NFL Nation: Calais Campbell

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sunday wasn’t the true barometer of how Carson Palmer's shoulder was feeling.

Palmer
That came when Palmer woke up Monday morning, after the pain subsided and Palmer had a chance to sleep on it. But according to Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the axillary nerve in Palmer’s right throwing shoulder did not regress after Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins.

“I was concerned until I saw him today,” Arians said. “And then now he feels great, so we should just get better and better and just get stronger.”

Arians said his 34-year-old starting quarterback will hopefully be doing everything in practice this week. Also from the coach:
  • There’s a chance defensive end Calais Campbell can return from his MCL injury but Arians said it’s “very slim.”
  • Right tackle Bobby Massie played “by far his best game.”
  • Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker left the game after re-injuring his left calf. On Monday, Arians compared the injury to Andre Ellington’s foot. “It’s going to be there all year and [he’ll have to] play through it and gut it out,” Arians said. “It was a great performance by him coming back out and giving his presence because he’s a great leader.”
  • Arians said Palmer’s 44 pass attempts was the “norm.” “When we have it that many times and they stack the box like that to stop the run, then we’re going to throw the football. When he says he’s OK, we’re going to go with it.”
  • Arians said he feels the reason defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson have been playing at such a high level is because of their brains: “Two very, very smart players,” Arians said.
  • The Cardinals had 40 mental errors -- 20 offensively and 20 defensively.
For the past two years, I've tried to shed some light on the world of NFL officiating through a penalty database provided by ESPN Stats & Information. Now, it's time to expand our look into specific calls that often carry the postgame discussion on Monday and Tuesday.

My goal isn't simply to criticize officials for poor calls or praise them for good ones, but to expose the gray area involved -- both in the individual decisions and the entire exercise of officiating at large. Feel free to tweet play nominations or other suggestions my way at @SeifertESPN. In this inaugural attempt, I'll shut it down after a round number of three.

(@SethSimonson suggested culling everything from the active night of referee Jerome Boger in the New England Patriots' 43-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but I'll branch out a bit more than that.)

Play: Unnecessary roughness penalty on New York Jets linebacker Quinton Coples
Referee crew: Ronald Torbert
Analysis: Two different plays occur when reviewing this instance: one in live view and another in replay. Initially, it appeared that Coples -- after reaching the San Diego Chargers' backfield unblocked -- knocked down running back Ronald Brown with an arm to the chest, a legal play. Upon review, however, it's clear that Coples' left biceps struck the left side of Brown's helmet and part of his face mask as well.

The force not only upended Brown for a 2-yard loss, but it also dislodged his helmet and caused a concussion.

The NFL doesn't specifically outlaw "clothesline" tackles in its rule book. Officials inconsistently call it, but in this case, Coples' contact to Brown's helmet seemed a fair penalty prompt. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 12(c) states: "All players are prohibited from striking, swinging at or clubbing the head, neck or face of an opponent with the wrist(s), arm(s), elbow(s) or hand(s)."

[+] EnlargeArizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) leaves the game against the Denver Broncos during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in Denver. ()
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyCalais Campbell suffered an MCL injury when he was chop-blocked by Broncos tight end Julius Thomas.
Play: Unnecessary roughness penalty, blindside block, on Patriots defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
Referee crew: Boger
Analysis: The block occurred during a nebulous moment; officials were late to blow the whistle after an incomplete pass to Bengals receiver A.J. Green. In the live view, it appeared Green might have caught the pass and fumbled, prompting safety Patrick Chung to scoop the ball and begin returning. (The back judge threw a bean bag, seemingly noting a change of possession.)

As the whistles blew, Easley approached Bengals running back Gio Bernard and knocked him down with a forceful block on the back of the left shoulder. Boger penalized Easley 15 yards for the hit, stating: "After the play was over, unnecessary roughness with a blindside block."

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 (8) states that a "defenseless player" is a one who receives a 'blindside' block when the path of the offensive blocker is toward or parallel to his own end line, and he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side."

Another complicating factor was that, technically, the block came after the play was over. Chung's apparent return was not live. The play ended when the ball fell from Green's hands. The rule book doesn't explicitly state that such penalties are limited to "live" occasions, but it stands to reason that a block can't happen when there is no return. Former NFL officiating supervisor Mike Pereira was among those who put forth that argument.

Play: Chop-block penalty on Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas
Referee crew: Bill Leavy
Analysis: Generally speaking, a chop-block occurs when one player hits a defender low and the other hits him high. In this case, Thomas cut-blocked Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell with contact to his right leg, causing Campbell to suffer an MCL injury. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians declared it the dirtiest play he had seen in 37 years.

It's not entirely clear, however, whether the play was even illegal, much less dirty. (Update: The NFL confirmed Monday that it was an illegal chop block.) The player who ostensibly blocked Campbell high was left tackle Ryan Clady, whose only contact with Campbell came as Campbell fell into him. One interpretation suggests this was still an illegal "lure block," described in an example within Rule 12, Section 2, Article 3 of the rule book: "A1 [Thomas] chops a defensive player while A2 [Clady] confronts the defensive player in a pass-blocking posture but is not physically engaged with the defensive player."

Did Clady "confront" Campbell? It's true that he faced Campbell in a pass-blocking stance. Did Campbell turn away from Thomas to focus on beating Clady? This is the gray area where so many officiating decisions lie. In the NFL, a "confrontation" can occur without physical contact. If this play doesn't reflect the intent of the "lure block" rule, I would like to know what does.
Calais Campbell knows what is in his control and what isn’t.

