NFL Nation: William Powell

Three things to watch for Friday night in the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field (8 p.m. ET):

1. Palmer's debut. Carson Palmer's addition via trade stands as the most significant offseason move in the NFC West. It's not that Palmer was the best player acquired this offseason. Rather, he stands to make the greatest impact through the nature of his position and because the Cardinals have been so bad at quarterback recently. Arizona posted by far the lowest Total QBR score (26.8) and NFL passer rating (65.7) over the past three seasons. So, while we're not going to obsess over how Palmer looks in his Cardinals debut, some level of competency would be reassuring for Arizona. How he connects with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler is of particular interest.

2. Mathieu and the DBs. The Cardinals are building their secondary around Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and 2013 third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu, who figures to play a safety/corner role this season. Peterson has already demonstrated extreme playmaking ability. The Cardinals think Mathieu can also make impact plays with flair. Mathieu's debut carries considerable interest as he starts fresh following a tumultuous run at LSU. Will he stand out right away? Peterson, meanwhile, has been getting reps at wide receiver. It's unclear whether the team will try him in that capacity against Green Bay.

3. Running back picture. Coach Bruce Arians is betting on Rashard Mendenhall reemerging as an every-down back. Mendenhall is scheduled to start against the Packers, and he's a heavy favorite to be the starter this season. Backups Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington are injured and not expected to play. That could lead to additional playing time for Alfonso Smith and rookie Stepfan Taylor. Can one or both of them allay depth concerns at the position? The Cardinals need to be healthier across the board this season, but particularly at halfback, where the team used four starters last season (Beanie Wells 7, LaRod Stephens-Howling 5, Williams 3 and William Powell 1).

Closer look at Wells and NFC West RBs

February, 22, 2013
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At his best, Beanie Wells can be a big, physical runner with a wicked stiff arm and a strong nose for the end zone.

Wells was not at his best last season.

The Arizona Cardinals' running back had 88 carries for 234 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He was on the field for 152 snaps, a career low and down from 583 in 2011, when Wells rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns.



"I think Beanie had a tough stretch this year because of the injuries," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told reporters from the NFL scouting combine. "He showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness late in the year when he was able to. He's had some injuries, so he had a difficult time with his cut ability and his lateral movement, but Beanie is still a big horse who can finish runs and create yardage after contact, which is something that excites us."

That last comment ran counter to my perception of Wells last season.

Of the 74 backs with at least 200 yards rushing last season, Wells ranked 73rd in yards after contact per rushing attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wells was at 1.12 yards per carry after contact. Only New Orleans scat back Darren Sproles had a lower average (1.0) among those 74 players. The average for those 74 players was 1.7. Adrian Peterson was at 2.9.

Keim was alluding more to the ability Wells has shown in the past, when he was healthier. Wells averaged 2.2 yards per carry after contact in 2011. The average was 1.9 in 2010 and 2.1 as a rookie first-round choice in 2009.

Wells is scheduled to earn $1.4 million in base salary for 2013, the final year of his contract. The comments from Keim made it sound like the team was leaning toward sticking with Wells for another season, but that could change depending upon what happens in free agency and the draft. The team has envisioned fielding a strong one-two punch in the backfield with Wells and 2011 second-round choice Ryan Williams, but injuries have intervened. Williams has missed 29 of 32 games.

"I saw Ryan in our weight room the other day and he's doing fantastic," Keim said. "He's a guy that, watching film with Bruce (Arians), because he got injured early in the season, you forgot the type of run skills Ryan had. We watched him against Philadelphia, we watched him against New England, his lateral quickness, his natural run skills, his avoidability is something he brings to the table. Plus, he's a three-down back. We're expecting big things out of Ryan moving forward."

Wrap-up: Falcons 23, Cardinals 19

November, 18, 2012
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-19 defeat against the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday:

What it means: The Cardinals have now lost six consecutive games following a 4-0 start. This game was a bit like their season. Arizona started quickly thanks to a strong defense, but quarterback issues dragged them down over time. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized accountability during the bye week. He backed it up by benching quarterback John Skelton while the Cardinals held a 13-3 lead. Skelton missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone as the Cardinals failed to fully capitalize on three first-quarter interceptions off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The fact that Arizona picked off five passes and still lost highlighted the team's glaring issues at quarterback.

What I liked: The defense was fantastic and did enough to win this game with only average play from the quarterback position. Defensive end Darnell Dockett was disruptive. He batted one pass to set up an interception. He blew up running plays. The bye week seemed to restore Dockett's health and productivity. William Gay, Kerry Rhodes and Greg Toler had first-quarter interceptions. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington added a fourth pick in the second half. Sam Acho produced a fifth, collecting a pass that bounced off teammate Dan Williams' helmet as Williams leaped to defend the pass. LaRod Stephens-Howling gained 127 yards on 22 rushes. He had 52- and 40-yard runs in the half. The 52-yarder featured a jump cut for the ages. William Powell had a 65-yard kickoff return. Punter Dave Zastudil and the coverage units positively affected field position as the Cardinals jumped to their early lead. Toler made an outstanding effort at throwing a loose ball back inbounds so Arizona could recover for a turnover.

