’s a guy who comes to work every day,” Goodwin said. “Doesn’t say much. Does what we ask him to do. I have confidence in him. If he has to play. I’m sure he’ll be OK.”

Fitzgerald, Mendenhall getting better

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
7:30
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- It looks like the time off helped Larry Fitzgerald.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
The Arizona Cardinals wide receiver wasn’t listed on Wednesday’s injury report, but coach Bruce Arians wasn’t sure if his star was back to 100 percent. Quarterback Carson Palmer said Fitzgerald didn't do much in practice Monday, most likely giving his left hamstring an extra two days to heal before Wednesday's practice.

Before the Cardinals play Houston on Sunday, they will have played just one game in the last 23 days, and that's been the best therapy, Palmer said.

"You can get treatment on a lot of things, but a lot of the time the best remedy is just rest," Palmer said. "For Larry to have a good 10-day period where he really didn't do much and just had a chance to let that thing heal up, that will be really good for us in the second half of the season."

Running back Rashard Mendenhall was still on the injury report, however. He was limited with turf toe. Arians said Mendenhall isn’t quite healthy just yet.

“It’s not completely healed, but it’s a lot better,” Arians said.

Two Cardinals – right tackle Bradley Sowell and linebacker Daryl Washington – missed practice because of illness. Wide receiver Brittan Golden is still recovering from a pulled hamstring and was on the stationary bike for the open portion of practice.

Linebacker John Abraham (shoulder) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (calf) were both limited. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (knee) practiced fully.

Locker Room Buzz: Arizona Cardinals

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
9:17
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons:

Abraham
No bye-week blues: It was a jovial Cardinals locker room as they enter the bye week at 4-4. Guys were smiling, laughing and hugging it out. “Not saying you can relax more now, but you feel a little better about your preparation for your weeks coming out,” linebacker John Abraham said.

Abraham cleared: Abraham left the game in the third quarter after a blow to the head, but the former Falcon said he took and passed a test after the game.

Painful finger: Left tackle Bradley Sowell got his right middle finger caught in a blocker during the game and damaged part of his nail. It was painful, he said, but Sowell was able to finish the game.

Collector’s items: Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to catch 800 passes. When asked what he’ll do with the game ball, Fitzgerald said it’s going home. He has kept the ball from his first catch and then from every hundredth after. That leaves him with nine overall.

Campbell teaches Sowell a thing or two

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
10:12
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The conversation started on the practice field, two plays after Bradley Sowell stopped Calais Campbell on a pass rush and a play after the veteran defensive end beat the young left tackle.

Sowell wanted to know exactly how Campbell got by him. He had tried to protect quarterback Carson Palmer the exact same way as the play before. It worked then, but why didn't it work now, Sowell wondered. The two teammates -- one a destroyer of quarterbacks, the other a guardian of them -- began dissecting Sowell's play. They talked about it for the rest of practice, but that wasn't enough for Sowell, who summoned Campbell to his locker to continue the dialogue.

Alford
Campbell
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Campbell pulled up a stool in front of Sowell after practice Monday. They still held their helmets, their pads were still strapped on, sweat was still dripping off their foreheads.

"He was just telling me what he thought would help me out," Sowell said. "He compared me to certain tackles he played with. It was a good conversation. Hopefully, I can translate it over to the game. I got to change it up."

Sowell peppered Campbell with questions: Why did you make that move? What did I do wrong? What did you change?

And Campbell offered up as much advice as he could gather from his six seasons.

"I just wanted him to understand where a defensive lineman's mentality was, what we're trying to do to him," Campbell said. "Nothing crazy."

Sowell set out this week to seek out a few of the veterans on the defense for advice, and he said they were all accommodating, including John Abraham, who's in his 14th season.

Sowell walked away from those conversations with two primary areas to work on, his punching and his setting, which has cost Sowell on a few sacks this season. Sowell's starting to pick up on what works and what doesn't. In three games, he's allowed 15 quarterback hurries, six quarterback hurries and three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. This year hasn't been one constant improvement for Sowell, who's noticed he digressed in some areas since being signed by the Cardinals on Sept. 1.

"I'm always going to try to get better," Sowell said. "But there are certain ways to punch that would help me out or certain ways to set because sometimes I get caught if I just set the same every time.

"I got to start switching it up a little bit. Just trying to figure out new sets and stuff that will help me or what will get the defense guessing a little bit better."

It's not a sprint, Campbell told Sowell.

Becoming a successful left tackle doesn't happen overnight, especially for someone with as little experience as Sowell has. He played just 135 offensive snaps last year in six games in Indianapolis, according to Pro Football Focus, and he surpassed that total in the past three games this year.

Even the top tackles taken in this year's draft are struggling at times, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has pointed out.

"He's a work in progress," Arians said of Sowell.

During their conversation, Campbell could sense Sowell's desire to improve and sees potential. But Campbell made sure to instill in the second-year undrafted free agent that football is all about technique. Rhythm comes as easily as it goes. When a defensive lineman stops Sowell from moving, Campbell knows how hard it is to get going again.

Eventually, yet not surprisingly, the discussion turned to golf.

"The biggest thing is just trying to find that consistency," Campbell said. "It's almost like a golf swing. That's what we were talking about, too. You got to get that swing right. You get your set right, you can stop anybody. Once you start getting a little kink in your set, you got to readjust it and find it again."

