NFL Nation: Michael Adams

Carl Nicks could return against Saints

September, 13, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Carl Nicks hasn’t been ruled out for Sunday’s game against his former team, the New Orleans Saints.

Nicks
“There’s a chance," coach Greg Schiano said when asked if Nicks, who returned to practice for the first time since August on Monday, could play Sunday.

Nicks had been sidelined by a MRSA staph infection. He was seen running on the sideline with a trainer during the portion of practice that was open to the media Friday.

But Schiano stopped well short of saying Nicks will be in the starting lineup against the Saints.

“Certainly, conditioning is a concern because when he was fighting the infection, it wasn’t like he did light conditioning," Schiano said. “He did nothing, and that was mandatory by the doctors. He has to get back into playing shape. How you do it is play. You can run, you can jog and you’ve got to do that. But, then, there’s that other step."

While it’s possible the Bucs could let Nicks play on a limited basis, it seems more likely they’ll wait at least another week before putting him in the lineup.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a process no matter when that first time he plays is," Schiano said. “But we’ll just keep moving him forward, because Carl’s a dominant player and we need to get him back."

Schiano said cornerback Michael Adams (knee) and tight end Tom Crabtree (ankle) have been ruled out for Sunday.

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Cody Grimm.

Analysis: Melvin and Grimm are very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson is back as the starting left corner in a revamped secondary. The team must discover during training camp which corner will start opposite him. Newcomers Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers are the leading candidates. Arizona has quite a few options. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu figures prominently into the Cardinals' plans as a hybrid corner-safety type. Slot corner Javier Arenas, acquired from Kansas City, and 2012 third-round choice Jamell Fleming are also in the mix. The Cardinals will have three new starters in their secondary after parting with cornerback William Gay, free safety Kerry Rhodes and strong safety Adrian Wilson. Greg Toler, James Sanders and Michael Adams are also gone. Those six combined to play nearly 70 percent of the snaps in the secondary last season. Rashad Johnson was starting to overtake Wilson. He projects as the likely strong safety, with veteran newcomer Yeremiah Bell at the other safety spot. Bell played under new coordinator Todd Bowles previously.

St. Louis Rams: Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins provide the foundation for a secondary that expects to play quite a bit of man coverage behind an aggressive front seven with improved speed. Finnegan is the most accomplished and highest-paid member of the secondary, but he insists Jenkins is the best defensive back on the team by a wide margin. That might be true from a talent standpoint. The team will be looking for Jenkins to demonstrate improved consistency in his second season. Trumaine Johnson, a third-round choice in 2012, also figures prominently. A DUI arrest and previous off-field troubles in college raise questions about his long-term reliability, however. The situation at safety is ... different. The Rams want to develop third-round pick T.J. McDonald quickly. Darian Stewart projects as the other primary safety. The team signed veteran Matt Giordano as insurance. Former starting safeties Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell are gone. The Rams must determine this summer what they have at safety.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers demonstrated by their actions this offseason a general belief that the secondary's issues late last season stemmed more from a diminished front seven than from talent deficiencies on the back end. Dahl, signed from the Rams this offseason, provides a veteran insurance policy in case rookie first-round pick Eric Reid isn't ready to start immediately at free safety. San Francisco must replace former starter Dashon Goldson, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. C.J. Spillman, primarily a force on special teams to this point in his career, also factors as an option there. The 49ers have never appeared particularly concerned about losing Goldson over the years, but trading up 12 spots to select Reid showed they value talent at the position. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner return as the other three starters. Beyond identifying an immediate starter at free safety, the 49ers need to figure out this summer whether free-agent addition Nnamdi Asomugha can help them.

Seattle Seahawks: All four starters return from arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and new nickel corner Antoine Winfield have all earned Pro Bowl or Associated Press All-Pro honors within the past three seasons. Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond are talented backups with limited starting experience. The team must figure out this offseason whether Thurmond factors in for the long term. Thurmond beat out Sherman for the starting job heading into the 2011 season. However, repeated serious injuries have derailed his career. Winfield is probably safe as the nickel corner this season, but the gap between Winfield and the team's other options is smaller than Winfield's credentials would suggest.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
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The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.

CANTON, Ohio -- Looking back upon three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition opener against New Orleans, a 17-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on Sunday night:

1. Kevin Kolb's performance. The first item linked above included two questions for the Cardinals' quarterback. One, can he command the offense and finally appear comfortable running it? Two, can he make it through the game healthy after injuries derailed his 2011 season? Unfortunately, "no" and "definitely not" were the respective answers against the Saints. Kolb tossed an interception on his first pass attempt. Kolb, dropping back for his fourth pass attempt, suffered a rib contusion when New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis hit him. Kolb's night was finished, the latest damaging blow to his starting candidacy in Arizona. Injuries have knocked Kolb from preseason and/or regular-season games in four consecutive seasons.

