NFL Nation: Michael Floyd

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians addressed the media Friday morning at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and the assembled reporters didn’t waste any time asking him about his veteran quarterback.

He was asked if Carson Palmer, 34, was a “stop-gap?”

“There’s no doubt he’s got plenty of juice left in the tank,” Arians said. “He’s in great condition and he’s always in great condition. So I would think he can play up to 36, 37 easily."
  • Arians said an 11-5 record might not have helped get Arizona into the playoffs but if they snuck in, the rest of the NFC would’ve had to watch out.“If we were in the playoffs we would’ve did some damage,” Arians said. “We just didn’t win enough games.”
  • Arians felt the Cardinals were “real close” during the final eight games because everything was clicking.“We were running the football much better, and it helped our offensive line so much,” Arians said. “Our receivers and quarterback got on the same page. Third-down efficiency improved, red zone started to improve. So we were playing the way we wanted to play. The second half of the season, I was extremely pleased the way we were playing offensively.”
  • Arians made it clear what kind of tight end he’ll be looking for the free agency or the draft: One who can block first then catch.“I’m old school,” Arians said. “He’s got to block first and catch passes. That’s why I loved Heath Miller. I still think he’s the best tight end in the National Football League. Not because he catches 90 passes, but because he blocks big defensive ends and he catches about 60, 70 passes. The guys that line up as wide receivers might get tagged as wide receivers. But tight ends, for me, block for me first and catch second. That’s what receivers get paid for.”
  • Among Arizona receiver Michael Floyd's biggest strides in his second year, Arians said, was his ability to play through injury.“I think Michael’s starting to reach his potential,” Arians said. “He had what I considered a break-out year, over a 1,000 yards. He still needs to be a little more consistent each week. He played through injuries for the first time, which is a huge step for a young player. A lot of times they’ll just sit themselves down. He wanted to win. He wanted to help us win, and I thought he made great strides. But this year can he do it again? That’ll be the question for him.”
Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts seems to accept the fact that there aren't enough passes in Arizona's playbook to be shared with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday, Roberts said the Cardinals haven't offered him a new contract for 2014 or beyond.

“I don't know if there's necessarily enough balls to go around out here,” Roberts said. “So, I don't know how that's going to work out but they haven't offered me anything yet. I expect them to give me an offer here before free agency or right at free agency. So we'll see.”

Arizona hasn't begun negotiating with many of its free agents, so Roberts isn't alone. But the Cardinals may consider his $1.3 million salary in 2013, the last season of his four-year rookie contract, too much for a receiver who only caught 2.7 passes per game.

Clearly frustrated, Roberts has been good at keeping his cool and his emotions under wraps. He didn't go off during the season or widely express his unhappiness with being the third receiver in coach Bruce Arians' two-receiver offense.

And Roberts hopes staying poised throughout the season will help him if he hits the open market.

“I think it does say good bit about me as a person,” Roberts said. “Complaining about it wasn't going to help me at all. Obviously, I was frustrated being a competitor and being a receiver wanting the ball every play, wanting to be in there every play. You can't really complain about it. Michael (Floyd)'s a really good receiver and obviously everybody knows who Larry Fitzgerald is. I just have to play my role.

“Going into this year I knew some of the situations I was going to have to deal with.”

That meant moving from the Cardinals' second receiver to their third, and basically out of the offense. He started the season hot, catching eight passes for 97 yards against St. Louis and then his numbers quickly dropped, including a four-game stretch from Weeks 3-6 where he had 6 yards, 6 yards, 0 yards and 5 yards, respectively.

Overall, Roberts caught 43 passes for 471 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, his lowest totals since his rookie season in 2010.

He played 576 snaps last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, significantly less than Fitzgerald's 954 and Floyd's 891. Roberts' season high was 51 in Week 1 and his low was 20 in Week 16 at Seattle.

Last season wasn't the ideal situation for Roberts heading into free agency, although he did benefit from having a consistent quarterback in Carson Palmer for the first time in his career.

