NFL Nation: justin bethel

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:15
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Justin Bethel's ascent up the depth chart continued Wednesday. With Antonio Cromartie out with a pectoral injury, Bethel was part of the Cardinals' nickel and dime packages. He played wide corner in both schemes, with Jerraud Powers playing nickel back. In base, Powers has filled in for Cromartie at corner opposite Patrick Peterson. Bethel had an interception late in practice and showed his speed weaving between offense players. Bethel might have made the most improvement among his teammates this offseason and it should pay off with more opportunities to earn playing time.
  • Even though he’s dealing with a calf injury and didn’t dress for practice, Lyle Sendlein played center for Carson Palmer during 7-on-7 drills. The more Sendlein can continue to work with Palmer during non-contact drills, the more they can keep up the connection they’ve developed over the past year.
  • During an early drill, Bruce Arians called over Peterson and discussed arm and hand placement during press coverage. Even though Peterson just signed a $70 million extension, he’s not immune from a little coaching.
  • Anthony McCloud played nose tackle with the first team during most of Wednesday’s practice. Dan Williams is expected to return Friday, when the Cardinals practice next.
  • All of Arizona’s tight ends have looked good during camp thus far. Rookie Troy Niklas, still playing with a soft cast on his right hand, made an impressive catch for a touchdown through three defensive backs.
  • The kicking battle continued, with incumbent starter Jay Feely making all eight of his kicks. By my count, Danny Hrapmann made three-of-four.
  • LB Ernie Sims didn't practice Wednesday. Neither did RB Damien Thigpen.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
9:05
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:

• He’s been one of the talks of camp, but Michael Floyd put his offseason improvement on display Tuesday. On one pass, Floyd got a step behind cornerback Patrick Peterson for a touchdown that sailed in just beyond Peterson’s reach. Floyd then hauled in another score over cornerback Justin Bethel. Earlier Tuesday, quarterback Carson Palmer praised Floyd’s size and his ability to overpower cornerbacks, which was the case Tuesday. Bethel is listed as 6-0 and Peterson 6-1, but Floyd played taller and bigger than the 6-2, 220 pounds he’s listed as.

• Arizona got a look at a few backups that were called upon in a pinch. With RB Andre Ellington (neck) and CB Antonio Cromartie (pectoral) out Tuesday, RB Stepfan Taylor and CB Jerraud Powers were inserted into their respective first-team spots. NT Christian Tupou (groin), who was already replacing Dan Williams, was replaced by a combination of players, including Anthony McCloud.

≺ Taylor filling in for Ellington was telling in terms of the battle for the second running back job. It’s between Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, but with head coach Bruce Arians’ decision to run Taylor with the starters, it appears that he’s leading the backup running back race. The importance of winning the second spot this year is greater than past years because of Arians’ decision to use more two-back sets.

• Arians got what he wanted when it came to adding speed to the offense. On at least two occasions, Ted Ginn and John Brown had to slow down to haul in a Carson Palmer pass. That speed could be a blessing and a curse. Last season, Palmer had a knack for slightly underthrowing receivers, forcing them to come back for passes. Ginn and Brown will have to learn how to time their runs perfectly with Palmer’s passes.

• Rookie safety Deone Bucannon secured an interception that got the crowd riled up.

• Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who Arians praised Tuesday morning for being perfect through camp, missed three kicks in row during the afternoon practice. The three he missed were end-over-end kicks, different from his regular kicks. By my count, Catanzaro went 7-for-10, missing field goals from 41, 47 and 48 yards.

• After Catanzaro came off the field, special teams coordinator Amos Jones pulled his young kicker off to the side for a short talk near a water cooler. By Catanzaro’s body language, it was clear he wasn’t happy with himself.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- He wore No. 21.

He was chosen by Deion Sanders.

Peterson
Peterson
He lived up to the hype.

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson put on a Prime Time-esque performance in Sunday's Pro Bowl, won by Team Rice, 22-21, in Hawaii. He had an interception in the second quarter, two passes defended and a tackle.