What I didn't like: The quarterback play was horrendous by NFL standards. Skelton had completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards when the Cardinals benched him. Rookie Ryan Lindley completed 2 of 7 passes for 18 yards on his first seven attempts. He completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards (3.2 per attempt) overall. The Cardinals ran the ball well and have talent at wide receiver. They needed more production from their passing game under the circumstances. The offense wasn't alert enough when the Falcons picked up a loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. The whistle had never blown. Arizona gave away free points on that play. Washington, though outstanding this season, committed a 15-yard penalty after the Cardinals stopped the Falcons on third-and-15. The Cardinals, after holding firm defensively much of the day, gave up a quick touchdown drive to lose the lead late. Fitzgerald could not finish a fourth-and-2 reception in Falcons territory as the team made its final push to retake the lead.

Notable: Minus the one game he had missed to injury, veteran safety Adrian Wilson had played a higher percentage of defensive snaps than any Cardinal other than cornerback Patrick Peterson. Wilson wasn't on the field early in the game. His snaps were down overall. Was this one of the switches Whisenhunt had alluded to when he said during the bye that changes would be made? The quick hook for Skelton had to be one. Also, the Cardinals went away from rookie receiver Michael Floyd after he appeared to line up incorrectly, leading to a turnover.

Coaching gaffe: Falcons coach Mike Smith threw his challenge flag before officials initiated a mandatory review following the third-quarter turnover Toler helped to force. Smith's challenge was in violation of the rules. And because he threw the flag before booth officials initiated their review, the play became unreviewable. The Cardinals took over possession, short-circuiting a Falcons drive deep in Cardinals territory. Everyone makes mistakes, but coaches earning millions should know basic rules regarding challenges.

Key injury: Peterson suffered a hamstring injury, apparently in the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the Rams in Week 12.

Wrap-up: Packers 31, Cardinals 17

November, 4, 2012
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 31-17 defeat to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 9:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 4-5 with their fifth consecutive defeat. The slope appears to get more slippery following a Week 10 bye. The team visits the Atlanta Falcons to kick off a four-game stretch featuring three road games. Running back Beanie Wells is expected to return Nov. 25, but the Cardinals' troubles go beyond one player. Even their defense is sagging. Arizona has allowed 17, 19, 21, 24 and 31 points during its slide.

What I liked: Arizona's defense held the Packers to a three-and-out and missed field goal after Green Bay opened its first possession from the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett shared a sack to set back the Packers on that drive. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald's diving effort to cap his 31-yard scoring reception gave Arizona life in the second half. Andre Roberts had a 40-yard reception, Michael Floyd had a 37-yarder and Rob Housler had a 22-yarder. The Cardinals downed four of Dave Zastudil's punts inside the Green Bay 20-yard line. The coaching staff gave rookie Nate Potter a chance at left tackle. Potter had issues, but this was a good time to give him reps. Quarterback John Skelton took only two sacks, a low number for Arizona.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals gave up four touchdown passes to Aaron Rodgers, including two to Randall Cobb. And when Tom Crabtree slipped behind inside linebacker Paris Lenon for a 72-yard scoring grab in the second half, the Cardinals were pretty much finished. The Arizona ground game continued to struggle without Wells and Ryan Williams. LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell found little room to run. Early Doucet continued to struggle with dropped passes. The two he dropped gave him six drops for the season, twice his total for 2011. Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield suffered an injured ankle. Patrick Peterson averaged only 4.8 yards per punt return. He has zero returns for touchdowns after getting four as a rookie in 2011. The Cardinals, meanwhile, allowed a 28-yard return and 15.3-yard average to Cobb.

What's next: The Cardinals have a bye before visiting the Falcons in Week 11.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 12, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

All about third down. The San Francisco 49ers offense took considerable criticism after converting just once on 13 third-down plays against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers defense deserves some third-down scrutiny heading into the rematch at Candlestick Park. The 2011 49ers held the Giants to 4.6 yards per play with no touchdowns on first and second downs during the teams' regular-season game last season. Everything changed on third down. The Giants averaged 8.8 yards per third-down play against the 49ers. They gained 127 yards and scored two touchdowns on 10 third-down pass attempts against the 49ers' nickel defense, without taking a sack. The 49ers were much better getting third-down pressure in the playoff rematch, but the Giants still averaged 7.2 yards per pass attempt with seven first downs on third-down plays against the 49ers' nickel defense.

