NFL Nation: Rob Housler

Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
On Monday, my colleague Field Yates put together a list of five trades that could happen Insider (it's an Insider story) and one included the Arizona Cardinals.

Yates, who is an ESPN NFL Insider, made the case for the Cardinals to send defensive tackle Dan Williams to the Dallas Cowboys for cornerback Morris Claiborne. He makes solid arguments for both sides -- Williams will help the Cowboys improve against the run and Claiborne will be a better option behind Antonio Cromartie than what the Cardinals have now. Claiborne hasn’t been playing to his potential, as Yates noted, but the idea of him rejoining his former Louisiana State teammates Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu could bring life back to Claiborne’s game.

I don’t see the trade happening because Arizona would be losing a large piece (literally and figuratively) of its top-ranked run defense. What Williams brings up the gut of the defensive line is hard to replace, especially when his backup, Alameda Ta'amu is coming off an ACL injury. Williams pushes the center and guards back into the quarterback, which forces the QB to scramble one way or the other and into the arms of an outside linebacker or either Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Simply put, Williams is too valuable to let go right now.

But the idea of a Cardinals’ trade got me thinking: Who on the roster could be traded before the season? Trades don’t have very often -- only 47 have taken place since the start of free agency in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Player-for-player trades are even less common with only eight happening during that stretch, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Taking a few things into consideration, I narrowed the list to two names who could be traded: tight end Rob Housler and linebacker Sam Acho.

Housler has yet to live up to expectations that accompany a third-round pick and certainly didn’t produce what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expected of him in 2013. Housler had a career-high 454 yards in 2013 on 39 catches -- six fewer than 2012 -- even though he missed three games, two because of an ankle injury and one because of a groin injury. He also caught his first career touchdown midway through his third season.

He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract and his salary is poised to jump to a little more than $800,000. Even with the recent addition of John Carlson and the re-signing of Jake Ballard, the Cardinals are expected to draft a tight end in the early rounds next month, one that might better fit Arians' two-tight end scheme. Though Housler has shown flashes of being a talented receiving tight end, he’s not yet in the same category as Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis or Jared Cook. And one of his weaknesses is blocking, which Arians requires out of his tight ends. If Arizona got the right offer for Housler, he could be on the move before the season.

As could Acho. One of the most well-liked players in the locker room, Acho could be traded because of a stockpile at outside linebacker and the value he could command on the trading block. Acho is also entering the last year in his rookie deal, and his salary is scheduled to increase about $900,000 this season.

Acho missed the final 13 games of 2013 after breaking his left fibula in New Orleans in Week 3, and Arizona’s defense didn’t miss a beat, going on to finish the season ranked sixth overall and first against the run. The Cardinals are bringing back Acho’s replacement -- Matt Shaughnessy -- who's likely to start at right outside linebacker ahead of Acho. At 26, Acho has been steady throughout his young career. He had seven sacks and 30 tackles as a rookie, and four sacks in 2012 along with 32 tackles and two interceptions.

He’ll turn 26 in September and is still young enough to fill a starting need long term for a team who needs a hand-in-the-dirt linebacker. Arizona showed it could win without him, which would make the breakup a little easier.

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.

TEMPE, Ariz. – Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer watched his two backups run through their drills during the open portion of Arizona’s practice Wednesday without a helmet or shoulder pads.

The 33-year-old said his left ankle, which he sprained Sunday at Tennessee, feels good and Palmer expects to be practicing again Thursday and Friday.

“Got a lot of treatment on it and [I will] be ready to roll,” Palmer said.

Palmer isn’t a stranger to not practicing. Heading into the St. Louis game in Week 14, Palmer didn’t take a single snap all week because of a sore elbow. The mental reps, alone, prepared him for the Rams’ defense. A sprained ankle, however, is different because it impacts Palmer’s mobility, which he’ll need against Seattle’s top-ranked defense.

The first-quarter hit on Palmer that sprained his ankle looked worse than it actually was. He stood up holding his legs and limping but after Arizona scored a touchdown on the next play, Palmer went to the sideline and got his ankle wrapped.

“I knew that he got a good shot on me and it probably tweaked my ankle a little bit,” Palmer said. “I didn’t think anything more than that or less than that.”

Besides Palmer, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, tight end Rob Housler and safety Rashad Johnson did not practice Wednesday.