2. Right side of the OL. Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie played extensively. He matched up against third-year Saints defensive end Junior Galette and seemed to do well enough. New Orleans did get pressure against Massie a few times, including once when Massie might have allowed a sack (I did not see the play clearly). Massie cleared out Galette to spring running back William Powell into the clear. Another time, Galette wanted a holding call, but did not get one, when Massie appeared to hook Galette around the collar. Massie disengaged and held up his hands as if to show officials he wasn't holding. Update: Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he thought Massie struggled some while getting needed reps. The team is working with Massie to adjust his setup. The goal is to make Massie less mechanical, Whisenhunt said. That won't happen overnight or after a week of practices, but we should see progress as the preseason continues.

3. Cornerback competition. William Gay started opposite left cornerback Patrick Peterson, as expected. Michael Adams was the nickel corner with the starting group. Tackling was a problem for the defense overall, including at corner. Gay missed one tackle on running back Mark Ingram early. Adams was the left corner and A.J. Jefferson the right corner with the second unit. Greg Toler also worked with the second unit. He missed a tackle in the third quarter. Teams aren't getting as much contact work in training camps under the current labor deal. That makes it tougher to simulate timing and work on the fundamentals of tackling. Saints quarterback Drew Brees played little, so the Cardinals' secondary didn't get an extended look against top competition. Update: Whisenhunt liked the way his corners played the ball. He thought they were physical. He thought the Cardinals needed to do a better job tackling on check-down plays.

Three things: Cardinals-Saints

August, 5, 2012
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Three things to watch for in the Arizona Cardinals' preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at 8 p.m. ET:

1. Kevin Kolb's performance. The Cardinals' quarterback competition includes John Skelton as well, so his performance also matters. But Kolb is the most intriguing variable on the team's roster this summer. Can he command the offense and finally appear comfortable running it? Can he make it through the game healthy after injuries derailed his 2011 season? We shouldn't expect an all-world performance right out of the gates. We shouldn't read too much into a seemingly shaky one, either. Quarterbacks and offenses in general can struggle during preseason if opponents decide crank up the pressure or get creative. But perceptions matter for Kolb or any highly paid player trying to prove his worth. In a best-case scenario, Kolb connects with Larry Fitzgerald and rookie first-round choice Michael Floyd for meaningful gains. For reference, Kolb completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards in his 2011 Cardinals preseason debut. Skelton completed 6 of 10 for 94 yards and a touchdown in that game.

2. Right side of the OL. The Cardinals have a new look on that side of their offensive line. Right guard Adam Snyder signed from San Francisco in free agency. Veteran Jeremy Bridges remains at right tackle for now after replacing Brandon Keith during the 2011 season. The team hopes rookie Brian Massey can grow into the starting role and take over for Bridges at some point in the near future. This game against New Orleans provides a first look. The Saints have been working with left defensive end Cameron Jordan to drop into coverage in zone-blitz packages, a change for him. We should still see Jordan, a 2011 first-round choice, get some pass-rushing reps against the right side of the Cardinals' line.

3. Cornerback competition. The Cardinals know Patrick Peterson will be starting at left corner this season. They feel great about the likelihood of him emerging as a Pro Bowl-caliber force at that position. Arizona also likes the possibilities on the other side, but it's unclear how that race will settle out. Free-agent addition William Gay represents the known. Greg Toler, coming off ACL surgery, has starting potential. So does A.J. Jefferson, who made seven starts last season after Toler was injured. Throw in third-round choice Jamell Fleming, the team's most impressive rookie during minicamps, and the Cardinals have a genuine camp competition on their hands. The assumption is that Michael Adams would project more in a nickel role, not as a starter. He's as competitive as anyone in the Cardinals' corner mix.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Arizona Cardinals might wind up releasing a player they currently or recently considered as a starting cornerback. They also have reason to expect more from safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson as both players operate nearer to full health.

Those and other factors made the Cardinals' defensive backfield a worthy choice for this exercise, particularly after cornerback Richard Marshall's departure in free agency raised concerns about the secondary's strength early in the offseason.

Third-round choice Jamell Fleming was arguably the Cardinals' most impressive rookie during organized team activities and minicamps. The non-contact sessions offered only limited glimpses of what players have to offer, but Fleming's quickness stood out to the coaching staff. The Cardinals want to see how he operates as the nickel. Veteran William Gay was a veteran addition in free agency.

Patrick Peterson is locked in as the starter on the left side and should be primed to take a big step forward after finishing strong as a rookie first-round choice in 2011. Former starters A.J. Jefferson and Greg Toler join Gay as candidates to start on the opposite side. Fleming is in the mix. Michael Adams, who played a third of the defensive snaps last season, offers veteran depth (he is 27).

The backup safeties, Rashad Johnson and free-agent addition James Sanders, each played 450-plus snaps on defense last season.

Tight end was another position I considered here. Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler and Jim Dray give the Cardinals variety, depth and upside.