At 26, Roberts is looking for a four or five-year deal, he said. But he won't be against taking a one-year deal to prove his worth.

“That's definitely crossed my mind taking that one-year deal and trying to improve my stats and show the league what I'm able to do,” Roberts said. “I'd love to be in a great opportunity with a quarterback in a situation where I can play that No. 2 role and boost my stats a little bit and show what I can do.

“I'm pretty excited,” he added. “I have a little bit of a good nervousness not knowing exactly where I'm going to be. I'm pretty excited about the whole free-agency process. I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming for the rest of my career.”
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.

Cardinals' comeback all for pride

December, 29, 2013
Andre RobertsAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAndre Roberts' 34-yard touchdown tied the score at 17 after the Cardinals trailed 17-0.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- From the moment Arizona beat Seattle until kickoff Sunday, the Cardinals' season finale was built up to be a what-if kind of game.

What if the Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers?

What if, by some long shot, Tampa Bay went into New Orleans and pulled off an upset?

What if the miracle actually happened?

But none of that mattered by time the first quarter expired on Sunday. As they have for most of the season, the Cardinals came out slow and before they blinked, the 49ers built a 17-0 point lead. If anyone expected anything different from the Cardinals after last weekend’s emotional win in Seattle, they haven’t watched this team closely.

For as good as the defense has played all season and for as many times as they had saved games -- like it nearly did in Arizona’s 23-20 loss to the Niners -- Sunday wasn’t going to be any different. It didn’t matter if this was Arizona’s biggest game since Kurt Warner last trotted onto the field at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2009. It didn't matter what was at stake. Arizona looked more like the team that struggled early in games than it did the one that finished the season 7-2.

“When we started slow we focused on what we had [to do],” center Lyle Sendlein said. “We knew coming in we didn’t want to be saying, ‘What if Tampa would’ve won and we didn’t?’ That’s the taste we didn’t want in our mouths. That’s why our drive was strong today.

“We didn’t want that feeling in case it did happen.”

In a stroke of genius, the NFL flexed the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game to begin at the same time as Arizona-San Francisco. That way, neither the Cardinals nor the Niners would be playing with their postseason fate already decided.

It didn’t matter, however. New Orleans smoked Tampa Bay 42-17 and ended Arizona’s season by halftime.

None of the Cardinals said they snuck a look at the Saints-Bucs score. They were only concerned about trying to get themselves back in the game. With the playoffs out of the question, pride was on the line. And around the NFC West, pride and bragging rights are a close second.

“It didn’t matter,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “This is the only game that mattered at the time.”

What Arizona could’ve done, however, was put themselves in the right position in case the right situation unfolded. But after quarterback Carson Palmer nearly threw an interception on Arizona’s opening drive, the defense was forced to pick up the slack again. It stopped San Francisco on three straight plays from the Cardinals' 8, forcing the Niners to kick a field goal.

On the Cards next drive, Palmer threw his 22nd interception of the season, when he tried to force a pass to Michael Floyd, who was surrounded by about five Niners. San Francisco didn’t waste any time, scoring in six plays to take a 10-0 lead. Arizona needed points on the next drive, but Jay Feely's 37-yard field goal attempt went wide right. The Niners went up 17-0 after a 63-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.

“They came out with a game plan, a lot of reverses, a lot of things early in the game to try to keep us off guard from stopping the run because they knew we would be very aggressive, and we were,” Arians said. “Early turnover, missed field goals, we didn’t play very well in the first half, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot this ball game again.

“But, the no scoring opportunities hurt and [in] tight, tight games, always will.”

But why should Sunday have been any different from the rest of the season?

While the offense was getting its motor running, the Cardinals’ defense went to work. On the Niners’ next eight drives, Arizona forced them to punt six times. San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson missed a field goal after Arizona held from its 3 and then the 6 on three straight plays. Then in the fourth quarter the Cardinals held on a fourth-and-1.