But, more importantly, and on a national stage, no less, Peterson continued to establish himself as one of the preeminent corners in the NFL. He allowed just one completion for a yard, in the second quarter. His performance drew rave reviews from NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth.

“Patrick Peterson may be the Deion Sanders of this era,” Collinsworth said. "This guy can do everything."

Collinsworth went on to talk about Peterson's ability to be an impact player on offense as well as what he's already doing on defense. While correct, Collinsworth probably wasn't aware that the Peterson experiment on offense didn't work out as well as the Cardinals would've hoped -- most likely because Collinsworth didn't have a chance to watch the Cards because they weren't on Sunday night football. But Peterson is becoming the current-day Sanders. His athleticism makes him a hassle for defenders and his ability has forced teams to stay away from him, much like Sanders did when he played.

Yet, Peterson's athleticism still makes him a dynamic threat in all phases of the game.

After Peterson picked off a pass intended for Chicago's Brandon Marshall in the second quarter, Sanders hugged his protégé and told him Team Rice shouldn't have tested him. High praise from the best ever.

But it wasn't just Peterson who impressed at the Pro Bowl.

Justin Bethel made sure everyone left Hawaii knowing who he was. He had two special teams tackles and yielded just one yard in returns on two coverages.

Larry Fitzgerald was the only receiver on Team Rice to not record a catch despite being targeted four times. And John Abraham had a tackle.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As one of two special-teams players at this year’s Pro Bowl, Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel knew he was going to end up on either Team Rice or Team Sanders.

But when Team Sanders chose Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots during the first day of the Pro Bowl draft on Tuesday, that left Bethel heading to Team Rice.

Clearly he was excited.


The rest of the Cardinals in the Pro Bowl – WR Larry Fitzgerald, LB John Abraham and CB Patrick Peterson – will be drafted Wednesday night.

The Pro Bowl is at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday in Hawaii.
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.

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.

Pro Bowl selections: Arizona Cardinals

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Turns out no matter how hard Karlos Dansby campaigned to be chosen for his first Pro Bowl, it wasn’t enough.

Dansby was snubbed by all three components that went into voting for the 2014 Pro Bowl – fans, players and coaches. But the Cardinals are sending two defenders and a special-teamer to Hawaii.

A few weeks after cracking the top 10 of the all-time sacks leaders, veteran linebacker John Abraham was named to his fifth Pro Bowl for his third NFL team. Third-year cornerback Patrick Peterson doesn’t know what it’s like to not play in Hawaii in January, earning the third trip of his career. And in his second year, gunner Justin Bethel was chosen by the players and coaches after he was widely considered the best special-teams player in the NFL.

Defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, linebacker Daryl Washington and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald were named alternates.

That’s five of Arizona’s 11 defensive starters. But the most obvious one missing was Dansby. He’s having a career season: ranked second in the NFL with 109 solo tackles and two defensive touchdowns. His four interceptions are 10th best in the league and he has 6.5 sacks to add. He’s had the most complete season of any linebacker but, alas, his peers and the coaches around the league didn’t think he was worthy of a lei.

The Abraham selection was a bit of a surprise, but with 11.5 sacks at age 35 after signing on the first day of training camp, it’s deserved. After spending the majority of his career as a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was forced into an every-down role in Week 3 and flourished, not showing signs of wear and tear or aging.

Abraham's 11.5 sacks are tied for fifth overall in the NFL and tied for third in the NFC. His 50 tackles are his most since 2005, his last season with the New York Jets.

Thanks mainly to Bethel, the Cardinals have forced opponents to start 53 drives inside their own 20-yard line, tied for the second most behind Kansas City’s 53. The Presbyterian College product also has 18 special-teams tackles, has blocked two field goals and recovered one fumble.

Peterson, who became the seventh player in NFL history to be selected to his third Pro Bowl before he turned 24, leads Arizona with 28 passes defended and has three interceptions to complement his 38 tackles.