Odds-defying linebacker has earned raise

February, 10, 2012
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The St. Louis Rams thought they could upgrade from veteran linebacker Paris Lenon following the 2009 season.

Three years later, they still have not adequately replaced him.

The Arizona Cardinals sought to upgrade from Lenon last offseason when they invested $6 million a year in free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley.

Lenon wound up playing more than 95 percent of the defensive snaps in 2011. He was a team captain, played through multiple injuries (including a cracked tailbone) and triggered a $500,000 salary increase for the 2012 season. His name jumped off the chart below showing NFC West players who have earned 2012 pay raises by meeting incentives.

Lenon, 34, will not go away. He has done what solid, unspectacular veterans must do to remain viable: stay on the field at all costs.

"His story is amazing," Lenon's agent, Jonathan Persch, said Friday. "He is the only XFL player still even remotely around. What makes him amazing is not just his resiliency on the field, but he is a normal soccer dad when he goes home to his wife and kids."

Undrafted from Richmond in 2000, Lenon went to camp with Carolina as a rookie, then caught on with the XFL's Memphis Maniax. He was briefly with Seattle and Green Bay before joining the Packers' practice squad in 2001.

Lenon played for the Amsterdam Adrmirals in NFL Europe and has subsequently played in 159 of 160 regular-season NFL games for the Packers, Detroit Lions, Rams and Cardinals. He has never missed a game to injury. Lenon did not play the 2009 opener only because the Rams had not yet signed him.

"He doesn't verbalize this," Persch said, "but dear God, don't tell him what he cannot do."

The Cardinals credited Lenon with 127 tackles in 2010 and 103 last season. Those totals, combined with playing time, helped Lenon achieve the $500,000 raise. Lenon also set a career high with three sacks. He has five sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in two seasons with Arizona.

Will Lenon start again in 2012? There are never guarantees, but it's tough betting against him. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has emphasized playing the best players at every position, even when it wasn't convenient to him. That explained why Lenon stayed on the field last season even though the team had more invested in Bradley.

Note: Thanks to Brian McIntyre for putting together the information in the chart below. He has posted a broader NFL list of salary increases here.

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Wrap-up: Cardinals 19, Rams 13 (OT)

November, 6, 2011
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Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals following the Cardinals' 19-13 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 9:

What it means: Rookie Patrick Peterson is becoming a legend already after his 99-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Cardinals an overtime victory. This was his third punt return for a touchdown in eight games and it came when the Cardinals were desperate for a victory. The last time they won, against Carolina in Week 1, his punt return score was the difference. In the bigger picture, this game hurts Arizona's chances for securing a higher choice in the draft, but the payoff was sweet for the Cardinals.

What I liked: Calais Campbell continued to demonstrate his value on the field-goal block team. His third career block made sure the game went to overtime. Campbell also dominated from his spot at right defensive end. The Cardinals got No. 2 receiver Andre Roberts more involved in the offense. Adrian Wilson made an aggressive play in the Rams' backfield to foil a third-and-1 rushing attempt, forcing the Rams to settle for a field goal and a 6-3 lead. Arizona's John Skelton made a good touch pass to Larry Fitzgerald for the tying 13-yard touchdown in the final five minutes. ... Sam Bradford toughed it out on his sprained ankle, a starting point in his return to the Rams' lineup. Steven Jackson continued his physical running and topped 100 yards on the ground for the second week in a row. He has at least 96 yards in three of his last four games and at least 70 in all four. Rams rookie Greg Salas caught seven passes. Rams safety Darian Stewart was again active, getting a hand on passes well down the field.

What I didn't like: Skelton became the first NFL player since Aaron Rodgers in 2008 to take two safeties in the same game. Both were avoidable. Both were costly in a low-scoring game dominated by defense. The Cardinals had 58 yards and four first downs in the first half. Beanie Wells did not appear healthy and had a hard time getting anything going against the Rams' defense. Bradford took too many sacks. Salas suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and was carted off the field. Later, medical personnel carted off Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams after a scary collision that appeared to put his head and neck area in jeopardy. Peterson continued having problems with penalties, including with the game on the line.

Controversial call: The Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 33 with 1:48 remaining and did not get it. They were within range for a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Their kicker, Josh Brown, had made all three attempts Sunday (48, 37, 41 yards). Brown had made 15 of 19 tries from 50-plus yards since signing with the Rams. Field conditions in Arizona appeared excellent. Yes, Jackson was running well, but that was partly because the Rams had done a good job mixing up their play calls. Arizona knew what was coming in this situation. The fact that Arizona blocked the Rams' field-goal try later in the game doesn't validate Steve Spagnuolo's decision.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Eagles in Kevin Kolb's return to Philadelphia. The Rams visit Cleveland.

A closer look at the Cardinals' defense

October, 19, 2011
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The Arizona Cardinals' efforts to develop young players and integrate new ones on defense continues to stagnate.