Before San Francisco knew it, Arizona had rattled off 17 straight points to tie the game, the last of which came on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Andre Roberts along the left sideline of the end zone. Sound familiar? It looked eerily similar to the touchdown pass Palmer threw to Michael Floyd in Seattle.

By time Dawson gave San Francisco a 20-17 lead with 1:45 left in the game, Arizona knew the playoffs were nothing but a pipe dream. At that point it was all about pride.

While he had missed two field goals earlier in the game, Feely atoned by nailing a 43-yarder with 34 seconds left to tie the game at 23.

But Arizona’s luck this season ran out when the officials ruled LaMichael James was down before the ball popped loose during the ensuing return. Dawson would eventually hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give San Francisco the win.

What started as a blowout finished as a nail-biter.

Arizona found itself where it wanted to. In a position to take care of its own business by beating a division rival. But as luck and a field goal would have it, neither happened.

And, as fate -- and the Saints -- had it, neither would’ve mattered.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 29, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-20 loss to San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: Not much changed throughout the season. Arizona showed Sunday it was still the team that liked to get down early, let its defense all but shut down the opposing offense and then, if it felt like it, the offense would come up with a big play to win. Arizona never gave up even as New Orleans was running over Tampa Bay, eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs. There was more than that on the line in Glendale, especially against an NFC West foe that Arizona thought it should’ve beaten back in Week 6. The Cardinals also wanted to finish 11-5 to prove they were a playoff-caliber team.

Stock watch: Michael Floyd continued his tear despite shoulder and ankle injuries. He finished with 91 yards, topping 1,000 this season, on a variety of short passes as well as the deep ball he’s become known for around Arizona. Carson Palmer tried to go to Floyd early but San Francisco was ready for him. Floyd should’ve come down with a few of those but his shoulder clearly limited him. When Arizona needed a spark, however, the Cardinals went to Floyd down the middle for a 44-yard pass.

No gain for RBs: All week, the Cardinals’ defensive line qualified any comment about being the No. 1-ranked rush defense by saying they hoped it’d continue against the Niners. Arizona held San Francisco’s running backs -- Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon -- to 22 yards. A lack of a running game forced San Francisco to pass, which, in turn, allowed the Cardinals to go after Colin Kaepernick, who struggled on passes when he was chased. Every one of San Francisco's drives during the second and third quarters ended with either a punt, turnover on downs, or a missed field goal.

Slow start: It plagued Arizona throughout the first half of the season, but anyone who watched this team -- and the team itself -- thought the first-half issues were, for the most part, solved. And they had been, until Sunday. The Cardinals allowed the Niners to score on their first three drives and went down 17-0 by the time the second quarter started. From there, Arizona simply couldn’t recover.

What's next: Arizona finishes with a 10-6 record.

W2W4: Cardinals vs. 49ers

December, 29, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. – Sunday’s game against San Francisco may not just result in a playoff berth.

It could end with a host of milestones being reached:
  • With a victory, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians would match Norm Barry with 11 wins, the most in team history for a coach in their first season.
  • A win would also set the best turnaround in franchise history (six games).
  • With a TD catch, Larry Fitzgerald would set the record for most TD receptions against the Niners with 13.
  • Quarterback Carson Palmer needs 133 yards to reach 4,000 in a season for the fourth time.
  • Running back Andre Ellington needs 19 yards to hit 1,000 all-purpose yards, the first time since 2003 a rookie could reach that mark and the fifth time ever.
  • Wide receiver Michael Floyd needs 50 yards to reach 1,000 receiving yards.
  • Returner Javier Arenas needs 54 yards to reach 500 return yards.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cornerback Greg Toler's groin injury was originally expected to keep him out the Indianapolis Colts' lineup 2-4 weeks.

Four weeks came and went. So did Week 5. The same can be said for Weeks 6 and 7.

It’s gotten to the point now where you wonder if he’ll be back to help the defense this season.

“I want to be back out there helping my teammates,” Toler said. “Some dudes can play with their bodies being off a little. I can’t. The training staff told me they want me to be 100 percent before I go back out there.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace and Greg Toler
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe groin injury suffered by cornerback Greg Toler (right), has weakened the Colts' secondary.
Where is Toler at health-wise?