Fitzgerald is still following protocol, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. The next step is for Fitzgerald to begin exercising.

“He’s fine so far with what he’s been doing,” Arians said.

Fitzgerald saw the doctor assigned to the Cardinals on Monday and then went for a second, independent opinion on Tuesday. He has to pass the NFL’s mandatory concussion protocol before he’ll be allowed to play.

Housler and Johnson were on the stationary bike for the open portion of practice.

Ballard to start in place of Housler

December, 15, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This may be the chance Jake Ballard needed.

As has been a trend around the Cardinals this season, another player will have an opportunity to see the field because of an injury to a teammate. Ballard will start Sunday against the Tennessee Titans because tight end Rob Housler was ruled inactive because of a groin injury.

Ballard has played 67 snaps this season, an average of about 13.5 per game. Although he was signed in early November, Ballard has been waiting for an opportunity to showcase his rebuilt knee. During his five games, Ballard has caught just two passes for 44 yards and has been used – when he does play – in primarily a blocking role.

Without Housler, however, the tight end passing game won’t be as potent. Housler had the speed and athleticism to spread the field off the line. And while Jim Dray is more of a short-pass option, Ballard does have some speed to get away from defenders. His 29-yard catch against Indianapolis showcased how well his knee, which he blew out in Super Bowl XLVI and missed all of last season because of, has recovered.

Jags stop the run, but not much else

November, 17, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has said for a while that it would be pretty simple to fix the Jaguars’ porous rush defense.

Everyone just needed to do their job. Stay in their assigned gap. Quit freelancing. Just do what you’re supposed to do on each play.

Turns out he was correct.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
AP Photo/Stephen MortonGus Bradley and the Jaguars held the Cardinals to 14 rushing yards on Sunday, but were burned for several big plays through the air.
The Jaguars held Arizona to just 14 yards on the ground in a 27-14 loss at EverBank Field. That’s the second-lowest single-game total in franchise history, behind only the 10 yards the Jaguars yielded to Kansas City in 2007.

It also is pretty much the only positive thing you can say about the defense on Sunday.

Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns, including a 91-yarder to Michael Floyd in which three players missed a tackle, and the Cardinals controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes. But the defensive front -- which was without middle linebacker and leading tackler Paul Posluszny (concussion) -- showed up.

"Just like I’ve been saying the whole year, every time we’ve had runs get out on us, we have a guy out of a gap," Marks said. "Our thing was after the bye we had to hold everybody accountable. We’ve been doing it ever since we came off the bye week. We’ve got guys in the right gaps, and everybody is where they’re supposed to be.

"Everybody’s been accountable, and when you do that you tend to stop the run."

Rashard Mendenhall gained 14 yards on 13 carries. One of which was a 5-yard touchdown run, which means he managed just nine yards on his other 12 carries. Andre Ellington, a speedy breakaway threat, managed just 3 yards on eight carries. The Jaguars entered the game giving up an average of 153.0 yards per game rushing.

"We were aware of the run game, and we did not want that to get going," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We did a good job attacking the run and controlling Ellington."

The defense certainly felt the loss of Posluszny, who is by far the team’s best defensive player. He has two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Posluszny didn’t practice all week, and was finally ruled out on Saturday morning. Russell Allen, who normally starts at outside linebacker, filled in and made seven tackles, but failed to deliver a big play.

Actually, he made one but it didn’t count. He stepped in front of Palmer’s pass to Larry Fitzgerald inside the Jacksonville 20-yard line in the third quarter, but officials announced that the Cardinals had called timeout before the snap.

"I think you grow to appreciate Poz and what he’s all about, but for Russell to step in and manage the defense like he did ... then he had the interception that would have helped out," Bradley said. "He did a nice job managing the defense. If he got more reps [during the week] we would see even better."

The Jaguars were certainly better against the run than in stopping Palmer, Fitzgerald, Floyd, and whichever tight end happened to be in the game at the time. Floyd caught six passes for 193 yards, including a 91-yard catch-and-run in which Allen, safety Josh Evans, and cornerback Will Blackmon missed tackles.

Fitzgerald caught a modest six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown, but tight ends Jim Dray, Jake Ballard and Rob Housler combined to catch nine passes for 117 yards -- continuing the trend of tight ends taking advantage of the Jaguars’ rookie safeties (Evans and Johnathan Cyprien).