Washington’s selection is impressive because he was named an alternate after he was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Campbell and Dockett are two-thirds of the league’s top rush defense and Fitzgerald has 10 touchdowns for the first time since 2009.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
8:00
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SEATTLE -- A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 17-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Balanced attack: While most of the offense wasn't working, the running game was able to find a rhythm and balance.

Ellington
Mendenhall
Mendenhall
Rookie Andre Ellington's 64 yards complemented starter Rashard Mendenhall's 63. But how they got them was vastly different. Ellington averaged 4.3 yards per carry and had a long of 26. On the other hand, Mendenhall averaged 3 yards per carry and had a long of just 9.

The two provided the right inside-out balance that was able to keep Seattle from guessing where they were going. And even when the Seahawks had an idea, Ellington's speed was too much.

Palmer's low days: For the fourth time this season, Carson Palmer threw for fewer than 200 yards. Besides the first time it happened, in Week 3 at New Orleans when Palmer had 187 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns, the Cardinals have won every time. It hadn't happened in almost two months, but Palmer's 178 yards Sunday were his third-fewest this season. The other two games were against Carolina (175) and Houston (172), both wins.

Palmer was 13-for-25 passing against Seattle, tying his lowest total for completions this season and making that his second-lowest attempts.

Pro Bowl year goes on: It seems like everything Justin Bethel does this season has been Pro Bowl worthy. He added to his résumé in Seattle with less than a week before the voting for the Pro Bowl is over.

On Arizona's first punt of the game, he brought down Golden Tate at the Seattle 11 for no gain.

In the third quarter, after Arizona took a 6-3 lead, Robert Turbin fumbled a kickoff return, which was recovered by Bethel.

Reversal of fortunes: After weeks of having calls go against them, the Cardinals were the beneficiaries of some good luck Sunday.

There were a handful of calls that could have gone the other way but were ruled in Arizona's favor, including one that sealed the win. With 2:06 left in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson's pass bounced off the arm of tight end Doug Baldwin and into the hands of Karlos Dansby. But the play was challenged, alleging that it hit the ground first. Although replays leaned toward this, the video was inconclusive enough to overturn the call, and Arizona kept possession. Seattle also challenged whether Mendenhall was down before he fumbled, and the replay showed he was, which allowed Arizona to keep the ball and eventually led to a field goal.

Bethel clears protocol, plans to play

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
7:40
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel has passed the league's concussion protocol, and he expects to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bethel said. “That’s my plan to play.”

Passing the concussion test was Bethel’s biggest hurdle to returning to the field. He was limited in practice Wednesday.

Bethel
“We’ll take it very easy with him,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

Bethel left last weekend’s game against Jacksonville after a vicious hit left him staggering. After finally getting to his feet, he had to take a knee again and eventually be helped off the field.

The second-year gunner, who Arians has said may be the best special-teams player in the NFL, said he didn’t know how bad the concussion was, but he was feeling better Wednesday.

“Just going to go out there and try to get better every day, do what I can,” Bethel said. “And just try to get ready for Sunday.”

Without Bethel, the Cardinals' punt-return unit would be in trouble. In the third quarter against the Jaguars, fellow gunner Teddy Williams was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. In Williams' place, the Cardinals signed Bryan McCann, who is expected to assume the gunner duties. But if Bethel can't return Sunday, the Cardinals' ability to flip the field won't be as strong as it has been and the defense will face more pressure to keep opponents from working in short fields.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was listed on the Cardinals’ injury report with a hand injury, but he practiced fully. The only Cardinal not to practice was center/guard Mike Gibson. Linebacker John Abraham (hamstring) and wide receivers Michael Floyd (shoulder) and Brittan Golden were limited.

Arians said Floyd’s right shoulder, in which he suffered a sprained AC joint against Houston, was sore. The coach also described Golden as at “about 90 percent,” an estimation the receiver agreed with.