“I’d say I’m about 90-95 percent,” he said. “I need a great full week of practice of not having to be limited at all. They want to know that if a guy gets by me, I can turn it on and catch him. I respect that. This is one of those situations where I have to be completely healed first.”

The time it has taken Toler to try to overcome his groin injury, which happened in the third quarter of the Oct. 20 game against Denver, is somewhat alarming.

He said there is a backstory behind it. Toler, who also had injury problems during his four seasons with Arizona, said he made the mistake of trying to play through injuries when he was younger.

He doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Toler suffered a setback with his groin while working out about three weeks ago. He practiced on a limited basis last week but knew the odds of playing against the Cincinnati Bengals were slim, because he faced the risk of aggravating his groin with the game was played outdoors in the cold.

“I’m ready and confident that I’ll be back out there with the guys,” Toler said. “They want me to be at my best. I don’t want to hurt the team. The cold doesn’t play in your favor, because it doesn’t allow your body warm up the way you want to."

Toler's absensce isn't the only reason behind the recent demise, but the secondary has struggled since he was injured. Receivers like Houston’s Andre Johnson (229 yards), St. Louis' Tavon Austin (138 yards) and Arizona’s Michael Floyd (104 yards) have had big games against the Colts.

“When you’ve got a player of his caliber that can play, that’s why we signed him, and for him not to be in the lineup does hurt a little bit, don’t get me wrong,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky recently said. “If something happens to other players that are Pro Bowl type players, you’re going to have a letdown. But we pick it up and next guy in line, we go out there and we roll.”

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 13

December, 2, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- A look at four issues from the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-21 win against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

[+] EnlargeNate Allen
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoEagles safety Nate Allen did his best to keep Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check during their Week 13 game Sunday.
Foles is lucky as well as good. Nick Foles needs to throw just two more touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning's NFL record of 20 touchdown passes without an interception. Foles also broke teammate Michael Vick's team record of 224 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Going back to late last year, Foles has thrown 233 pick-free passes.

That's all good. But luck came in when he threw an ill-advised pass as he was being hit in the fourth quarter. The ball landed in the hands of Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, but the interception was negated by a holding penalty on safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It definitely was a mistake by me," Foles said. "I was happy there was a penalty that kept our drive going. It wasn't a smart decision." It was the kind of decision that can turn a game around. Luck kept that from happening.

"That's just the game of football," Foles said. "It's a crazy game, and things happen."

Nate Allen isn't Brian Dawkins, but that's OK. Allen, the fourth-year safety from South Florida, made a nice break on an underthrown Carson Palmer pass for an early interception. Allen was part of an egregiously bad secondary the past two years and has not exactly been a huge fan favorite. But his improved play has been a big part of the defense's development.

"He's one of the hardest workers in the building," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It means so much to him. He's motivated because he hasn't had the success and everyone has been on him for a couple years here. Everyone wanted him to be Brian Dawkins and now everybody's kind of letting him be Nate Allen."

Fitzgerald? Check. Megatron? The Eagles' defense did a decent enough job on Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Each caught a touchdown pass. Fitzgerald caught five passes for 72 yards, Floyd five for 99. Those are very good numbers, but neither could break open the game. That's encouraging, because the Eagles defenders get Detroit's Calvin Johnson here next Sunday.

"Those guys stepped up and took on the challenge of playing this top receiving group," Davis said. "There's a lot of times they were one-on-one. Throughout the game, I was mixing in [coverages], but there were a lot of snaps that were, 'Hey, get your man.'"

Davis often had linebacker Connor Barwin lined up directly across from Fitzgerald, especially in the slot. Barwin was able to get a more physical jam on Fitzgerald at the line before giving him up to a defensive back to cover.