The reasons are simple to understand.
First-year coordinator Ray Horton is installing a complex new system that would be tough for young players to absorb even with a full offseason. And the team's highest-priced defensive addition in free agency, inside linebacker Stewart Bradley, came from a vastly different system, so he was going to face a transition period as well.

Finally, the Cardinals haven't done a great job drafting young personnel to fit their new system.

I found useful comments New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick made recently in explaining why his team has leaned less heavily on a pure 3-4 defense:
"We've played a mixture of odd fronts and even fronts, but I just felt like from a starting point -- given the lack of spring opportunities to practice and meet, and the shortened training camp in terms of actual number of practices -- that from a teaching standpoint, we felt like there would be more carryover teaching our base defense and nickel defense really as one front.

"We wanted a lot of carryover between our run responsibilities and run fits, and some of our pressure defenses and things like that. We'll transition and build into some of our odds fronts, but we felt like in trying to evaluate young players, asking them to learn one system in a 3-4 and then learn another system in nickel [was too much].

"As you know, we were in nickel defense just as much as we were 3-4 defense because of teams using multiple receivers on early downs and two-minute and all those kind of things. So, we felt like it would be a better opportunity to evaluate our players and not try to over-install and put in a ton of defense.

"There are so many intricacies to a 3-4 defense that I just didn't know if we'd be ready to handle them this year."

The Cardinals have scaled back. And, unlike the Patriots, they have not had Belichick teaching and overseeing their defense since 2000. Horton is finding his way as a coordinator and still getting a feel for the personnel he inherited. He also doesn't benefit from a Tom Brady-led offense putting points on the board and pulling out victories even when the defense falters.

What the Cardinals do have in their favor, at least this week, is great familiarity with the upcoming opponent, Pittsburgh. Horton coached the Steelers' secondary, so he should know how to scheme for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Arizona coaches Ken Whisehunt and Russ Grimm, among others, also have roots with the Steelers. And Arizona is coming off a bye week, which gave coaches needed time to reassess.

The first chart shows snap counts and percentages for the Cardinals' defensive players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Younger players such as O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho will presumably get more playing time as the season progresses. Bradley's snap counts are also much lower than I would have anticipated coming into the season.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 31-27 home defeat against the New York Giants in Week 4:

What it means: The Cardinals blew a chance at claiming a key home victory outside the division, dropping them to 1-3 heading into a road game against the Minnesota Vikings. Arizona needed to win this game after NFC West rival San Francisco upped its record to 3-1 with an upset road victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. Had the Cardinals won, a breakout performance from running back Beanie Wells and timely turnover production by the Arizona defense would have removed the focus from another mostly shaky showing by Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb.

What I liked: Larry Fitzgerald made another spectacular leaping grab for a spot in the Cardinals' record book. This time, his 47-yard grab deep in Giants territory moved Fitzgerald past Roy Green for the top spot on the franchise list for receiving yardage. Last week, his touchdown grab at Seattle moved him past Green for most scoring receptions. Wells provided the physical running presence Arizona missed against Seattle, topping 100 yards on the ground. This was his second career game with more than one rushing touchdown in a game. On defense, Calais Campbell and David Carter forced fumbles leading to 10 points for Arizona. Darnell Dockett was a force, disrupting plays.

What I didn't like: Kolb continued to struggle, losing a fumble and tossing an interception. He took too many sacks, seemed affected by pressure and lacked awareness when taking a grounding penalty. The Cardinals mismanaged a sequence right before halftime, setting up the Giants for one last drive in the quarter. Wells fumbled on the Cardinals' first possession of the second half. Penalties hurt Arizona on both sides of the ball; the Cardinals had 10 of them before reaching the fourth quarter. Strong safety Adrian Wilson let a potential interception slip through his grasp for the second week in a row. He is consistently getting chances for interceptions and should have more than the one he collected at Washington. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson had trouble finishing tackles.

Injuries of note: The Cardinals lost right tackle Brandon Keith to an apparent knee injury. Jeremy Bridges replaced him. Fitzgerald briefly left the game with what appeared to be a calf injury. Wells rode a stationary bike on the sideline to keep his injured hamstring loose. Arizona benefited when the Giants lost center David Baas to injury. Carter beat Baas' replacement for the fumble-forcing play on Manning. The Cardinals lost cornerback Richard Marshall to a quadriceps injury in the fourth quarter. Jefferson was shaken up late in the game, leaving Michael Adams as the primary corner opposite Patrick Peterson.

Upon further review: Referee Jerome Boger overturned on replay Manning's scoring pass to tight end Jake Ballard. Brandon Jacobs scored from the 1 on the next play, pulling the Giants within 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. Before Sunday, referees had overturned 13 of 20 touchdowns when reviewing whether a runner had broken the plane of the goal line.