Things could have been even worse had cornerback Alan Ball not broken up four passes in the first half.

The Tennessee Titans had similar trouble on the ground (83 yards) and success through the air (288 yards, two TDs) last week. The biggest difference is the Jaguars forced the Titans into four turnovers. They didn’t get any against the Cardinals.

"We feel good about how we played against the run, and we felt like it was something we were going to be able to do going in, but unfortunately we gave up too many big plays in the passing game," Allen said. "Any time we can give our offense a short field it’s important, giving them an opportunity to put points on the board. Getting some breaks ... would have helped a lot."

Monkey finally off Rob Housler's back

November, 10, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rob Housler doesn’t like to plan his touchdown celebrations, but he had this one in mind.

Midway through his third season, the Arizona Cardinals tight end had yet to find the end zone, and this year, especially, he’s been hearing about it. When coach Bruce Arians was hired in January, he introduced a pass-happy offense that would feature the tight ends. This was the season Housler was expected to break through, but an ankle injury in preseason forced him out of the Cardinals’ first two games and slowed his progress.

Housler underperformed all season, until Sunday. He broke out in the Cardinals’ 27-24 win against the Houston Texans with a season-high 57 yards and his first career touchdown. After initially lining up as a fullback, then breaking out to the left side of the line, Housler was thrown a screen and took it 12 yards for a score.

That’s when he broke out the celebration. He viciously ripped the proverbial monkey off his back as his teammates mobbed him.

“I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble by asking them to get involved, so I was just like, ‘I’m going to take this monkey off myself,'" Housler said.

With the monkey now gone, Housler can be another option for quarterback Carson Palmer in an offense that’s starting to finally find its personality. When Housler was struggling, that facet of the offense was essentially erased. With him able to stretch the field, the Cardinals have more ways to benefit off the run.

And Arians thinks Sunday’s outing will benefit Housler.

“It should be a great confidence boost for him,” Arians said. “Carson was looking for him a number of times.”

Palmer had tried all season to get Housler involved, but something clicked Sunday. He wasn’t just catching passes, he was cutting back, getting extra yards.

With each catch, the burden of the past eight games seemed further in the distance. It wasn’t something Housler concerned himself with, it was just placed there by other sources. But none of that matters now. The burden and the monkey are gone.

“You try not to think about it, but it does weigh on you a little bit,” Housler said. “It’s just something we take in stride, because whatever you do to distract yourself, you’re not focused on your job.

“You hold yourself to a standard but you don’t really let it bother you. I think a lot of the external pressure’s off me, but it never really bothered me in the first place.”

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

November, 10, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 27-24 win against the Houston Texans.

What it means: There's still work to do, but the Cardinals seem to have found an offensive rhythm. Sunday's win against the Texans showed two things: a running game does wonders for an offense and the Cardinals can come back. Everyone knows how good the defense is, and while it produced a touchdown on Sunday, the offense finally came into its own. The Falcons' win could've been considered a fluke, but the Cardinals' win over the Texans showed this offense can win games, unlike in the first seven. A few tweaks, such as on third down and red zone -- the two areas that plagued Arizona all season -- could make this a fully-operational, and highly dangerous, team down the stretch.

Stock Watch: Rob Housler finally broke out of his slump with a 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and finished with 57 yards receiving. His return signifies the addition of another playmaker on offense, rounding out a tight-end unit that benefited from the addition of Jake Ballard. Housler's role may increase if Michael Floyd's shoulder injury ends up being serious. Throughout the game, Housler seemed to become more comfortable, shedding the burden that followed him because he wasn't living up to expectations.

He's still got it: The Cardinals' defense played well before John Abraham became an every-down linebacker but they've flourished with him playing the majority of the snaps. His two sacks against the Texans showed it. The sack on the first play of the game, in which he stripped Houston quarterback Case Keenum led to Cards linebacker Matt Shaughnessy scooping and scoring. Sunday was Abraham's 30th multi-sack game of his career.

Up and running: At first, it didn't look like the Cardinals learned a lesson from their win over the Falcons, but as the game progressed coach Bruce Arians went to the running game more, even lining rookie running back Andre Ellington at quarterback for three straight plays. Having a running game has opened the passing attack for the Cardinals, proved by wins against Atlanta and Houston.