The NFC playoff picture is a little clearer after this. The Eagles earned a tiebreaker over Arizona should they wind up with the same record in the wild-card race. Sunday's win also keeps them within a game of San Francisco (8-4), which is currently in position to earn the second wild card. Chicago's loss to Minnesota leaves the Bears at 6-6, a game behind Detroit. The Eagles face those three NFC North teams over the next three weeks -- Detroit and Chicago at home, with Minnesota on the road in the middle.

The Eagles' best shot at the playoffs remains in beating Dallas (7-5) for the NFC East title, but the Cowboys are one of the teams with a realistic shot at a wild card.
Trent Cole AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole accounted for two of the Eagles five sacks on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.

PHILADELPHIA -- It is all about offense in the NFL, right up until the moment your defense is on the field trying to protect a fourth-quarter lead.

Offense drives fantasy leagues. Offense benefits from virtually every change in the league's rules. Offense gets head coaches like Chip Kelly their jobs.

In the Eagles' past two games, Kelly's potent offense put 24 points on the scoreboard to build big leads. And then, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Kelly's offense stood helpless on the sideline and hoped the defense would save the day.

"We'll take it," outside linebacker Trent Cole said. "We'll take it all day. It doesn't matter what the situation is. If it's on us, we're going to go out there and do what we have to do. It doesn't matter if they back us up on the 5-yard line. We have to go out there and stop them."

The Eagles stopped Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals one last time Sunday to preserve a 24-21 victory. It was the second home win in a row for Philadelphia and the second in which a big second-half lead was in peril in the final minutes.

"I thought the defense literally won the game today," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "To stop a team that was that hot, that had scored a couple touchdowns back to back and to hold them -- what was that a three-and-out? A four-and-out? That's a great job."

It was a great job that left the Eagles at 7-5, tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East and solidly in the wild-card race. It also establishes the Eagles as one of the more complete teams in the NFC. They may not belong with elite teams such as Seattle and New Orleans, but they have rallied from a 3-5 midseason record with a big-play offense, solid special teams and an increasingly effective defense.

That plays very well in Philadelphia, where fans appreciate a well-executed touchdown throw, but where defense really gets the adrenalin flowing. As bad as the previous two years were here, the worst of it was watching soft, passionless defense by men wearing the uniform of Reggie White, Brian Dawkins and Bill Bergey.

"This is Eagles football," Cole said after getting to Palmer for two of the Eagles' five sacks. "This is the Eagles football that I know. Being here for nine years, this is how we always did it. And we always won in the Linc. We protected our house."

After losing 10 consecutive games in Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles now have a two-game winning streak here (and four games overall). After getting crushed 52-20 in Denver on Sept. 29, they haven't allowed more than 21 points in their past eight games.

"The guys scrapped and fought and got turnovers and pressured the quarterback," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our defensive line stepped up and got all kinds of pressure on the quarterback. Our coverage was tight. At the end of the day, we had three more points than they did."

They had 17 more points in the third quarter. Two weeks ago, against Washington, the Eagles had a 24-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Both times, the offense ground to a halt. Kelly's play calling grew conservative and the opposing defense responded by playing with more intensity.

The NFL is all about offense, so there's only so long a defense can hold an opponent in check. Washington scored two touchdowns on fluky plays, made two-point conversions and closed to within 24-16 before Brandon Boykin's interception ended the potential game-tying drive.

After turning the ball over and making other costly mistakes early, Arizona got its offense going for two touchdown drives to make it 24-21 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter.

Two Arizona defensive penalties gave the Eagles a first down -- and negated what would have been a game-turning interception by Patrick Peterson -- but the offense couldn't run the clock to the two-minute warning. Arizona took over at its own 10 with 2:03 left and two timeouts.

"Against that stout defensive line, it's tough to line up and run the football on them," Kelly said. "It's a good group over there. So again, it's something we need to continue to work on and we've got to get better at."

Until then, it comes down to the defense. For the second game in a row, the defense held. This time, cornerback Bradley Fletcher broke up a fourth-down pass intended for Michael Floyd. There was contact, but Fletcher escaped without drawing a flag.