For example, the Arizona Cardinals' 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive end knows the method people use to select who plays in a Pro Bowl is out of his control. But he also knows he can control his play on the field, which could help sway the powers that be.

[+] EnlargeCampbell
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesComing off a nine-sack season, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell seems on the verge of stardom.
Being named to the 2013 Pro Bowl as an alternate was a disappointment for Campbell, who recorded a career-high nine sacks while anchoring the Cardinals’ No. 1 rush defense. The difference, he believes, between a booked ticket to Hawaii last season and waiting idly by for the phone to ring, was a few plays.

“I left a lot of plays on the field last year,” Campbell told ESPN.com. “There were times I had opportunities to make plays and I didn’t, and maybe if I made those few extra plays I missed I probably would’ve had that call. But it is a goal of mine.

“I do want to go to the Pro Bowl. It’d be a great achievement for anybody.”

Two weeks before training camp begins, Campbell, who is entering his seventh season, feels like he is in the right place to be considered an NFL all-star. While it is a goal, Campbell's focus isn’t solely on the Pro Bowl. His ideal situation would be to earn a nod but have to decline the invitation because the Cardinals are playing in Super Bowl XLIX. Both games, however, will be hosted on Campbell’s home turf, University of Phoenix Stadium.

The validation that comes with being a Pro Bowler is important for any player. But for Campbell, it would just be the next step in him becoming a bona fide NFL star. For the past couple seasons he has been teetering on the edge of stardom, but playing on losing teams and for a franchise that doesn’t receive much national attention has slowed that process.

Now 27, Campbell is ready.

“I’m very ready,” he said. “I want to have an ability to lead my team to a Super Bowl and win one. I feel like now is better than any other time. If I’m going to become the elite player I want to be, it has to be now. I put all the work in to be the best I can be.”

Being elite and being a Pro Bowl player have become nearly synonymous in the NFL.

One will beget the other. If Campbell becomes an elite player in 2014, he will likely be named to the Pro Bowl. If he is named to the Pro Bowl, Campbell will likely be considered an elite player. Until recently, Campbell didn’t feel like he had the opportunity to truly be considered for the Pro Bowl. Coming off a career season, that is likely to change.

“It’s just something,” Campbell said, “that I feel like is something has been a long time waiting.”
The Washington Redskins' defense is optimistic about where it's headed, thanks to the addition of Jason Hatcher and a tweaked philosophy regarding the pass rush. Whether their play matches that optimism always remains the biggest hurdle. What's not in doubt: They will have two players among the most expensive at their positions when it comes to the salary cap. The fact both are in their front seven isn't a coincidence as the Redskins' offseason goal has been to improve the pass rush. So, after breaking down where the Redskins' top cap hits at each position offensively stood in comparison to their NFL counterparts earlier this week, it's time to take a look at the defense.

Safety

NFL's top five cap hits
Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs $11,619,700
Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers, $10,100,000
Antrel Rolle, New York Giants, $9,250,000
Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $9,000,000
Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans, $8,000,000

Meriweather
Redskins' top cap hit
Brandon Meriweather (59th), $1,000,000

Summing it up: Notice who’s not in the top five? Jairus Byrd, after his new deal with New Orleans. But don’t worry: He’s set to take up the most cap room in 2015 at $10.3 million. I like Byrd, but not at that figure (I’d have paid Sean Taylor that sort of cash). But Byrd was never really a legitimate option for the Redskins. Mike Mitchell was and he’ll count $2.2 million this season and $4.95 million in 2015. But the overriding point is Washington views the best way to help this position is by bolstering the pass rush. Starters Meriweather and Ryan Clark both are on one-year contracts, so this position is still a question mark beyond this season (and still will be one entering the year).

Corner

NFL's top five cap hits
Brandon Carr, Dallas, $12,217,000
Johnathan Joseph, Houston, $11,250,000
Lardarius Webb, Baltimore, $10,500,000
Brandon Flowers, Kansas City, $10,500,000
Tramon Williams, Green Bay, $9,500,000

Porter
Redskins' top cap hit
Tracy Porter (43rd), $2,800,000

Summing it up: Next season, Darrelle Revis' cap hit jumps to $25 million. Which means he’s playing on a one-year deal. Is it a good thing the Redskins’ biggest cap hit here belongs to Porter, who has battled injury issues along with consistency during his career? Of course, it’s not like he occupies a lot of space. DeAngelo Hall's cap hit is $2,062,500 but that jumps to $4,812,500 in 2015. By then the Redskins need young corner David Amerson to have fully emerged -- can he become their best corner? If not, then they’ll have to start looking for a No. 1 corner. By the way, the top five on the list for 2014? They’ve combined for four Pro Bowl appearances and one All-Pro spot (Joseph). But Carr did do a good job vs. Washington last year (and in at least one game against then-Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson).