Controversial call: The Cardinals, leading 27-24 late in the game, thought they had produced a turnover when the Giants' Victor Cruz set down the ball before a defender touched him during the Giants' go-ahead scoring drive. I thought Boger was correct in ruling that Cruz had given himself up on the play and was therefore down. However, former NFL officiating director Mike Pereira said he thought Cruz stumbled on the play, and that this should have been ruled a fumble. Should be some good debate on this one.

What's next: The Cardinals visit Minnesota in Week 5.

Arizona Cardinals cutdown analysis

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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The Arizona Cardinals have made their initial cuts to comply with the 53-man deadline Saturday.

Surprise move: Nothing too weighty here. The team kept four safeties initially instead of five, an indication that Adrian Wilson might be ready for the regular-season opener despite a torn biceps tendon. Veteran backup safety Matt Ware, signed as insurance when Wilson was hurt, was among those let go. Sixth-round pick Quan Sturdivant appeared to be on the bubble, but he made the initial 53-man roster. A couple veterans, namely punter Ben Graham and fullback Reagan Maui'a, lost roster spots to less-established players.

No-brainers: Deuce Lutui's status became topical throughout camp as he battled weight issues and played deep into the final preseason game. Keeping him around was a no-brainer, I thought, because Lutui can be an above-average starter. The Cardinals have him under contract on their terms after Lutui failed a physical with Cincinnati in free agency. Arizona is better on its line with Lutui as one of its options.

What's next: The Cardinals will be in the market for help at running back after losing rookie Ryan Williams to season-ending injury. Alfonso Smith made the cut initially, joining a group featuring Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and rookie fullback Anthony Sherman.

The team has eight offensive linemen after placing Floyd Womack on injured reserve. That number is one lower than typical for NFL teams, but the Cardinals had only eight on their Week 1 roster last season. They opened their previous three seasons under Ken Whisenhunt with nine.

The secondary is another area to watch after Greg Toler landed on injured reserve earlier in the week. The team has eight defensive backs on its roster, including four corners (Patrick Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Richard Marshall and Michael Adams). Arizona has had 11, nine, eight and 10 defensive backs on its Week 1 rosters under Whisenhunt.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Kevin Kolb has accomplished something not even Kurt Warner always managed during his five-year run with the Arizona Cardinals.

He has brought clarity to the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
AP Photo/Matt YorkAcquiring Kevin Kolb ended the uncertainty atop the QB depth chart that plagued Arizona last season.
What a relief for Arizona.

This training camp marks only the second in five under coach Ken Whisenhunt with a clearly defined, secure starter behind center.

Matt Leinart was the man in 2007 until an injury sidelined him. Whisenhunt propped up Leinart heading into camp the following year, but Kurt Warner won the job and kept it through 2009. Warner's retirement thrust Leinart back into the starting role again last offseason. The team cut him following a nondescript 2010 camp.

Tension and uncertainty have surrounded the position most years. That changed when the Cardinals traded for Kolb and signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract. Just as Kolb was desperate for a starting job while parked behind Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick in Philadelphia, the Cardinals have been starved for quarterback stability.

"When you look in his eyes, you can tell he really wants it," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We're going to follow his lead."

There is some blind faith involved. Kolb has only seven regular-season starts to his credit. He played well in some, not as well in others.

Can he get it done? It's too early to say. It did become clear right away upon visiting camp that Kolb is comfortable with himself and adept at relating to teammates. That separates him from Leinart and 2010 starter Derek Anderson.

It was telling, I thought, when newly signed guard Daryn Colledge cracked wise on Kolb's fat salary.

"I'll blame one of my cadence [misunderstandings] on him," Colledge joked. "I'll do that right away since he makes more money than me."

There's an obvious comfort level with Kolb already, even if Fitzgerald resisted his new quarterback's attempts to enjoin him to chew tobacco. Kolb clearly has the requisite moxie. Then again, so did Max Hall. A quarterback must play well for any of it to matter.

"He has that 'it' factor, the confidence quarterbacks that need to be successful in this league," said new Cardinals linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was also Kolb's teammate with the Eagles. "He can make all the throws, he has all the intangibles."

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Where's the pass-rusher? The Cardinals went into the 2011 draft thinking pass-rusher Von Miller would be their guy with the fifth overall choice. They badly needed pass-rush help after relying too heavily upon aging outside linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. Miller seemingly would have been the perfect fit. Plans changed when Denver made Miller the second overall choice. While Arizona was perfectly happy taking LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson at No. 5, not getting Miller meant the team would have to wait another year before targeting an elite pass-rush prospect. It's an area the team will have to address next offseason even if O'Brien Schofield and rookie Sam Acho exceed expectations. In the meantime, new defensive coordinator Ray Horton appears destined to live out what his recent predecessors experienced. It's tough fielding a 3-4 defense without sufficient talent on the outside. Then again, if Miller had been there for Arizona at No. 5, the team wouldn't have gotten Peterson. In that case, the Cardinals could not have justified trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia in the Kolb deal. The Eagles then might have asked for and received greater compensation through 2012 draft choices.