"It's a timing deal," Fletcher said, "and I was able to do that. We had a blitz on and I was holding my inside leverage and my ground. There was some contact at the break point, and I went and made a play."

It may not be the easiest way to win, but enduring these situations can make the Eagles defense only stronger as the playoff race tightens.

"I like those moments," cornerback Cary Williams said. "It's kind of a bittersweet situation. You never want to be put in those situations, but if you are, you want to play to the best of your ability. It was a great opportunity for us to go out there. We handled our business. We continue to get better in those scenarios. I think the sky's the limit for the defense."

And that defense makes the Eagles a legitimate contender, even in a league that is all about the offense.


Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 1, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

What it means: Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was the long trip. Whatever the reason, the Cardinals looked more like the team from the first seven games than the one that won the past four. And that’s not a good sign going forward. With a wild-card spot on the line, Sunday was essentially a dress rehearsal. To say the least, Arizona needs to go over its lines some more. Most of the issues that plagued the Cards early on surfaced again, but this time they had one distinct source: the inability of the offensive line to protect quarterback Carson Palmer. The pocket consistently collapsed on him, leaving him rushed and flushed. But Palmer didn’t make it any easier on himself by underthrowing on his two interceptions, one of which was a potential touchdown.

Stock Watch: Michael Floyd was the only constant for Palmer on Sunday, making a great touchdown catch in the back of the end zone while dragging his feet. Though his 99 yards barely broke his streak of two straight 100-yard games, Floyd continued to establish himself as one of Palmer’s go-to receivers, coming through on an important third down. Floyd continues to earn the admiration of the coaching staff for playing through an AC sprain in his right shoulder, which he appeared to aggravate again.

D-pendable: If it wasn’t for the Cardinals’ defense continuing to play at a high level, Sunday could’ve been a blowout despite allowing 24 points. Arizona sacked Nick Foles five times and when it forced the Eagles to punt, it took the Cards only four or five plays most drives to do it. All the time Arizona spent on substitutions in practice paid off. The Cards were able to move their men in and out quickly, getting the personnel they needed on the field.

Loose with the tight ends: One of the Cardinals’ few yet well-known weak spots on defense is defending tight ends. And the Eagles came out ready to exploit that. Zach Ertz, who had 68 yards, and Brent Celek, who finished with 29, combined for all three of Philadelphia’s touchdowns.

What's next: The Cardinals begin their second round of NFC West games when they host the Rams next Sunday.

Michael Floyd emerges with experience

November, 30, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. – All it took for Michael Floyd to emerge as the receiver the Cardinals thought he’d be was a shoulder so sore he struggles to throw an overhand pass.

Two weeks ago, Floyd was questionable for the Jacksonville game with a sprained A/C joint. After being challenged by Arizona coach Bruce Arians to practice that week, the second-year receiver broke loose for 193 yards in Florida. A week later he had 104 against Indianapolis.

To the causal observer, Floyd looks fine. How else could he have 100 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since Larry Fitzgerald did it in 2011? But Floyd’s not totally healthy yet and he’s still playing at the highest level of his career. During practice Friday, Floyd tried playing catch with an assistant coach when he grimaced and grabbed his right shoulder after an overhand throw. From then on, he tossed the ball underhand.

[+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona receiver Michael Floyd isn't letting a shoulder injury stop him from making big plays.
“It’s going to stay sore the rest of the season, probably,” Arians said. “It’s just one of those things you have to fight through and play on Sunday.”

Sundays this season are quite different then Sunday’s last season for Floyd.

He’s the Cardinals' No. 2 receiver, behind Fitzgerald and in front of Andre Roberts, and he has a significant role in Arians’ two-wide receiver, two tight-end offense. Floyd has also improved his ball-catching, going from a receiver who had to catch the ball on his chest to someone who can catch a pass over his shoulder.

All it took was a year of experience.