“He’s still finding that last gear,” Arians said. “I think it’s more scar tissue than it is injury at this point in time. We hope to get him back soon.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 11

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
8:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 27-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Bethel
Williams
Backup ammo: With gunner Teddy Williams out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles and Pro Bowl candidate Justin Bethel having suffered a concussion in Jacksonville, the Cardinals find themselves looking at a slew of potential replacements. However, who they pick to be the gunners can dictate how this team goes during the next few games. Bethel had become a one-man game-changer, getting to punt returners quickly and flipping the field with his speed alone. With Williams on the opposite side, the Cardinals had maybe the fastest and most formidable gunner tandem in the league. That's changed, and it could cost the Cardinals.

Just the Jags: How long until someone brings up the fact that the offense played well only because it played the Jaguars? While the Jaguars' front seven gave the Cardinals' running game fits, Arizona took advantage of the young secondary over and over again. But the Cardinals still didn't make as many mental errors and formation mistakes that have plagued them all season. The receivers and tight ends finally seemed to understand the playbook against Jacksonville and it resulted in 419 passing yards for quarterback Carson Palmer.

Playoff mentality: Whether the Cards are on the inside of the wild-card race heading into Sunday will be determined Monday night when Carolina, currently the fifth seed, plays New England. If the Panthers lose, Arizona will be the sixth seed while San Francisco moves to fifth. But Cardinals coach Bruce Arians isn't waiting for the playoffs to start putting his team in a postseason mentality. They've already been playing like it's the playoffs.

“We have talked about how the playoffs have already started [for us] -- you lose, you're out,” Arians said. “We are a game behind teams so we have to keep winning. We have to take a playoff attitude every week, that this game is a playoff game and we have to win to catch up. The guys have done it.”

Indy week: Forget Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis. Sunday's game against the Colts was the matchup Bruce Arians had circled since the schedule was released in April. It would have more of an impact if the Cardinals were returning to Indianapolis, where Arians won Coach of the Year by going 9-3 as interim coach of the Colts last season. But with Chuck Pagano and the Colts coming to town, Arians will still be a ball of emotions. Even a weathered veteran like Arians won't be able to contain his emotions about his opponent, as he usually does.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
4:11
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A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 27-14 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What it means: The Cardinals will hear it all week: Sure they won handily, but they beat the Jaguars. It doesn’t matter who Arizona played, what mattered was the Cards didn’t play down to their opponent's level. They started out sluggish, which has become the status quo, but both the offense and defense found a rhythm. Carson Palmer topped 400 yards passing for the first time since Nov. 4, 2012. After allowing the Jags to score their first two touchdowns of the season at home, the Cards' defense held the Jags to just 32 yards on the ground. Sunday’s win was more of a mental boost than anything. It showed that Arizona could win when it needed to, despite a few hiccups. And the offense proved it’s truly coming along to complement a stout defense.

Stock Watch: Michael Floyd was questionable heading into Sunday’s game, and all he did was set a career high with 193 receiving yards, including a 91-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. His previous high was 166 yards last season against San Francisco, but this is the game Floyd needed. He’s played well, but hasn’t shown that breakout ability that comes with being a first-round pick. The Cards needed Floyd to show he’s capable of being a first option, because too many teams are doubling or bracketing receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Injured gunners: While their offense was clicking, the Cardinals’ special teams took a major blow when both their gunners went down with injuries. In the first half, Justin Bethel left the game with a concussion and didn’t return. Then in the third quarter, Teddy Williams went down with an Achilles injury and was carted off the field. The Cards’ punt coverage suffered when Bethel went down, then it was rendered almost obsolete without Williams. That could be a turning point for the Cards, who have relied on Bethel to get to punt returners quickly.

Another option: The play calling early in the first quarter was telling for how far the offense has come. Palmer looked for his tight ends early and often, and it helped stretch the Jaguars’ defense. Rob Housler had a season-high 70 yards, Jake Ballard had one catch for 29 yards, and Jim Dray add 18 yards on two catches.

What's next: The Cardinals host Indianapolis next Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 10

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
8:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 27-24 win over the Houston Texans.

Ellington
Andre Cat: Last year it was the Pat Cat. This year it'll be the Andre Cat. The Cardinals unveiled a Wildcat package Sunday with rookie running back Andre Ellington behind center. He took three straight snaps early in the third quarter, running for 12 yards on two of them and handing off to Patrick Peterson on the third.