[+] EnlargeTodd Heap
AP Photo/Matt YorkThe addition of Todd Heap might help offset the loss of Steve Breaston in the passing game.
2. Who is the No. 2 receiver? Only Larry Fitzgerald remains from the 2008 Arizona receiving corps featuring three 1,000-yard wideouts, but the Cardinals do not sound particularly concerned. They considered adding Braylon Edwards in free agency, but they weren't interested enough to close the deal, particularly for a player with off-field issues. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are the favorites to fill the No. 2 void created when Steve Breaston signed with Kansas City. The team is also expecting free-agent newcomer Todd Heap to provide a receiving option at tight end that has not existed previously under Whisenhunt in Arizona. Still, the Cardinals lack proven depth at wideout behind Fitzgerald. Durability is a concern for Doucet. Roberts showed promise as a rookie last season, but is he ready to contribute for a full season?

3. Does Kolb fit the scheme? The West Coast system Kolb learned during his time in Philadelphia differs from the one Whisenhunt installed in Arizona. I questioned heading into free agency whether Arizona would be the best landing spot for Kolb. In general, proponents of traditional West Coast systems seek to run the same plays from different formations with more precision than the defense can muster. Out-executing opponents trumps out-scheming them. A quarterback can become as good as the system allows him to be. The Cardinals' offense relies upon matching route concepts to specific coverages. Kolb: "I like the way they put it on the quarterback to get into those concepts. As long as your quarterback can think quick on his feet, a lot of times you are going to be in the right play in the right position. It just clicks with me. ... Look at what Kurt did. He understood it. He did it at the top level and look how successful they were. There is never a ceiling of how good you can get. It’s just however much you can handle as a quarterback. That is what is exciting for me."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Cornerback depth appears OK. Trading away Rodgers-Cromartie and losing Michael Adams to knee surgery would have sent the team into a panic last summer. That hasn't been the case so far. Former receiver A.J. Jefferson has caught the Cardinals' attention. He's even running with the starters pending Peterson's ascension. Free-agent addition Richard Marshall and Greg Toler combined for 29 starts last season. Peterson gives Arizona a special athlete and a player mature beyond his years. The biggest question is whether Arizona can generate a pass-rush sufficient enough to put the cornerbacks in favorable situations. Adams is expected back in a few weeks.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

[+] EnlargeRashad Johnson
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesRashad Johnson might be pressed into the starting lineup if Adrian Wilson misses significant time.
Adrian Wilson's injury. The Cardinals plan to announce Monday whether Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson will require surgery following a Saturday injury to his elbow/biceps area. Wilson will miss time even if surgery isn't necessary. That's a setback for Wilson personally after an injured abductor slowed him last season. It's a setback for the defense because Horton, the new defensive coordinator, needs Wilson to execute some of the blitz packages planned for 2011. Third-year pro Rashad Johnson would likely start if Wilson were unavailable.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Beanie Wells still projects as the starting running back heading into the season even though rookie second-round choice Ryan Williams has impressed. Every negative play from Wells invites skepticism regarding his ability to meet expectations as a 2009 first-round draft choice. That was the case when Wells fumbled during the first full-contact goal-line session of camp. Wells bounced back with energized runs the following day, though, and he knows the offense better than Williams at this point.
  • Williams looks like the better pure runner. Where Wells is more of a downhill runner with straight-line tendencies, Williams has shown he can cut effortlessly, even at high speed. One of Williams' coaches from Virginia Tech told the Cardinals he had never coached a more talented player.
  • Nose tackle Dan Williams was another lockout victim. He reported to camp heavy and out of shape. Williams came on strong as a rookie late last season. Like a lot of big guys, however, he would have been much better off spending his offseason operating within a structured conditioning program.
  • The lockout could prevent third-round choice Rob Housler from contributing much as a rookie. Housler needed a full offseason to work on his blocking and smooth his adjustment from Florida Atlantic. The Cardinals take pride in developing players from smaller programs, but there simply wasn't enough time to get Housler up to speed this offseason. Heap's addition removes pressure in the short term.
  • Fifth-round choice Anthony Sherman came advertised as the best fullback in the 2011 draft. It's tough to argue with that assessment after watching Sherman early in camp. He was popping people left and right. Sherman also projects as an outstanding special-teams player, another plus. Fewer teams are keeping fullbacks on the 53-man rosters, but the Cardinals will happily find a spot for Sherman. I could see them keeping four tight ends, with free-agent addition Jeff King providing flexibility through his ability to shift into the backfield as a lead blocker. Under that scenario, Arizona would go with Heap, King, Housler and Stephen Spach as its tight ends. Wells, Williams, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Sherman would be the backs.
  • It's tough to envision Hall returning as part of the 53-man roster. John Skelton is clearly ahead of Hall as the No. 2 option behind Kolb. Richard Bartel looks like a better prospect, too. Hall's presence in the lineup for three starts last season sent defenses into feeding frenzies. They couldn't wait to come after him. Fewer teams are likely to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters, anyway, after the NFL modified rules for game-day rosters.
  • Right tackle Brandon Keith is coming off knee surgery and is still shaking off the rust. The Cardinals need solid play from that position in the regular-season opener against Carolina. Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson gave right tackles problems last season. He had three of his 11.5 sacks against NFC West teams, including one against Arizona when Keith was on injured reserve. Also last season, Johnson knocked out San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith with a shoulder injury.
  • It's only a matter of time before Bradley supplants Paris Lenon at inside linebacker. Bradley and returning starter Daryl Washington will be asked to blitz from the inside and also to cover. The Cardinals need to find creative ways to use them as pass-rushers given the situation at outside linebacker. The scheme Bradley played in Philadelphia took his eyes off the quarterback a fair amount of the time. Bradley, a defensive end as a freshman in college, wants more chances to rush the passer. He has the size (6-foot-4, 258 pounds) to .
  • Keep an eye on rookie receiver DeMarco Sampson, a seventh-round choice from San Diego State. Sampson keeps making impressive catches in practice.
  • The Cardinals' offense figures to change in complexion following so many additions at running back and tight end. The reality, though, is that Kolb likes operating from four-receiver personnel groupings. We could still wind up seeing the Cardinals spreading the field as they did before suffering personnel losses at receiver.
  • Defenses tend to outpace offenses early in camp. That hasn't been the case for Arizona. Fitzgerald offered one possible explanation: the team has been running the same offense since 2007, but the defense is new.
Kevin KolbChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesSigning Kevin Kolb signals that the Cardinals are ready to bounce back after a transition season.