Linebacker

NFL's top five cap hits
Lawrence Timmons, $11,816,250
Tamba Hali, Kansas City, $11,464,706
Brian Orakpo, Washington, $11,455,000
Clay Matthews, Green Bay, $10,943,750
James Laurinaitis, St. Louis, $10,400,000

Orakpo
Redskins' top cap hit
Orakpo

Summing it up: That’s quite a list for Orakpo to be part of, but to stay on there after this season -- at least in Washington -- he’ll have to be a little more productive. But even if he has another season like last year, Orakpo will still be in the $10-million range. When Hali got paid, he responded with sack totals of 12, nine and 11 in the next three seasons (with nine forced fumbles and one interception). I don’t think anyone says Hali's overpaid (well, at least not many). In Orakpo’s last three full seasons, he has a combined 27.5 sacks, but only four forced fumbles. More game-changing plays and he’ll get the contract he desires. Another interesting part on this is that two of the five are inside linebackers, though Timmons plays in a 3-4 and Laurinaitis in a 4-3.

Defensive tackle

NFL's top five cap hits
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit, $22,412,000
Haloti Ngata, Baltimore, $16,000,000
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay, $15,627,253
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati, $9,000,000
Barry Cofield, Washington, $7,667,500

Cofield
Redskins' top cap hit
Cofield

Summing it up: Cofield’s base salary jumped from $840,000 last season to $4.55 million (the lower figure was the result of a restructuring last spring in which $3.5 million in base salary was converted to a signing bonus). This is as high as Cofield’s cap number will be and in two years it falls to $6,877,500. I know the coaches felt he would become the NFL’s top nose tackle by this time. That’s not the case, but Cofield does have his strengths and has done a nice job with Washington. For a short stretch last season he was playing as well as anyone on the team defensively, and he always plays hard. He’ll be helped by having Hatcher in the pass rush, perhaps giving Cofield more one-on-one matchups. If that happens, then perhaps Cofield will have the sort of season in all phases that coaches have hoped for.

Defensive end

NFL's top five cap hits
Mario Williams, Buffalo, $18,800,000
Charles Johnson, Carolina, $16,420,000
Chris Long, St. Louis, $14,900,000
Greg Hardy, Carolina, $13,116,000
Calais Campbell , Arizona, $11,250,000

Bowen
Redskins' top cap hit
Stephen Bowen (15th), $7,020,000

Summing it up: All of the top five on this list play in a 4-3, where ends can excel as playmakers and, therefore, command big bucks. The 3-4 ends, typically, are not -- with some exceptions. Bowen has not been a playmaker, though for a while he was an effective player both against the run and as a rusher. However, he has just one sack since the 2011 season (26 games). And after microfracture surgery and being 30, I wonder about the level at which he’ll be able to play. Multiple Redskins sources said they still expect him to be in the Redskins' plans, but will it be at this cap figure? That's a big hit for someone in his situation. If Bowen returns healthy and plays well, the Redskins will greatly benefit. If not? That's a lot of cap room to occupy. One more note: Johnson and Hardy combine for approximately 23 percent of Carolina's cap.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- While he spent 10 minutes Thursday talking about his latest free-agent addition to the Arizona Cardinals’ defense, Antonio Cromartie, general manager Steve Keim shed some light on where he may focus his draft picks in early May.

Keim identified depth and length across the defense as the team's primary needs, specifically at defensive end, outside linebacker, safety and inside linebacker.

“I think we’ve made some improvements,” Keim said. “I don’t want to step out on a limb and say we’re there yet. As a perfectionist, I think we all look at things and would like to be a little deeper in certain positions.”

Stocking up at those positions is planning for the future. The Cardinals will be on the lookout for Darnell Dockett’s replacement this draft, as well as a formidable backup to Calais Campbell. Trying to add depth to outside linebacker will be done because John Abraham and Lorenzo Alexander are getting close to the end of their careers and Arizona could be thin there after this season.

Safety has been a top priority since the season ended, especially since 17 of the 29 touchdowns thrown by other teams went to tight ends. Arizona would prefer a taller, more athletic safety it can match up with the likes of San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and St. Louis’ Jared Cook.

And with Karlos Dansby vacating one of the two starting inside linebacker jobs and Kevin Minter assuming that role in an “audition,” Keim said, the Cardinals are in need of relief behind Minter and Daryl Washington.

The Cardinals have the 20th pick in the first three rounds of May’s NFL draft (20th, 52nd and 84th) and the rest will be officially determined during next week’s league meetings. Arizona doesn't have a seventh-round choice, which was traded to Oakland as part of the Carson Palmer deal.

In his second season, Keim doesn’t want free agency to be as frenzied for the Cardinals as it has been the past two seasons. He’d prefer improving through the draft, but admitted that free agency is a great way to fill immediate needs.

“My whole goal and our whole goal as [an] organization is to be able to go in … [and] that we can sit there and look in the mirror and say we’re taking the best player available and the guy who helps the Cardinals the most,” Keim said. “I think through free agency we’ve afforded ourselves to do that.”
The Arizona Cardinals won’t draft Missouri defensive end Michael Sam in May.

And it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

The Cardinals are stocked, if not overstocked, at outside linebacker, the position Sam will most likely have to transition to if he gets drafted in a 3-4 scheme, which the Cardinals run. At about 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, he’s too short to play off the edge for Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles – especially when Arizona’s starting defensive end is 6-8, 300-pound Calais Campbell.

Sam would be better fit as an OLB, but during their mad dash through free agency last year, the Cardinals made the position a point of emphasis. Already with Sam Acho, Arizona added Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy and John Abraham through free agency and drafted Alex Okafor. During the season, the Cardinals signed Dontay Moch and Marcus Benard, who also contributed this past season.