“I would say that – 100 percent,” Floyd said. “Just being more comfortable out there on the field, getting more reps, just believing in yourself that you can get the job done and basically having that year under you, you realize that you’re a lot more comfortable, you realize what’s going on out there. You become yourself.”

If Floyd made this kind of jump between his first and second seasons, imagine what he’ll do between years two and three.

Already through 11 games, he’s topped all his numbers from last season. His 49 receptions are four more than in 2012. He has 761 yards heading into Sunday’s game at Philadelphia compared to 562 in all of last season. His three touchdowns are one more than he had last year.

Floyd’s also making more big plays. His 91-yard touchdown against the Jags is the longest score of his career and he has 12 chunk catches, plays of 20 yards or more, compared to six last season. And his 35 first downs are more than he had in 2012 and are tied for the team lead.

Arians has liked Floyd since evaluating him before the 2012 draft.

“He’s a big guy and he played big,” Arians said. “There are a lot of big guys out there that don’t play big, and he can go up and [get] the ball off their head and make those types of plays. That’s what we expect out of him, but he’s becoming a very efficient route runner and a very sure-handed player.

“He’s also done a great job with blocking. He’s a big, physical guy. Right now, he’s becoming a complete package.”

While Floyd tried to downplay his past two games, it’s impossible to ignore his growth since last year. He spent the offseason working on his body. He’s leaner because he’s eating better.

The improvements to his body and his game are all paying off for Floyd.

“When you’re most comfortable out there, you become yourself,” he said. “It’s just like playing backyard football.”

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

November, 24, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

What it means: Not only are the Cardinals winning games this season, but they're winning games they're supposed to win. That hasn't happened in Arizona in a while. The worst-kept secret in the NFL is how the Colts struggle in the first half. After Arizona scored on its first possession Sunday, it just kept piling on, but it wasn't just the offense that carved apart the Colts. The Cards' defense kept Indy under 100 yards for three quarters, and the Colts' first touchdown was on a broken play with a great catch. But Arizona isn't playing like a team waiting to lose like it was last season. This is a legitimate contender this season, and if it wasn't for a new offense that took almost half the season to get going, we would've been talking about the Cardinals for weeks now.

Stock watch: Rashard Mendenhall might not have ran for the most yards of the season, but there was something different about him Sunday. He had an extra pep in his step, or a set of afterburners on his heels. The veteran running back bounced outside throughout the first half instead of his typical inside-the-tackles bulldozing. He burned some rubber on his few plays, including a 13-yard run in the first half on which he hit the corner and shot up the sideline. Mendenhall looked more like rookie running back Andre Ellington than his usual self, but if Mendenhall can produce burst plays, Arizona's options at running back just got deeper.

Hitting their goals: The Cardinals hit most of their offensive goals Sunday. Their 40 points exceeded their time of possession (36:49) and Arizona converted 50 percent of their third downs, another area of focus for the Cards.

Floyd keeps it up: Michael Floyd set a career high last weekend with 193 yards, but he didn't let up Sunday. His 104 yards were his second-highest total of the season and the first time he went over the 100-yard mark in back-to-back games in his career. But it wasn't just the quantity of yards, it was the quality. Normally facing single coverage, Floyd's catches were mostly highlight-worthy and made against the sideline. He's able to benefit from the attention Larry Fitzgerald gets, but he's still making great catches.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here are four storylines (outside of the Chuck Pagano-Bruce Arians reunion) to pay attention to in Sunday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts-Arizona Cardinals.

Start fast: This has been an area of concern for the Colts most of the season. It’s really been a problem the past three games. They’ve been outscored 66-9 in the first half of their past three games. Yes, the Colts won two of those games, but relying on a strong second half isn’t the right way to go about things, especially since that approach won’t work in the playoffs. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton scripts the first 15-20 plays. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 49-37 in the first half of their current three-game winning streak. The Colts don’t have the offensive weapons outside of quarterback Andrew Luck and receiver T.Y. Hilton to come back against a team like the Cardinals, who have two dangerous receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

Pressure Palmer: Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville on Nov. 17. He threw for that many yards because the Jaguars allowed him to sit back in the pocket and pick them apart. Put pressure on Palmer and it’s a different game. Memo to Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, the league leader in sacks: The Cardinals have an atrocious offensive line. Palmer has been sacked 27 times and he’s thrown 15 interceptions. The Colts will be without starting linebacker Erik Walden (suspended) and cornerback Greg Toler (groin) on defense.