Kevin Kolb's arrival from Philadelphia gives the Arizona Cardinals renewed hope at quarterback and clear direction following Kurt Warner's retirement.

It provides a fresh start after a forgettable 2010 transition season for Arizona.

So much has changed for the Cardinals since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2008 season. Other rosters around the league have turned over since then, of course, but not every team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

Quite a few teams have sought change. For the Cardinals, it just happened.

Warner's departure, while easily the biggest change, was far from the only one. Between five and eight starters from that Super Bowl game project as starters in 2011, depending upon how many of the team's unrestricted free agents re-sign.

When Steve Breaston left the Cardinals for Kansas City this week, drawing attention to the cumulative effect of Arizona's roster upheaval, a Seahawks fan drew parallels between Seattle's post-Super Bowl decline and the Cardinals' plight last season.

"Don't misunderstand," Ricky Frey wrote on my Facebook wall, "I'm a Hawks fan, but it seems eerily familiar to watch this happen and know what happened to Holmgren/Mora. Writing on the wall?"

Not if Kolb has anything to say about it. Acquiring a relatively young, potentially ascending quarterback puts Arizona in position to avoid the decline Seattle experienced as a Matt Hasselbeck struggled with injuries while the roster around him withered away. The NFC West remains in transition overall, and the Cardinals know it.

"It’s obviously winnable, but it’s funny to think that everybody thinks you can just step in and win it," Kolb told reporters Friday. "You’re talking about NFL football teams here. I know last year 7-9 is what won it, but it doesn’t matter. ... The door is open, we know, and we’ll be ready to kick it in when it’s time, but it’s not going to be an easy task."

Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and the recently re-signed Lyle Sendlein started for Arizona in the Super Bowl and remain starters in 2011. Another starter from that Super Bowl game, Gerald Hayes, was released this week. Three more are becoming unrestricted free agents: Deuce Lutui, Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson.

Six Arizona starters from that game are retired or did not play last season: Mike Gandy, Warner, Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith, Chike Okeafor and Monty Beisel. Seven more play for other teams: Reggie Wells, Leonard Pope, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and the recently traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Some were role players. Others were tougher to replace.

Breaston was a backup on that team, but he played extensively as the third receiver and finished the season with more than 1,000 yards.

Kolb's addition headlined a flurry of transactions the Cardinals announced Thursday and Friday.

Sendlein, safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Michael Adams, tackle D'Anthony Batiste, center Ben Claxton, punter Ben Graham, fullback Reagan Maui'a and tight end Stephen Spach re-signed.

Five draft choices have signed. Guard Daryn Colledge, defensive end Nick Eason, tight end Jeff King, receiver Chansi Stuckey and linebacker Stewart Bradley have signed as free agents from other teams.

Re-signing Sendlein while adding Kolb, Colledge and Bradley suggests the 2011 team is still coming together, not necessarily falling apart.