Sam’s spot on the Cardinals' roster is essentially filled by Acho, who at 6-3, 257, has the most similar body type to Sam. And Acho, most likely, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Arizona was able to fight through a decimated OLB corps last season to still register the top-ranked run defense in the league and the sixth-best defense overall. In Week 3 against New Orleans, the Cardinals lost Acho, Alexander and Okafor in a freak series of injuries within one game. In their place, Abraham became an every-down linebacker and Shaughnessy stepped up and proved worthy of his one-year deal.

Sam came out publicly Sunday night, making him the first openly gay college prospect in the history of the NFL. By now, less than 24 hours after his story was aired on ESPN and printed in The New York Times, it’s well known. He came out to his Missouri teammates back in August and proceeded to have a stellar season.

If the Cardinals pass on Sam, it’s not because he’s gay. It’s because they don’t need him. It’s a football decision.

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.

All-NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South


It’s become a common theme for Karlos Dansby to be left out of the postseason honors.

He wasn’t voted in at inside linebacker on this year’s All-NFC West team, losing out to San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner despite finishing the season with the third-most solo tackles in the NFL with 114.

However, those Cardinals that did make it weren’t a surprise, especially on defense.

Arizona tied Seattle with four defenders on the 12-man team as all four defensive Pro Bowlers earned a nod. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was honored along with defensive end Calais Campbell, who were both Pro Bowl alternates. Linebacker John Abraham, who finished with 11.5 sacks and moved into the top 10 on the all-time sack list, was one outside linebacker and Patrick Peterson was named at cornerback, infiltrating an otherwise all-Seattle secondary. If Dansby had trouble making this squad, than Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington would've struggled cracking this rotation especially playing just 12 games because of a suspension.

Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd made up two-thirds of the division’s receiving corps, alongside a former Cardinal, San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin. And left guard Daryn Colledge was rewarded for a productive season by earning a nod, as well.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals’ defensive line room looks like all the other position rooms deep inside the team’s practice facility.

It’s set up like a classroom, with desks for the players to take notes on and a computer for their coach, the teacher. There’s a white board and an overhead projector. There are windows with blinds. And a heavy door.

It was in this room that the league’s top-ranked defense against the run was built. But it wasn’t done through drills or personnel moves, but instead through one speech in September.

After a Week 1 loss to St. Louis, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner gathered his charges for what they expected to be another classroom session.

[+] EnlargeCalais Campbell
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsA new scheme this season has worked wonders for Calais Campbell and the Arizona defensive line.
It was anything but.

“We just really talked,” Buckner said. “[I asked them] why do you play this game? Why are you here? What did you want to get out of this game? Are you in it for the cars you can drive? The money you get? Because there’s only so much money you can get and you can’t drive but one car at a time.

“It’s got to be something bigger than that and you got to find that and if not, you have to be man enough to say, ‘This is not going to work for me because this is the ultimate team sport.’ You can’t be about I. You can’t be, ‘Well, I didn’t make a tackle.’ We don’t count that. We count wins. We count having success.”

Buckner was shooting straight from the hip with them and his approach worked because they knew Buckner had been there. Having played defensive tackle for 12 seasons in the NFL, he knew what the trenches felt like, smelled like, looked like. He’s been in rooms like that before. He’s heard coaches try to give those speeches.

He’s also seen teams underachieve with talented defensive lines and he wasn’t about to let that happen in Arizona. Throughout that meeting, he called out everyone regardless of stature, longevity or success, but not in a way that drew their ire.

“I told them, ‘Honestly, I never make up stuff to make you look bad,’” Buckner told them. “‘I’m never going to make up stuff to make you look good. I’m a mirror. Whatever you showed me I’m going to show you a reflection. If you show me a bad play, I’m going to tell you you played bad. But, if you show me good play, were going to build on it.’

“And I think by doing that, a trust was built and guys were like, ‘Wow, maybe I do need to do a little bit better.’ And I challenged them.”

The Cardinals responded.

They enter the final week of the season ranked No. 1 against the run, a drastic turn from their 28th ranking last season, allowing 84.5 yards per game. Arizona hasn’t allowed more than 149 yards in a game and held Atlanta to just 27.

With the exception of a few backups such as Alameda Ta'amu, Frostee Rucker and Ronald Talley, it’s the same defensive line – Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams – as last year running the same 3-4 defense, but there’s one minor twist. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles eliminated the multi-gap scheme up front and replaced it with single-gap system.

“What it’s done is allow these guys to let their natural God-given ability play because they can play fast, they’re not thinking,” Buckner said. “They’re not wondering, ‘What is this offense going to do to me?’ We try to preach in our D-line room, they really should call us the offensive line because we’re going to attack you and you’re going to have to defend whatever we’re going to do to you. So that’s our mindset.”

The players have embraced not being restricted on how they get off the line, which has given Arizona’s defensive front more freedom and flexibility. And it’s helped the line regain its swagger. Campbell has eight sacks and Dockett 4.5 heading into the season finale and both were named Pro Bowl alternates. Last season, Campbell had 6.5 and Dockett 1.5.

“I think that it’s really just being able to attack and get off the ball and going forward,” Campbell said. “We have very explosive guys on this D-line, all of us, from top to the bottom, we really get of the ball. We’re aggressive, we attack and we make plays.

“This defense that we run, the scheme that we run now, benefits us and creates havoc in backfields, making running backs stop their feet and cut before they want to and allows linebackers to shoot gaps and make plays, as well. I love it.”