What's next: The Cardinals travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars at 11 a.m. MT on Sunday at EverBank Field.
Andre Johnson and Calais CampbellGetty ImagesAndre Johnson and the Texans visit Calais Campbell's Cardinals without head coach Gary Kubiak.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Emotions will be at a peak for the Houston Texans when they make a midseason trip to the desert Sunday. They will be without head coach Gary Kubiak, who will be at home recovering from a mini-stroke, but Houston brings the league's top-ranked defense to Arizona in hopes of ending a six-game losing streak.

Awaiting the Texans will be a team with confidence. The Cardinals come off the bye week healthy and rested, having played only one game in 24 days when kickoff arrives. That'll either be a blessing or their demise, as the rust may have set in. Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss Sunday's matchup.

Weinfuss: What kind of impact will Kubiak's health issue have on the Texans this week and on Sunday?

Ganguli: It was a chaotic, confusing and scary halftime for the Texans when Kubiak collapsed as he left the field Sunday. Kubiak is well liked by his coaches and players, so they'll miss him, but knowing he will make a full recovery will help the team emotionally. On the football side, the biggest change will be on offense. He's handing off offensive play-calling duties to coordinator Rick Dennison, who called the second half from the press box against the Colts. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips takes over as the overall decision-maker. They've tried to let their head coach rest, but they can't keep him from thinking about the team. He calls to check in a fair amount.

Can you give me one player who has been a pleasant surprise and another who has been an unpleasant one for the Cardinals this year?

Weinfuss: It might seem obvious but Tyrann Mathieu has been a pleasant surprise to a lot of people. He not only has earned playing time by making game-changing plays, but he recently has become a starter. I think the Cardinals expected Mathieu to be good eventually, but the fact that he has come on so quickly has been a pleasant surprise for everyone. As for the flip side, tight end Rob Housler has been an unpleasant surprise. After finishing strong last season, Housler's progress was hampered by a severely sprained ankle during training camp. It caused him to miss the first two weeks of the season and he hasn't returned to last season's form.

Does Case Keenum have what it takes to right the ship for the rest of the season?

Ganguli: Keenum is still learning a lot about being a quarterback. Phillips noted Wednesday that it's important for the team to not try to do too much with a young quarterback. He's learning how to read defenses and learning what chances to take and not take. I was always of the minority opinion that the quarterback situation was only part of the problem for the Texans rather than the whole problem. They're still having issues on special teams and defense that they had with Schaub.

It has been a frustrating season for Andre Johnson but he has been part of a lot of bad teams and doesn't complain. Larry Fitzgerald is another elite receiver who has seen some lean years, though he does have a Super Bowl berth while Johnson doesn't. Has Fitzgerald ever shown frustration with his team's situation, or is he also a guy who keeps that to himself?

Weinfuss: Larry Fitzgerald isn't the type of person to air his dirty laundry no matter how bad it gets, such as last season when he caught passes from four quarterbacks. There's no doubt he has been frustrated, especially during the past few seasons when his production has decreased. But Fitzgerald has kept his opinions to himself and I don't see him venting in the locker room. Fitzgerald has been the prototypical team player. He doesn't bash anyone and keeps talking about trying to improve and getting back to the playoffs, even making a run to the Super Bowl again.

Speaking of the playoffs, what do the Texans have to do during the final eight games to make a run to the postseason?

Ganguli: They have to be able to finish and put together a complete game. They've got to stop committing costly penalties. The most recent example was a hold on the return after the Colts' final punt lost them critical yards on a drive that ended with a failed 55-yard field-goal attempt. And speaking of that, kicker Randy Bullock has to improve. Being 2-6 means the margin for error is tiny. The Texans have shown the ability to dominate good teams in spurts (they had double-digit leads over the Seahawks and the Colts and played the 9-0 Chiefs close). But spurts won't get them there.

How do you explain the discrepancy between the Cardinals' road and home records?

Weinfuss: Like a lot of teams, the Cardinals are simply more comfortable at home. Their routines are set, they know what's coming, they know their surroundings. And University of Phoenix Stadium is also a tough place to play because of the noise levels, which the Cards have become accustomed to. Some might scoff at the notion of a true home-field advantage, but the Cardinals have one. As for why they can't win on the road, if I had that answer, I'd be making a lot more money.