“It was a little bit different flavor,” Ellington said.

Ellington ran it in college, but was surprised when coach Bruce Arians introduced the package Monday. Arians will only run the Wildcat if his quarterback isn't on the field, he said. But don't expect Ellington to throw the ball. It's not his forte, the rookie added.

Expect more of it, maybe a little spicier, throughout the season, Ellington said.

“It was a good little change of pace,” Arians said.

Adjusting on the fly: At halftime, the Cardinals heard about how much they were letting the Texans move the ball. And they did something about it. Arizona allowed 41 total yards in the second half -- 32 passing and just 9 rushing. They turned the Texans into a one-dimensional team, taking away the run and turning up the pressure on quarterback Case Keenum.

“I thought he had a lot of time in the first half, patting the ball back there and [we] couldn't cover him quick enough,” linebacker Daryl Washington said. “So we was able to come out [in the] second half and play our game of football.”

Bethel
Bethel blocks: Even when they prepared specifically for Justin Bethel, the Texans couldn't stop the second-year gunner from having an impact on special teams. Bethel blocked his second career field goal with four seconds left in the first half, coming off the left side. It turned out to be the difference in the Cardinals' 27-24 win.

“You never know,” he said. “You never know what could happen. I made the play, it happened and I'm just happy we won.”

Texans interim coach Wade Phillips said his team singled Bethel out, but even then Houston couldn't block him.

“[No.] 31 is the guy that we emphasized,” Phillips said. “It's the guy that we've got to stop because he's the field goal blocker, and he did it.”

Just enough: Ellington had 15 touches Sunday -- 11 rushes and two catches -- which was mostly in line with his past few games. He had 55 yards on the ground and 18 yards through the air, but Arians feels that's the right mix for now.

“I think it's right where it needs to be,” Arians said. “He had plenty again today.”

Rashard Mendenhall fumbled late in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals were trying to seal the win, but that didn't diminish Arian's belief in his starter. It's still the same.

“Oh yeah,” Arians said. “There's no doubt.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It all sounds so familiar to the Arizona Cardinals.

They're 4-4 midway through the season, the defense is carrying them and the offense is struggling. Is it 2012 all over again? Nope, not in the least.

Despite having the same mark at the halfway point of the 2013 season, this year’s Cardinals can feel a different vibe in the locker room than a year ago.

“This year there’s been less [of a] roller coaster of emotions,” offensive lineman Nate Potter said. “It’s been more back-and-forth, roll a couple off, lose one, get another one. So that just feels a lot more consistent.”

Before the wheels fell off in 2012 and Arizona lost nine straight, the Cards were the talk of the NFL. They started 4-0 despite sending out two starting quarterbacks. Throughout the team, the feeling that they were on the verge of something special permeated.

Then the first loss led to a second, which led to the third and the fourth and by time they were done -- nine straight. But at 4-4, Potter said there was still hope last season. Gunner Justin Bethel could feel the tension after four straight losses a year ago. Everybody was starting to get tight. Guys were pushing. Coaches and players were scrambling to figure out how to win a game.

This year, however, the overall feeling has changed.

“Losing here and there is a lot different,” Bethel said. “This year we’re 4-4 in the same position in the same part of the season. This year I feel like we got a better chance of making things happen.”

Of course, anything can happen at this point, with the exception of a nine-game losing streak. That’s mathematically impossible coming off a win with eight games left in the season. But nobody is sitting around resting on their laurels.

And nobody is forgetting about what happened a year ago.

“Definitely a different team and a different mentality,” noseguard Dan Williams said. “I think as far as the guys who did go through that last year, we keep that in the back of my mind. Our goal this year is to make it to the playoffs.

“I mean, you can definitely tell it’s a different feeling in the locker room. We want to be playing in January.”
Brock Huard, Danny O'Neil and I got together over the phone Tuesday to discuss 2013 draft needs for the Seattle Seahawks on 710ESPN Seattle.