49ers-Cardinals Monday night six-pack

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
3:24
PM ET
Ken Whisenhunt/Mike SingletaryAP PhotoThe season hasn't gone to plan for Ken Whisenhunt or Mike Singletary, but the winner of their Monday night matchup keeps his slim playoff hopes alive.
"Monday Night Football" showcases NFL royalty when the New England Patriots and New York Jets put their 9-2 records on the line in Week 13.

The Week 12 undercard between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals looks more like an unsanctioned alley fight. Both teams are 3-7 and suitably desperate. The loser of this matchup between one-time NFC West favorites could be finished.

Alas, viewers might need a six-pack to get them through this motley Monday night matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Six potential points of interest:

1. Mike Singletary could implode at any time.

The last time the 49ers played in prime time (against Philadelphia in Week 5), their head coach ripped into Alex Smith on the sideline after the quarterback served up a crushing turnover.

Singletary sent backup David Carr onto the field. Tight end Vernon Davis implored Smith to fight back. Smith argued his case to Singletary with unexpected passion. Singletary backed down, sending Smith back into the huddle. The 49ers rallied and nearly won the game.

The sideline spectacle made for compelling theater, even if the on-field product wasn't particularly satisfying. The 49ers are 3-2 since that defeat, but the pressure on Singletary grew considerably after a 21-0 home defeat to Tampa Bay last week.

2. Big plays will happen one way or another.

[+] EnlargeLaRod Stephens-Howling
AP Photo/Andy BlenkushLaRod Stephens-Howling has been dangerous on special teams, returning two kicks for TDs.
The Cardinals have eight return touchdowns this season: two by kick returner LaRod Stephens-Howling, two by free safety Kerry Rhodes and one apiece by linebacker Gerald Hayes, cornerback Michael Adams, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and even tackle Levi Brown (on a recovery in the end zone).

Arizona also emerged from Week 11 having allowed more points per game than any team in the league. The Cardinals had allowed 19 pass plays of at least 30 yards, tied for the NFL high. They had allowed 12 rushing plays of at least 20 yards, the second-highest total in the league (Frank Gore, anyone?).

The 49ers flashed big-play ability through the air with Troy Smith at quarterback until the Tampa Bay game. But their offensive line has been struggling, and Troy Smith was fortunate to finish the Bucs game with only one interception.

The Cardinals' aggressive, hit-or-miss defense could confuse Smith or free him to feed a steady stream of downfield throws to Davis, Delanie Walker, Michael Crabtree, etc. It could do both, actually.

3. Where else can one see Shaun Hill and Matt Leinart highlights?

The 49ers traded Hill to Detroit because they thought Alex Smith was on his way and Carr would provide a talent upgrade in the No. 2 role.

Oops.

Hill has eight touchdowns and four interceptions in his last five starts.

ESPN's producers will presumably have the highlights ready if/when Troy Smith falters. They'll have to dig deeper into the archives to find Leinart's finest NFL moments, but we could see those, too, if current Cardinals starter Derek Anderson wilts under the prime-time spotlight.

Hill wasn't the long-term answer in San Francisco. Leinart, who signed with Houston after Arizona released him, probably wasn't the solution, either.

But it's not as though their former teams have necessarily upgraded, either.

4. If nothing else, watch Patrick Willis and Justin Smith.

The 49ers' best defensive players appear to be gaining momentum as the season progresses.

Watch Willis and you'll find the football soon enough. He's a brutally efficient tackler with pass-rush ability (two sacks in Week 11) and a mean streak. Receivers catching short passes over the middle are at risk.

Smith is making his 150th consecutive start. He leads the 49ers with five sacks and has often given the Cardinals serious problems. Arizona has new personnel on the left side of its offensive line, affecting the matchups. Keep an eye on Smith early to see whether it matters.

5. The Larry Fitzgerald matchup.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald and Nate Clements
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesNate Clements and the 49ers' secondary have generally kept Larry Fitzgerald in check in recent seasons.
The Cardinals' Pro Bowl receiver had 457 yards in four games against the 49ers over the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He has 346 yards in six subsequent games against San Francisco.

The difference?

It's hard to say definitively. Fitzgerald seemingly should have become a bigger threat once Kurt Warner took over as quarterback for two-plus seasons beginning in 2007.

The statistical nosedive coincided with cornerback Nate Clements' signing in San Francisco before the 2007 season. Clements' strength and physical style can make him a tough draw for Fitzgerald. He has generally held up well in their matchups.

Fitzgerald has 20 catches for 288 yards over the Cardinals' last three games.

6. Marquess of Queensberry rules might not apply.

These teams do not get along. It would not be a surprise if the NFL hands down a couple of fines afterward.

Fierce on-field battles between the 49ers' Davis and Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson have spilled over into the media, with Arizona defensive lineman Darnell Dockett egging them on. The Cardinals have added another brash persona in outside linebacker Joey Porter.

It's a potentially volatile mix, particularly with both teams perched on the brink.

At least Singletary is there to keep everyone on an even keel.

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