Play with urgency: Win Sunday and the Colts will be able to wrap up their first AFC South title since 2010 with a victory over the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 1. The Colts will likely still win the division if they stumble against the Cardinals, but the sooner they win it, the better their odds will be to get one of the top two seeds -- likely the second seed -- and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Chris Rainey: The David Reed experiment at returning kicks has to stop at some point, right? Reed has been more of a disaster than an impact player in that area this season. Reed is 12th in the league in kickoff returns at 23.8 yards, but what’s not accounted for is how many times he’s attempted to return kicks 7 or 8 yards deep in the end zone. So why not give Rainey, who the Colts signed last week, a shot? He possibly can’t do any worse. Pagano said late last week that no decision had been on if Rainey will be active for the game. But Rainey did have a good first week of practice. “He’s very explosive for a guy being out for the amount of time that he’s been out,” Pagano said. He’s really been amazing, to be honest with you. He’s a great athlete. He’s got tremendous quickness, speed, acceleration, burst, football instincts. Catches everything -- punts and kickoffs, catching balls out of the backfield, running the card team, the look team for us. Didn’t miss a beat. It looked like he’d been playing for somebody for the last whatever, so he looked good.”
INDIANAPOLIS – The good news for the Indianapolis Colts is that they know Bruce Arians' Arizona Cardinals will throw the ball downfield a lot in Sunday's game. The Colts did the same thing under Arians last season.

The bad news is that Indianapolis' secondary has a tendency to give up big plays.

Houston’s Andre Johnson had nine catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts on Nov. 3. St. Louis’ Tavon Austin had two catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns the following week.

Now the Colts get to face Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville last weekend.

“Run it and throw it down the field as far as you can and complete a lot of them,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said about Arizona’s offense. “[Arians has] been doing it a long time. He’s a great playcaller. We all know that. You see a lot of similarities in there and he’s utilizing their talent very well.”

The struggling secondary may be without one of its starting cornerbacks for the fourth straight game. Greg Toler hasn’t practiced this week because of a groin injury. He wants to play Sunday because he spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals, but he tweaked his groin while working out Monday. Safety LaRon Landry also hasn’t practiced this week because of a toe injury, although he said he believes he'll play Sunday.

Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn, who started in place of Toler in his absence, will be matched up on Fitzgerald and Floyd, who have combined for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Cardinals became the first team since 1971 to have touchdown receptions of at least 80 and 90 yards in a season when Floyd scored on a 91-yard pass against Jacksonville.

“He’s a future Hall of Famer and he’s still playing at a high level and making plays, 45 catches and six touchdowns,” Pagano said about Fitzgerald. “Floyd and the rest of the guys, they got a bunch of skill guys, they got a bunch of playmakers. Carson’s doing a good job of spreading the wealth and getting the ball out to them.”

The Colts have to take advantage of Arizona’s weak offensive line and put pressure on Palmer. He’s thrown for 2,573 yards this season, but he’s also been picked off 15 times and sacked 27 times.

Colts linebacker Robert Mathis leads in the league with 13.5 sacks. Only three quarterbacks – Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Houston’s Case Keenum – have thrown for more than 300 yards against Indianapolis this season.

“A heck of a quarterback who can throw the ball downfield,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “Again, back end we got to challenge. And they’re up for it. Our guys, we don’t back down from a fight. We stand up, and even when everybody points us down and says we’re not going to do anything, that’s when we rise up the best and we go out there and showcase it. I believe my guys on the back end, our defensive unit, our DBs are going to step up and rise to the occasion. Everybody on the defense is going to rise up and play the ball game.”




Sunday, 2/2