The ranking doesn’t mean as much to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians as it does to the players. They were here last year when the run defense was ranked 28th under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Arians is only concerned with two categories: points allowed and turnovers created.

Arizona isn’t bad in either. The Cardinals are allowing 20.1 points per game, seventh best in the NFL and have created 30 turnovers – 20 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries – which is the fourth most in the league.

Pairing the right scheme with the right players has been the biggest difference between last year and this year.

“It’s like a puzzle piece,” Buckner said. “You get all the pieces in the right places, the picture comes out perfect. But, you get one piece that don’t fit, then you’re like, 'What kind of puzzle is this?'”

But to the players who are locking horns every Sunday, being No. 1 is something to be proud of.

“That stuck with me the whole offseason and I was just upset with myself,” Williams said. “I felt like we could’ve did more [last season]. We put a lot of emphasis on it and it shows.

“We were aiming for top 5, but being No. 1, that’s being the best right now. We got to hold it up for one more week.”

Buckner used a word during his come-to-Jesus meeting in September that struck a nerve. He called the defensive line soft. When a team is ranked in the low 20s or even in the 30s, he told them that day, it means offenses are slicing through them like warm butter. Then Buckner turned on the tape and backed up his claims with visual evidence.

That meeting got Arizona’s defensive line focused.

It took a come-to-Jesus drive, however, to make the Cardinals see just how right Buckner was. With the Cardinals down two at San Francisco on Oct. 13, the 49ers started the game-clinching drive with 1:07 left in the third quarter. For the next 9:27, San Francisco milked the clock, running 12 times for 53 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run that broke Arizona’s back and put the Niners up 29-22.

The Niners had 149 yards that week and four days later, Seattle ran for 135 in a game Arians has dismissed because of the short break. Then started a stretch of performances that solidified Arizona’s place as a defense that’s not worth wrecking with. In consecutive games, the Cardinals held offenses to 27, 76, 32, 80, 105, 100, 66 and 103 rushing yards.

“I think after that game we realized we can’t do that and win games,” Campbell said. “I think we took a step as in we’re going to shut down whoever we’re playing against the run and make them have to throw the ball to beat you.

“And it has worked for us so far.”

Cardinals' defense makes statement

December, 22, 2013
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Calais CampbellJoe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals' defense sacked Russell Wilson four times and limited him to 108 passing yards.
 SEATTLE -- When Steven Hauschka’s foot connected with the ball for the opening kick of Sunday’s Cardinals-Seahawks game, neither team knew what was happening three time zones away.

The New Orleans-Carolina game wouldn't be over for another two minutes, meaning, unless word spread on the sideline, the Cardinals wouldn't know how much Sunday’s game truly meant until halftime, if they found out at all.

Nobody knew, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said.

But as history has written it, the Panthers won, which, for the next 3 hours, 9 minutes, meant Arizona was playing for its postseason life. Lose and the Cards would be eliminated, rendering Week 17 against San Francisco meaningless. Win and, with help, the playoffs would still be a possibility.

The Cardinals found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They were the focus of the football world briefly, holding the mighty Seahawks down by their wrists and eventually putting a foot on their throat in a 17-10 victory. To many outside the West Coast, Arizona is associated with offense simply because its coach, Bruce Arians, is widely considered an offensive genius.

But to those in the know, this team isn't anything without its defense. It quietly became the league’s top-ranked unit against the run heading into Seattle, but it’s a well-built, well-rounded and talented group that proved Sunday that no matter how bad the offense is, the defense will give Carson Palmer as many chances as he needs to win the game.

Which is exactly what happened.

After the Cardinals held Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to a career-low 108 passing yards and slowed running back Marshawn Lynch to a crawl in the second half, Arizona got one last pass out of Palmer -- after four interceptions. He hit Michael Floyd along the left sideline of the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals their most important win since Kurt Warner was quarterback.

“We didn’t want to have to rely on [the defense] as much as we did today,” Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “But that’s what being a team is all about -- when a group is struggling, the other one picks it up. That’s what the defense did for us a lot of times today.”

Regardless, for the first time since 2009, the Cardinals won a game in December that meant something and are in the playoff picture. And they did it by stopping a locomotive that many didn’t think would slow down until MetLife Stadium in February. And, now, Seattle is facing a possibility of not even winning the NFC West after its franchise-best 14-game home winning streak was snapped.

“Don’t get no better than that,” Arians said. “It’s why you play the game. Come into a venue like this -- fantastic venue, great fans -- and win, that’s why you play the game. That’s why we all grew up playing this game.”

But nobody on that field grew up thinking they were going to throw a season-high four interceptions in a make-or-break game. That was the reality Palmer lived Sunday, giving the ball away three times inside the Seattle 36 -- twice deep in the end zone.

Instead of entering the second quarter potentially up 14-0, Arizona had two of its first three possessions curtailed because of the picks. Yet, while Arizona wasn’t scoring, neither was Seattle. The Seahawks didn’t get on the board until 78 seconds into the second quarter.

“I guess that one defies the odds,” Arians said. “You usually don’t turn it over four times and win on the road. Well, when your lines of scrimmage dominate the game offensively and defensively, you’re gonna have a chance.”

A winning chance at that. While Palmer reverted back to his old ways, throwing four picks for the third time in his career, it was the defense that shouldered the burden of last year's 58-0 embarrassment and this October's loss for Arizona.

None of that has been forgotten.