Sowell's hoping he finds it soon.
Tony McDaniel and Carson PalmerAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Arizona offensive line allowed Carson Palmer to be sacked seven times on Thursday.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Maybe now Bruce Arians sees the dominance in Seattle and San Francisco that everyone else has talked about.

Before he took over as Cardinals coach, Arians had the bravado of a man trying to revive a lifeless franchise. Upon signing quarterback Carson Palmer, Arians said the Cardinals' quarterback room “is as strong as any in the National Football League.” Upon signing running back Rashard Mendenhall, Arians said he could “carry a team to a Super Bowl.” At least twice, Arians called former left tackle Levi Brown “elite.”

And then in August, in the middle of training camp, Arians questioned the well-documented success of his new NFC West rivals.

“I don’t see the dominance that everybody else talks about,” he said. “One of those teams may be. It still has to be played on Sunday.”

After a week that started with a 32-20 loss at San Francisco on Sunday and ended with a 34-22 defeat at the hands of Seattle on Thursday, Arians saw first-hand that the top of the division is good. Very good.

But, more so, he found out how far his team has to go to be on their level.

There are parts of this Cardinals team that exude dominance. The defense has regularly flexed its muscle and did so again Thursday, slowing Seattle to 135 yards on the ground -- its second-lowest output this season -- and holding Russell Wilson to his third-worst passing outing of the year in terms of QBR. The defense created 10 of the Cardinals' 22 points, setting the offense up at the Seattle 3- and 15-yard-lines after creating turnovers. The first led to a touchdown and the second a field goal.

But while the defense was doing its part, the offense continued to sputter.

For the second consecutive game, the Cardinals had an NFC West foe within striking distance but couldn't find a way to overtake it. They’re like a song on repeat that gets louder each time it plays. The issues at hand aren’t anything new -- interceptions and an inability to protect Palmer or run the ball -- but they’re prohibiting Arizona from making a legitimate run at the NFC West.

Fix them and the Cardinals aren’t 3-4 with Atlanta coming to the desert in 10 days. But how do you fix them?

After a 5-11 season in 2012, the Cardinals thought a new coach, new offense, new quarterback and a (mostly) new offensive line would solve at least some of the problems. But the rebuilding process has been slow, and this season is already looking a lot like the last.

Fixing this team is easier said than done, but it starts and ends with the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinLarry Fitzgerald was targeted just five times, and finished with two catches for 17 yards.
The Cardinals are struggling with simple football. They haven’t been dominating the line of scrimmage, which prevents them from establishing a run game. If the Cardinals could run the ball it would spread the defense and water down the pass rush, which means left tackle Bradley Sowell wouldn’t have been dealing with the swell of Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin coming in waves Thursday. It would also give Palmer more time to throw and make better decisions.

It’s like dominos. If the men up front can't establish themselves at the line of scrimmage, the whole offense begins to crumble. Thursday, Palmer was getting hit early in the first quarter. It ended seven sacks later. In early October, the Cardinals thought a change at left tackle would be the answer. They traded Brown and moved Sowell in as starter. General manager Steve Keim predicted Sowell would take his lumps, but nobody expected him to struggle this mightily.

“I don’t know if they’re figuring me out or whatever, (but) you get into third-and-long all game, you get into the 2-minute drill in the middle of the third quarter, and it’s one-on-one battle,” Sowell said. “They don’t honor the run, it’s one-on-one battles.

“We’re passing every play, I've just got to buckle down and do a little bit better job.”

Palmer continues to force balls into holes, and twice Thursday he turned receivers into defensive backs. Palmer’s first pick, with Arizona down 7-0, derailed a drive in the first quarter that had already picked up 24 yards, including a third-down conversion. His second, with the Cards down 24-13, did almost the exact same thing. But when the protection breaks down, Palmer isn’t able to make plays on the run.

Mendenhall was supposed to be the veteran running back that gave the Cardinals a reliable option they haven’t had in the past. As the season has worn on, the running game has shown glimpses of potential, but 30 yards on 18 carries Thursday isn’t enough in this league.

Blame has been put on the new offense installed by Arians. It’s too complex. The playbook is too big. It has too many formations. And while there are still instances of players, especially receivers, looking like they don’t know where to line up seven weeks into the season, the scheme isn’t to blame.

In the glimpses we've seen, Arians’ offense can look like the well-oiled machine it was in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Palmer has made the plays. But like everything that’s built, it needs a foundation. And for the Cardinals, that’s the offensive line.

When the line improves, the offense will begin to build. Until then, however, the top of the NFC West will seem as far away as the top of a skyscraper.

Locker Room Buzz: Arizona Cardinals

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
1:10
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

No QB considered: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians never considered replacing quarterback Carson Palmer despite two interceptions, mainly because Arians didn’t think the interceptions were entirely Palmer’s fault. The first, Arians contended, was an “obvious pass interference” while the second was a poor decision.

Sowell
Taking the heat: Left tackle Bradley Sowell didn’t shy away from questions about his rough outing. He sat in front of his locker and answered everything thrown his way. The consensus was that when the Cardinals were forced to pass, Seattle was able to rear back and bring the pressure on Sowell without regret.

As it comes: Wide receiver Andre Roberts was targeted three times in the first quarter and then not again until late in the game, but he wouldn’t complain. Roberts said that even though, as a receiver, he wants the ball on every possession, he’s content with whatever comes his way.

No sleep until a win: Palmer doesn’t expect to sleep as he dissects the loss and replays every decision, good and bad, all night.

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