Source: TE Ballard tried out for Cards

October, 21, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. – Free agent tight end Jake Ballard was in Arizona for a tryout last week, according to an NFL source.

The Arizona Cardinals didn’t sign the three-year pro because of concerns about his ability to endure the rest of the season.

Ballard tore his ACL while playing in Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants and missed all of last season as a member of the New England Patriots. Ballard was cut after training camp.

Ballard’s addition would have given the Cardinals another option as a featured tight end, most likely moving Rob Housler to the secondary role. In his rookie season, Ballard had 604 yards. Heading into this season, Housler had 618.

Coaches have been waiting for Housler to live up to the expectations levied on him during the offseason, when head coach Bruce Arians talked about the tight ends being a primary piece of his offense. But Housler has struggled with his timing and getting on the same page as quarterback Carson Palmer. However, Housler, who missed the first two games of the season with an ankle injury, made strides Thursday against Seattle with seven catches for 53 yards.

If the Cardinals had signed Ballard, it’s likely Jim Dray would have been relegated to the bench.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 7

October, 18, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Passing by: When the Cardinals did find opportunities to throw the ball Thursday, their options included two familiar faces. Tight end Rob Housler caught all seven of his targets for 53 yards. And after starting the game with three quick catches, Andre Roberts wasn’t targeted again until the second half, but he finished with five catches for 33 yards. In all, quarterback Carson Palmer completed passes to nine receivers including cornerback Patrick Peterson. Michael Floyd had a team-high 71 yards on six receptions.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham and Russell Wilson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsVeteran LB John Abraham's playing time and productivity have recently picked up for the Cardinals.
Sack sighting: As if the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t good enough already, another dimension came to life Thursday night. Linebacker John Abraham got his first two sacks of the season. He came into this season as the NFL’s active sack leader with 122. With Abraham finding a groove from the outside, the Cardinals now have another way to get to the quarterback. And with the middle being plugged by Dan Williams and Alameda Ta’amu, having Abraham off the edge could continue to create problems for offenses. Abraham was pleased with his performance, especially since his two sacks caused fumbles (one recovered by the Cardinals), but losing put a damper on his two-sack day.

Not a sack party: In one game, the Cardinals increased their sacks-allowed by more than 50 percent. They entered Thursday allowing 13, but four in the last three games, a steady improvement from the nine allowed in the first three. But against Seattle, Arizona gave up seven, giving them 20 for the season. After seven games last season, the Cardinals had given up 28 sacks. Eight Seahawks accounted for the sacks. Seattle had 16 heading into Thursday night.

Wake-up call: The Cardinals’ defense didn’t seem to wake up until early in the second quarter when it forced the Seahawks into a turnover on downs after stopping them at the Arizona 43-yard line on fourth-and-1. Then it was like the Cardinals’ alarm clock went off. On Seattle’s next possession, Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy strip-sacked Russell Wilson and Cards defensive end Calais Campbell recovered. Arizona continued to rub the sleep out of its eyes with another strip-sack of Wilson but the Seahawks recovered the fumble. The pressure the Cards’ defense applied kept the offense in the game. Twice the defense set the Cardinals’ offense up in prime position to score: once at the Seattle 3-yard line after Shaughnessy's strip-sack and the other at the Seattle 15 after Abraham’s strip-sack.
Patrick Peterson and Mike WilliamsGetty ImagesMike Williams will be called on to help jump-start Tampa Bay's offense, while Patrick Peterson will be charged with helping to keep him in check.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only NFL team practicing in the Tampa Bay area this week.

The Arizona Cardinals are practicing at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as they get ready for Sunday’s game.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas talk about Sunday’s game.

Yasinskas: Josh, I know IMG has great facilities. The Buccaneers used them during the lockout, and the Carolina Panthers worked out there last year to avoid the congestion from the Democratic National Convention before playing the Bucs. But why did the Cardinals elect to come east early?