Last Monday, a day after the offense shined in a win over the Titans, the entire defense gathered at the Cardinals’ practice facility in Tempe on what was supposed to be a Victory Monday. Instead of celebrating, however, the defense was studying.

The Cardinals watched tape of the Seahawks against San Francisco and St. Louis, two teams that played Seattle tough this season.

“Everybody was in there talking,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “[We were] making sure we understood what these guys wanted to do and making sure we didn’t let them get out to an early jump like we did in the first game [this season].”

For about two hours, the defense -- no coaches were allowed -- broke down film, discussed the matchups and prepared. During that meeting and another defensive players-only meeting Friday, the consensus was to put a lot of the responsibility on the Cardinals’ front seven.

“And they came out on top again,” Peterson said.

Arizona sent pressure Wilson’s way from the middle of the line and off the edges, causing the 5-foot-11 quarterback fits when he tried to find receivers, especially around the 6-foot-8 Campbell, who sacked Wilson twice. And when Wilson finally scrambled away, more often than not, he was surrounded by a bevy of defenders from all three levels.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsSeattle RB Marshawn Lynch was held in check by the Cardinals' No. 1-ranked run defense.
Wilson completed 11 of 27 passes for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception while getting sacked four times.

“For us to step in there and get pressure and get some three-and-outs, and get them frustrated, that was huge for us because it really showed that we came to play,” Campbell said.

Arizona knocked Seattle off its offensive equilibrium all day. The Seahawks were 2-for-13 on third down and had just 10 first downs. They managed just 192 yards, the second time they've been held to fewer than 200 this season.

To win on the road this late in the season, a little luck needs to be mixed with skill.

After Malcolm Smith returned a Palmer interception to the Cardinals' 3 later in the second quarter, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Lynch would power it in for a touchdown to give Seattle the lead and momentum heading into halftime. He bulldozed his way to the 1, and then Arizona stopped him on second and third down from the 1 before a formation penalty forced Seattle's field goal attempt to move back to the 6. Then Hauschka bounced the chip shot off the left upright, keeping the score tied at 3.

Seattle had seven three-and-outs, three drives of four-and-out, a drive of six plays and one of just a single play, on which Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby picked off Wilson on a controversial call after the ball bounced off Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin’s arm.

But that wasn’t even the most impressive part of the defense’s day.

Lynch had 60 yards on 11 carries in the first half. He kept the Cardinals working, churning his legs for yards after contact throughout the first two quarters. Then they stopped.

Lynch wasn’t going to be the reason Arizona lost. He had just 11 yards on seven carries in the final 30 minutes after the Cardinals stopped him where he couldn’t start.

To Dansby -- who’s making his case for defensive player of the year with 109 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) -- stopping Lynch revolved around one idea.

“Hit him. We had to put a hat on him,” Dansby said. “We got somebody in front of him, and everybody else rallied to the ball. That is the name of the game, get to the ball. That is what we were saying all week long. Somebody storm up, and everybody else rally to the ball.”

The Seahawks didn't have an off game on their own. Everything that went wrong was forced by Arizona’s defense, which needed a win like this, on the road, to validate the previous 14 games.

Even though they’re not yet attending the playoff party, the Cardinals proved here that they’ll be worthy of an invite.

“We showed,” Peterson said, “that we can play with the best of them.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles quarterback Nick Foles' biggest mistake so far this season might be setting unreasonably high expectations for himself.

Foles has been so good, so statistically close to flawless, that it is easy to forget he hasn't started a full season's worth of games yet. He is 23 and still facing new challenges and unfamiliar situations almost weekly.

That's why it isn't a criticism of Foles to suggest that the Eagles' second-half offensive troubles Sunday against Arizona had more to do with the quarterback than with Chip Kelly's play calling.

On three possessions in a row, with a 24-14 lead, Kelly remained aggressive with his play calling. Foles simply didn't throw the ball very well on several plays. He was under intense pressure on a few others.

After the Cardinals scored to make it 24-14, the Eagles got the ball back on their 29-yard line. The first-down call was for a pass to DeSean Jackson, who was running a shallow crossing route from right to left. Jackson was wide-open.

Last week, Kelly was asked whether those flyswatter contraptions in practice could help explain how Foles had avoided having a single pass batted at the line of scrimmage. Well, Calais Campbell didn't have a flyswatter, just a long reach. He smacked Foles' low throw away.

After a LeSean McCoy run was stuffed for a 2-yard loss, Foles dropped back to pass again. This time, linebacker Daryl Washington blitzed behind two linemen, sliding off and making a beeline for the quarterback. Foles stepped to his right and into the arms of Matt Shaughnessy for the easy sack.

A Cary Williams interception gave the Eagles the ball at their own 49 with 51 seconds left in the third quarter. Not only did they fail to take advantage of the field position, they had to punt on the first play of the fourth quarter. They took less than a minute to go three-and-out.

The first two plays were both passes. Foles missed Brent Celek, who had a step on safety Yeremiah Bell. A better throw and the Eagles are nearly in field goal range with a first down. On second down, Foles overthrew McCoy on a swing pass to the right. Kelly called a run on third down, and the Eagles punted again.

The final relevant sequence came on the Eagles' first possession of the fourth quarter. It was still 24-14. They needed to move the ball and score or at least kill a chunk of the remaining time. They used just under two minutes.