The conversation got me thinking about real and perceived needs for NFC West teams.

Most of the perceived needs are also real ones, but sometimes we focus disproportionately on a few areas while overlooking others.

A quick look at one position to reemphasize for NFC West teams:

Arizona Cardinals: With a disproportionate focus on the offensive line and heavy focus on potential additions to the pass rush, we should note that the Cardinals parted with both veteran starting strong safeties this offseason. They could proceed with Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell as the starters. However, Johnson remains unproven as a full-time starter. Bell is 35 years old, so he projects as a short-term solution. Jonathan Amaya, Justin Bethel and Curtis Taylor are the backup safeties.

St. Louis Rams: So many mock drafts project wide receiver and safety to the Rams in the first round. The offensive line is another position where the Rams could help themselves early in the draft. Yes, they added Jake Long in free agency. But with no established starter at left guard and more questions at tackle than we might initially realize from afar, the line could use reinforcements. Shelley Smith, Harvey Dahl, Rok Watkins, Chris Williams and Brandon Washington are the guards. Long and projected right tackle Rodger Saffold have missed games to injury recently. Saffold is entering the final year of his deal. Joe Barksdale is the third tackle right now, it appears.

San Francisco 49ers: Safety, defensive line and tight end are three positions heavily emphasized already. Looking ahead, the team has only two cornerbacks and three wide receivers under contract for 2014. Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver are the corners. Michael Crabtree, A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette are the receivers. These could be positions for the 49ers to emphasize earlier than anticipated, depending upon how the draft falls at positions of greater perceived need.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive tackle, outside linebacker and tight end are three areas I've thought about quite a bit. The offensive line should be set for years to come after Seattle used early picks for Russell Okung, Max Unger, James Carpenter and John Moffitt in recent seasons. However, the long-range picture at guard remains unsettled. Seattle could also use a backup tackle with the ability to push Breno Giacomini for the job on the right side in the future. Here's a supporting note from ESPN Stats & Information: "Including postseason, Seahawks quarterbacks were sacked or put under duress on 29.7 percent of their total drop-backs last season and 26.8 percent of their drop-backs against four or fewer pass-rushers, both worst in the NFL."

Wrap-up: Bears 28, Cardinals 13

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
7:57
PM ET

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 28-13 home defeat to the Chicago Bears in Week 16:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 5-10, moving closer to a second 5-11 finish in three seasons. Arizona again showed its ability to play strong pass defense, but there is now even less hope that any of the quarterbacks on the 53-man roster will factor in a meaningful way next season. Week 1 starter John Skelton was named inactive behind rookie sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley, who was benched during this game, and waiver-wire pickup Brian Hoyer.

What I liked: Punter Dave Zastudil broke the NFL record for punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. ... The Cardinals held Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to one completed pass in his first 11 attempts. ... Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, by far his best statistical performance in more than two months. ... Calais Campbell had a sack and a pass defensed. ... Adrian Wilson blocked a field-goal try, setting up Justin Bethel's 82-yard return touchdown.

What I didn't like: Lindley averaged 4.7 yards per attempt with zero touchdowns and an interception before getting the hook. He has now played six games, started four and attempted 171 passes this season without a touchdown. Lindley also has seven interceptions.

With Hoyer appearing likely to start in Week 17, Lindley is on track to finish the season with 80 additional pass attempts than any touchdown-less quarterback since at least 2001. The chart lists all players since 2001 with more than 50 pass attempts over a full season and no touchdowns. Lindley and Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich still have time to remove themselves from the list.

The Cardinals' defense collected only one sack and allowed plays of 36, 35 and 30 yards. It's tough to fault any defense getting zero support from the other side of the ball, but if the Cardinals were going to win this game, they needed a nearly perfect game from their defense. That's too much to ask of any unit.

Beanie Wells fumbled and finished the game with four carries for three yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling had 11 carries for 20 yards. He and Wells had zero carries longer than four yards. The team's longest run covered seven yards.

What's next: The Cardinals close the regular season at San Francisco.

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