Weinfuss: Having just adjusted to the two-hour time difference in New Orleans, Bruce Arians didn’t want his players’ bodies to get totally out of whack going back to Pacific time (technically, Arizona is on Mountain time, but the state doesn’t change its clocks when the rest of the country does) and then five days later fly cross-country to the East Coast, another three hours ahead. I’m tired from thinking about it. This way, the Cardinals can adjust their body clocks to playing what would be a 10 a.m. home game in Arizona. We’ll see whether it works. There’s a pretty significant contingent inside the locker room that's not a fan of this, but those players might be after they realize what their bodies would have gone through. And then there’s playing in the Florida humidity, which takes more than a day or two to adapt to. In Arizona, it’s a dry heat (yeah, I know, everyone doubts it, but it really is), and the Cards neither practice nor play outside, so the added time in the elements could help.

Speaking of elements, is the Bucs' locker room in as much disarray right now as the perception makes people believe?

Yasinskas: It might be in even more disarray than people realize. Wednesday's news that the Bucs are benching quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon was just more evidence of how much dysfunction is going on with this team. Freeman and coach Greg Schiano never were firmly on the same page, and Freeman's fate was sealed the moment Schiano used a third-round draft pick on Glennon in April. But the fact that Schiano now is going with "his guy" isn't going to instantly solve all the problems. Freeman is a popular figure in the locker room, and some teammates might not agree with his benching. There also have been multiple reports about players not liking Schiano's militaristic style. The Bucs have denied those reports, but I think there's something to them. I believe that where there's smoke, there's fire.

Speaking of coaching styles, it’s early in the Arians era, but what is his persona and how has he been received by the players?

Weinfuss: He’s a no-nonsense type of guy, and the players love it. Well, maybe they loved it. Having a lackluster offense and starting 1-2 wasn’t what this team projected out of Arians. There haven’t been any signs of the players losing faith in their coach. They all raved about him during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp. The players appreciated his candidness with them. If they ever want to know where they stand, he’ll tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Whether they like it or not.

He has been there for only three games, but is the Darrelle Revis acquisition working out and how has he changed the Bucs' defense?

Yasinskas: Revis has been everything the Bucs hoped for. They brought him in to fix a defense that led the league in passing yards allowed last season, and the early results have been good. Revis is the kind of player who makes those around him better, and his arrival really has helped strong safety Mark Barron. I’d imagine the Bucs will put Revis on Larry Fitzgerald for most -- or all -- of this game.

If Revis can neutralize Fitzgerald, do the Cardinals have enough other offensive weapons to win?

Weinfuss: That’s the $10,000 question. The short answer is yes, they do. The long answer is only if the other weapons -- most notably receivers Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts -- are not double-teamed. If they are and Revis can shut down Fitzgerald, it could be a long day for Arizona’s offense. But Arians is a smart enough offensive mind, so I’m sure he has accounted for this. Expect tight end Rob Housler to play an integral role Sunday, and look for the Cardinals’ stable of running backs -- Rashard Mendenhall, Alfonso Smith, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor -- to come out of the backfield for passes and to create mismatches.

Aside from Revis, how has the rest of Tampa Bay’s defense looked?

Yasinskas: The defense has been a bright spot for Tampa Bay. In addition to the secondary, linebackers Mason Foster and Lavonte David, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are off to very good starts. But the Patriots were able to run the ball against the Bucs, and Tampa Bay had trouble with the tight ends against the Jets and the Saints. The Bucs could be susceptible if Arizona can get some production from the running game or its tight ends.

QB Watch: Cardinals’ Carson Palmer

September, 25, 2013
A weekly analysis of the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback play:

Rewind: This wasn’t the type of game the Cardinals had in mind when they traded for Carson Palmer. He started 4-for-5 on the opening drive, leading Arizona to a touchdown that quieted the Superdome. Then he went 10-for-23 on the next eight drives, all of which resulted in punts as the Saints outscored the Cardinals 31-0. But it was a slow decline. Palmer began that stretch 5-for-6 and then tailed off.

So I was wrong. Brutally wrong. I predicted Palmer would throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with 187 yards, and the Cardinals’ 247 total yards were less than Palmer’s individual marks the first two games.

Fast-forward: Palmer will have to decide whether it’s worth throwing to Larry Fitzgerald with Bucs CB Darrelle Revis on him all game. Chances are Revis will be in single coverage, which Fitz enjoys because of his fundamental route running. That also allows the Bucs to double-cover Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. Look for TE Rob Housler to break out.