Foles threw two deep balls on this possession. On the first play, from his own 36, he had tight end Zach Ertz matched up one-on-one with safety Tyrann Mathieu down the left sideline. Foles overthrew Ertz when a back-shoulder throw might have gone for a long gain. Ertz made a great effort, nearly catching the ball by diving forward.

After getting a first down at the Arizona 46, Foles went deep down the left sideline again. This time he had Riley Cooper matched up with cornerback Jerraud Powers. This time, Foles underthrew the receiver. There was contact as Cooper tried to fight his way back. He got his hand on the ball, but couldn't gather it in. The TV cameras caught Cooper on the ground, looking up at an official and saying, it appears, “He grabbed my arm.”

The next two plays were pass calls. Foles was sacked both times, as unblocked Arizona defenders blitzed him and forced him into the arms of teammates.

Three of the Cards' five sacks took place during those three possessions. Foles and the offensive line, usually so adept at reacting to blitzes, were overcome by the pressure. On the next series, Foles was hit as he threw the interception that was negated by a penalty. Frequent hits will do that to even the most experienced quarterback.

Foles is not that, not yet. The Arizona defense raised its game in the second half, desperately trying to get back into a game with huge playoff implications for the Cardinals. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was more aggressive, taking risks in order to stop McCoy and create turnovers.

“People aren't playing the normal defenses they normally play in the first, second and third quarter,” Kelly said. “They're putting an extra guy on the line of scrimmage. If you bring in an extra tight end, they're going to have two more than you -- one for the quarterback and one for the extra player. That is a difficult situation to run the ball against. The answer is easy: Hey, throw it. If you throw it and it's incomplete, the clock stops.”

When Foles threw Sunday, it was incomplete. With experience, he will get a better feel for how to deal with situations like that. For now, he handled it well enough to avoid killer mistakes and secure the win. That's good enough.
Larry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoyGetty ImagesLarry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoy will look to keep their teams streaking on Sunday.
Bruce Arians and Chip Kelly come at their news jobs from very different places.

Kelly was the hot college head coach of the moment, hired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to replace the institution that was Andy Reid. Arians was a college head coach, too, at Temple back in the 1980s. He got his job with the Arizona Cardinals, though, based upon years as an often-overlooked NFL assistant.

And now here they are. Arians’ Cardinals are 7-4 with a four-game winning streak, while Kelly’s Eagles are 6-5 after a three-game winning streak. Their teams meet at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday in a game with major NFC playoff implications.

ESPN.com reporters Josh Weinfuss, who covers the Cardinals, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, take a closer look at the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: Bruce Arians is best known in Philadelphia as one of the rare coaches to survive a stint at Temple University. Nationally, he’s known for winning the Coach of the Year Award after filling in for Chuck Pagano last year in Indianapolis. How has he conducted business and how much of this four-game winning streak results from that?

Josh Weinfuss: I think all of it. Arians is the ultimate players coach and from everything I’ve heard about him from former players and current Cardinals who were with him in other places, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’ll tell the players like it is and if they can’t handle it, they have to figure out a way to deal with it. He’s not big on the sugarcoating, and the players appreciate it. As a head coach, he’s taken a little bit from each of the coaches he worked for and put it into play in Arizona. He’s learned how to delegate and put together a staff that complements him very well. On top of it all, he’s an offensive genius who stayed patient with this team while they learned his scheme, and it’s paying off.

On the topic of schemes, is Kelly’s high-octane offense here to stay or will he need to adapt as the season progresses?

Sheridan: Probably a little of both. Kelly already has adjusted to some degree. The foundation of his approach seems to be figuring out how a defense is designed to stop his offense and then exploiting whatever weaknesses and mismatches created by that design. When teams played man coverage and pressed to eliminate his bubble screens, Kelly shrugged and started throwing deep. When the Giants and Cowboys found a weakness in his run-blocking scheme, Kelly adjusted and got LeSean McCoy back on track. Kelly seems to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game with opposing coaches. That said, the foundations of what he does -- creating mismatches and exploiting weaknesses -- are as old as football. He just has some intriguing ways of getting there.

While we’re on that side of the ball, how has Todd Bowles been able to win the hearts and minds of a defense that thrived under former coordinator Ray Horton? And how important is having Karlos Dansby back in the fold?

Weinfuss: Bowles made one minor change up front and he’s been the glimmer in the defensive line’s eyes ever since. He went from a multi-gap system to a one-gap scheme, which has taken out the thinking from football. Now, the Cardinals front line can just rear back and go, and the changes are obvious. Darnell Dockett is having his best season in a while, Calais Campbell has emerged as one of the toughest defensive ends in the league and nose tackle Dan Williams has plugged the holes in the middle, forcing plays out to the edges -- and right into the hands of guys like John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, Daryl Washington and, of course, Dansby. He’s playing at the lowest weight of his career and he’s been able to fly around, going from sideline to sideline with relative ease for a guy who’s been in this league for 10 years. While everything for the Cardinals’ defense starts up front, each level has been benefiting from the line’s presence.

Let’s stay on defense. The Eagles have the worst pass defense in the league. How can they muster enough plays to slow the Cardinals' recently high-flying passing game under Carson Palmer?

Sheridan: Josh, that could be the question that determines the outcome of this game. The only answer I have is that, somehow, that’s just what the Eagles' defense has been doing in the seven games since Peyton Manning hung 52 points on them. They give up a lot of yards, but they haven’t given up more than 21 points in a game since then. They’ve been good in the red zone and have started generating pressure and, in turn, turnovers. Palmer provides a very good measuring stick. The Eagles have thrived against the Mike Glennons and Scott Tolziens of the world, although in fairness they played well against Eli Manning and Tony Romo, too. But Palmer and that Larry Fitzgerald fellow definitely represent the kind of test the Eagles must pass before being considered a good defense.