Letting Welker catch it. The Seahawks' matchup against Patriots receiver Wes Welker will be a difficult one. The key, coach Pete Carroll has said, will be for Seattle to limit the damage once Welker inevitably gets the ball in his hands. This is probably an underrated aspect of the Seahawks' league-leading defense. Seattle is allowing 4.09 yards after the catch per reception. That ranks second in the NFL behind Minnesota (3.9) and just ahead of Green Bay (4.12). The figure for Seattle was 4.9 last season and 5.8 in 2010. Welker averages 6.4 YAC/reception, a significant figure given how many passes he catches (NFL-high 30 over the last three games, with 6.5 YAC/reception on those catches). The Seahawks have allowed 3.6 YAC/reception against wide receivers lined up in the slot, where Welker lines up most of the time. That figure ranks 12th in the NFL (the range is 1.9 to 8.1, with 4.5 as average).

[+] EnlargeLaRod Stephens-Howling
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireLaRod Stephens-Howling may now get more carries in Arizona with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams injured.
Behold the Hyphen. LaRod Stephens-Howling's return from a hip injury comes at the right time for Arizona. Fellow running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are out. Stephens-Howling has been a utility player for Arizona, not an every-down back, because he lacks the size needed to run on early downs, week after week. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and that could mean leaning on Stephens-Howling a little more regularly. The 5-foot-7, 180-pounder set career highs with 21 carries and 92 yards during a victory over Seattle in Week 17 last season. Four of his longest runs that day -- 39, 8, 8 and 7 yards -- came on first down with no more than two wide receivers on the field. Can Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith help the NFL's worst rushing offense (2.7 yards per carry) exploit Buffalo's league-worst rushing defense (5.7 yards per carry allowed)?

First-and-Long. The Miami Dolphins made left tackle Jake Long the first player chosen in the 2008 NFL draft. The St. Louis Rams took defensive end Chris Long with the second pick. Both players will be on the field at the same time when the Rams visit the Dolphins, but they'll be matching up against younger players. Jake Long faces 2011 Rams first-rounder Robert Quinn, who is coming off a three-sack game and has already exceeded his total for last season. Chris Long faces Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin, a second-round choice this year. Both Longs should like their chances in these matchups. If Quinn's speed can factor in the pass rush, perhaps St. Louis can force Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into mistakes.

Readying the stat sheet. Last week, the 49ers had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers for the first time since 1961. Meanwhile, the Giants became the first NFL team since 1960 to have one player rush for at least 200 yards (Ahmad Bradshaw) while another player caught three touchdown passes (Victor Cruz). There is more. The 49ers have won each of their last two games by 30-plus points, the first time since 1961 they've accomplished the feat (they have never done it three games in a row). The Giants have set a franchise record for any four-game stretch with 1,877 yards against Tampa Bay, Carolina, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

Marshawn Lynch active for Seahawks

September, 9, 2012
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Seattle Seahawks will have running back Marshawn Lynch for their regular-season opener despite back spasms that limited him in practice recently.

Lynch is active for the game. Seattle named the following players inactive: Kregg Lumpkin, Byron Maxwell, John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Golden Tate, Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs.

Moffitt was the starting right guard early in camp, but rookie J.R. Sweezy took over the job. Lemuel Jeanpierre is the primary backup at the interior offensive line spots. He started some last season.

Arizona named cornerback Greg Toler inactive. Others: Ryan Lindley, LaRon Byrd, William Powell, Jamaal Westerman, Senio Kelemete and Pat McQuistan.

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

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

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

3. Cornerback competition. William Gay started opposite left cornerback Patrick Peterson, as expected. Michael Adams was the nickel corner with the starting group. Tackling was a problem for the defense overall, including at corner. Gay missed one tackle on running back Mark Ingram early. Adams was the left corner and A.J. Jefferson the right corner with the second unit. Greg Toler also worked with the second unit. He missed a tackle in the third quarter. Teams aren't getting as much contact work in training camps under the current labor deal. That makes it tougher to simulate timing and work on the fundamentals of tackling. Saints quarterback Drew Brees played little, so the Cardinals' secondary didn't get an extended look against top competition. Update: Whisenhunt liked the way his corners played the ball. He thought they were physical. He thought the Cardinals needed to do a better job tackling on check-down plays.
The Arizona Cardinals released their list of undrafted free agents heading into 2011 camp.

A few notes:
  • The Cardinals have agreed to terms with four offensive tackles, a high number. Seven of the 21 rookies are offensive linemen. Every NFL team but Arizona and Tennessee has drafted an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since 2008. The Cardinals and Titans have Hall of Fame offensive linemen in high-ranking coaching roles. They trust their coaches to get the most from their linemen. But with center Lyle Sendlein and guard Deuce Lutui unsigned, the Cardinals needed depth. Even if Sendlein or Lutui signed, neither could practice before Aug. 4.
  • The Cardinals signed quarterback John Skelton's brother, Stephen, a tight end from Fordham. They should have an instant rapport in practice, for sure.

I ran the Seattle Seahawks' list when the team made it available Tuesday. More of these to come.

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