Shake, rattle and roll: Palmer looked rattled after getting hit a few times against the Saints. His demeanor changed, and he appeared to rush his passes and decisions a little. But when he’s given time, Palmer is very accurate and can pinpoint his throws. The key, however, is him staying off the ground, which isn’t in his control every play. But when he’s hit a few times, Palmer turns into a different quarterback.

Prediction: These are getting harder because of the play of the offensive line. If Palmer stays upright, he can get back on track with 200 yards or more and two touchdowns. If he’s hit, we might see another performance like the one against New Orleans.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald returned to the practice field Friday but is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in New Orleans.

Larry Fitzgerald
Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians confirmed Fitzgerald’s participation in practice and then evaluated his star receiver.

“Looked fine,” Arians said. “Looked good.”

Fitzgerald was limited again but went through drills and ran routes at full speed during the open portion of Cardinals’ practice. He tweaked his left hamstring during practice on Sept. 11, and then left Sunday’s game against Detroit late in the third quarter.

In other injury news…

RB Rashard Mendenhall (toe) is also questionable. Arians said Mendenhall hurt his toe against Detroit. The coach said it’s not quite turf toe but “it’s damn close.” LB Kevin Minter (hamstring) will not play Sunday. TE Rob Housler (ankle), LB Lorenzo Alexander (biceps) and DE Ronald Talley (wrist) all practiced and are listed as probable.

Cards welcome Housler with open arms

September, 20, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tight end Rob Housler returned to Arizona Cardinals' practice this week, and not a moment too soon.

With Larry Fitzgerald’s hamstring still on the mend, Housler could help replace the threat Fitzgerald provides. At the least, Housler will be the Cardinals’ third option in the passing game, behind Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. And at the most, he’ll give the Cardinals another option in short-yardage situations while the receivers clear out the safeties.

[+] EnlargeRob Housler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRob Housler's return should mean good things for the Cardinals' tight-end-friendly offense.
“We definitely missed him these first two weeks,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It’s just great getting that explosiveness back on the field.”

This was supposed to be a breakout year for Housler, who suffered a severe high right ankle sprain in the Cardinals’ third preseason game on Aug. 24. Under new coach Bruce Arians, Housler has become a deft blocker and adopted an increased role in the offense.

Arians loves using tight ends -- the depth chart has two starters, Housler and Jim Dray -- but in Housler’s absence the Cardinals went with three receivers, Fitzgerald, Floyd and Roberts. Although Housler has been listed as limited on the injury report this week, if he starts, it’ll likely be Roberts who will drop out of the starting lineup.

Then the Cardinals can use the package built around Housler, who participated in his first regular-season practice Wednesday.

“He had a great camp and it was a shame, because we obviously had a lot of stuff for him,” Arians said. “Hopefully we can see a good week of practice. It’s one thing running -- he can run -- it’s another thing pushing against big bodies with those ankles.

“You never know how that’s going to turn out. I’m anxious to see him on the field, and I think he’s anxious to get out there.”

Housler was also apprehensive about how his ankle would hold up through cutting, changing direction and mid-play adjustments. He’s been frustrated throughout the past month because it was his first major ankle injury. He didn’t know how long any part of it would last – the swelling, the rehab, the reconditioning.

“I was a little surprised,” Housler said. “I hadn’t really dealt with too many major ankle problems, so kinda playing this one by ear is exactly what I did. It’s unfortunate I missed this much time because I’m dying to get back out there. Just had to go with how I felt.”

Housler refused to look ahead to Sunday. That’s what Arians teaches his players. Housler had to get through a full practice on the ankle, then he had to focus on how it’d recover. There's a lot that needs to happen before the game at New Orleans.

His coaches and teammates, however, are ready to see him out there.

“If you’re going to play your base defense on us, it’s going to be a matchup problem,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, Rob is one of the fastest tight ends in the game. He creates tremendous matchup issues up the seams, so having that added dimension is only going to make us stronger.

“I’m really happy to have him back, and I know Carson is and the rest of the guys on offense.”

Expect the Cardinals to try to maximize the matchup problems Housler presents because of his speed. He can stretch the field like most receivers, but his position on the line usually means a linebacker will be the first to defend him.

And even though he’s not the one calling plays, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin likes those odds.

“They got to match up versus him,” Goodwin said. “He’s a tight end with speed – wide-receiver-type speed. So defensively they have to do something. If they don’t, he’s going to have a huge day. We’re just happy to have him back.”