Speaking of Palmer, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, there seems to be a Kurt Warner vibe at work here -- veteran guy getting one more shot to prove he still has it. Warner did -- does Palmer? What’s the ceiling on the offense with him at the helm?

Weinfuss: All the evidence from the past four games points to yes -- Palmer does have a Warner-esque resurgence in him, but that’s only because the Cardinals’ offense is finally working. If it was still struggling, we’d be talking about Palmer being replaced either now or after the season. Crazy how that works. Palmer is the perfect quarterback for a Bruce Arians scheme. He has a big arm and can make throws on a dime. And those two things will carry this offense as far as it can until Palmer makes bad decisions. Even though the bad decisions have been cut down during the Cards’ four-game winning streak, it would be na´ve of anybody to think they’re totally done with. Arizona is just getting lucky. Twice against the Colts, Palmer had probable interceptions dropped, and against Jacksonville two weeks ago, a well-timed timeout by Arians saved Palmer from a potentially costly interception. If Palmer can take chances without making ill-advised throws, the ceiling is quite high, especially with the depth at receiver, tight end and running back.

A lot of University of Arizona fans out this way are loving the fact that Nick Foles is starting and playing well. Is he Mr. Right for the Eagles in Kelly’s offense or Mr. Right Now?

Sheridan: That’s the question that will haunt the Eagles through the offseason. Foles has had some of the luck you described Palmer having. That seven-touchdown game against Oakland was partly the product of some of the worst defensive football I’ve ever seen (and I watched Nnamdi Asomugha jog through two years here). But Foles is smart, he’s accurate and you can see him gaining confidence and comfort with every game. Clearly, he is not the quarterback Chip Kelly would order from the factory. But as he continues having success and winning games, you have to wonder how far Kelly is willing to tailor his offense to Foles for the long haul. It’s the decision that will define the Kelly era, at least for the next few years. My gut says Foles is a good NFL quarterback, but Kelly will make a move to find his guy at the earliest possible convenience. If Foles keeps this up, though, my gut might be proven wrong.

Campbell teaches Sowell a thing or two

October, 24, 2013
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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.

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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.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

October, 17, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

What it means: There are few things that will help this offense besides a personnel change. Yet again, the defense put the Cardinals in position to make a splash, even pull off an upset, but the offense couldn’t capitalize. The season is seven games old and routes are still not being run properly as receivers can still be seen asking one another for help. The defense took a little while to come to life, but when it did it played like one of the league's top units despite having to battle Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch.

Stock watch: Calais Campbell played Thursday as if he didn’t just walk out of a Bay Area hospital on Sunday after suffering a bruised spine. The defensive end seemed to be everywhere, blowing up the line of scrimmage to help the Cardinals force Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to lose two fumbles. He seemed hesitant at first but was able to shake the nerves and perform, proving his status as an elite player.

Finding his groove: Linebacker John Abraham was signed as the NFL’s active sacks leader with 122, but he entered Thursday’s game without any this season. That changed early in the third quarter when Abraham got the first of two on the day. With Abraham finding his sack rhythm, it’s just another weapon on the Cards' defense and a handy one coming from the outside.

Unprotected sacks: Yet again, protecting Carson Palmer was among the primary issues dogging the Cardinals. Palmer was sacked a season-high seven times by the Seahawks. With every game left tackle Bradley Sowell plays, the book gets written on how to beat him. Seattle appeared to have read it. Sowell was blown by at least twice by defensive end Chris Clemons.

What's next: The Cardinals have nine days off before hosting the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 27 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell won't know until Thursday afternoon if he'll be able to play against the Seattle Seahawks.

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Campbell said he'll be evaluated by team doctors sometime between arriving at University of Phoenix Stadium at around 3 p.m. and kickoff which is scheduled for 5:25 p.m. He is unsure of what the doctors are looking for or what kind of drills they'll put him through.

"As long as I feel ready on game day I'm going to go out there and play my best," Campbell said. "It's a big game, prime time, division game. A game that we need to win. A game I really want to play in as [long] as I can feel like I can protect myself and go out there and show it to doctors, prove it to the doctors."

Campbell suffered a "bruised spine," according to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, during Sunday's 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to Stanford Hospital, where he underwent a battery of tests before being released late Sunday.

Arians said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he was optimistic Campbell would be ready to play. When the final injury report was released Wednesday, Campbell was listed as questionable.

"I feel pretty good. I feel healthy," Campbell said. "The biggest thing is just making sure I can protect myself. Anytime you're out there playing football, you've got to be able to protect yourself and as long as I'm confident that I can do that, I'm going to play football."

Protecting a football player has become the most heated debate in American sports, especially when it comes to head and neck injuries. But Campbell, who momentarily lost feeling in his arms and legs Sunday, said protecting himself starts with using his hands and good technique such as keeping his head up and hitting with his shoulders.

Campbell wouldn't let on if his neck and back were still bothering him, just that he had the aches and pains that come with playing the game. While he waits until Thursday afternoon, Campbell is ready to strap on a helmet.

"He's been fine," Arians said Wednesday. "And looks like he's ready to go."

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