Monthly Archives: November 2017

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TEMPE, Ariz. — There’s a lot Frostee Rucker misses about Calais Campbell.

There’s Campbell’s friendship, which was cultivated years before the two became teammates in 2013 and continues through group text messages as the two live their lives a country apart. There’s Campbell’s personality and spirit. There’s his presence on the field. But one of the things Rucker misses most about Campbell were his speeches.

“He likes to give speeches and I don’t,” Rucker said. “So he used to always want to give the speech and I don’t care to. That stuff. Not that it’s a problem, but I’d rather just play than have to, not say motivate guys, but have to give a rah-rah speech.

“He was very, very good at that, but that’s part of his passion for the game. He liked to be vocal, he liked to talk.”

When the Arizona Cardinals stopped pursuing Campbell in free agency earlier this year, Rucker’s role as a leader in the Cardinals locker room expanded. However, instead of Rucker giving Campbell’s old speech, it’s now inside linebacker Karlos Dansby in the middle of the huddle giving the pep talk.

When Campbell signed a four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars worth $60 million in March, he took his unique style of leadership and kind-hearted personality with him. But he’s letting his play do the talking for him with the Jaguars, who visit the Cardinals on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Campbell is tied for the league-lead with 11.5 sacks, leading Cardinals defensive tackle Josh Mauro to declare Campbell “probably one of the best players in football right now on either side of the ball.”

Campbell’s former teammates have enjoyed watching their good friend set a career-high in sacks while making the most money of his career, and they’re happy for him.

“He’s a beast,” Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “He’s always been a beast, now I think that it’s just a new market of people being able to see him.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians hasn’t seen much of Campbell this season but thinks Campbell is “playing really solid.”

“He’s got his sacks playing a lot of different positions,” Arians said. “He fits pretty well in that defense.”

Rucker credits the Jaguars’ usage of Campbell as one reason for Campbell’s blockbuster season at 31 years old.

“He’s playing phenomenal,” Rucker said. “He’s spending a lot of time playing outside and picking on tackles. I think he wanted to do that a bunch here and it was never possible just because of the way we ran our scheme. He got his wish and he’s delivering.”

Campbell’s former teammates don’t just follow him through his ever-increasing stat line. They watch his film and then pull up the group chat to share their thoughts, Rucker said. And Campbell does the same with them.

Even though Rucker and Peters still stay in touch with Campbell, they miss being around their friend.

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Campbell helped Peters adjust to Arizona after Peters signed with Arizona in 2015. Their friendship grew from there.

But watching a friend go to another team is part of doing business in the NFL. The Cardinals defensive line understands and accepts that.

“You don’t really have time to miss people in this business,” Mauro said. “You just move forward with the guys you have.”

It’s been hard for Rucker to not miss him.

“Just him being himself,” Rucker said. “You always miss their spirit, so to say. He was great in the community, great in the locker room. He was a great guy.”

When Campbell’s former teammates talked about him, the first thing they said wasn’t that he left with the second-most sacks in Cardinals history or that his size — 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds — made him one of the most unique players in the NFL.

The first words out of their mouths were about what kind of person Campbell was off the field.

“He came here and he did every single thing that they asked him to do and he left here with the respect of everyone in this locker room and should (get the respect of) everyone in this organization and everyone in this community,” Rucker said.

Said Mauro: “He was very vocal and brought really good energy to the group. But he also backed it up with his play on game day. He worked hard at practice. He didn’t miss a beat. He wasn’t a guy that took advantage of his status or role (or) his respect from people. He never took advantage of that. He always worked.
“As a former teammate and just as a person, all you can do is respect somebody like that. He definitely brought energy and just brought a really unique talent.”

However, it’s hard for his former teammates to forget what Campbell accomplished in between the lines.

“I would think he’ll be in the Ring of Honor here when his career is done,” Mauro said. “I know he was pretty young and wasn’t playing much defense when they went to a Super Bowl, so he experienced that. He was in the shadow of [former Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell] Dockett for a while and he made a name for himself after a while.

“He’ll definitely be one of the greats that played here.”

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TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals have been without David Johnson for three games this season. His absence is noticeable throughout the offense.

Arizona’s run game is one of the worst in the NFL. It’s red zone offense has been inefficient. Points have been hard to come by.

So where do the Cardinals miss Johnson the most?

“Where don’t we miss David?” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Nowhere in particular. Everywhere.

“From the week preparing to play against us when you’ve got to get your defensive guys in the mindset that you’ve got to stop him, to the passing game, the running game, red zone and third down. He was such a big part of our red zone package. He was the focus of our red zone package and such a big part of our third-down stuff. Not just third-and-2 to -3, but third-and-7 to -10 and third-and-4 to -6. He was such a big part of it. When you lose him, I can’t put my finger on one spot.”

What you need to know in the NFL

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• 2017 schedule, results
• Standings
With Johnson sidelined with a fractured wrist suffered in Week 1 at Detroit, the Cardinals have turned to an army of other players to fill Johnson’s role in various situations. Andre Ellington has seen an increase of routes out of the backfield, especially on third down. Chris Johnson has become Arizona’s bell cow.

“You take the best player off any team in the National Football League, offense and defense, it’s going to be an adjustment,” Larry Fitzgerald said.

Where does Arizona miss Johnson the most? Let’s take a look.

Running game

Johnson ran for 1,239 yards last season, the fifth-highest season total in franchise history and the seventh-most in the league in 2016. It’s fair to say his are large shoes to fill.

The Cardinals have run for 228 yards this season, which are the second-fewest in the NFL through Week 4. Their 2.65 yards per rush average is last in the league.

Through four games last season, Johnson had 300 yards and averaged 4.69 yards per carry.

“Being where we are in rushing in the league is unacceptable,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

With Johnson healthy last season, the Cardinals ran 96 times for 403 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games, with a long of 45. They had 234 yards before contact and 169 yards after contact, along with 21 first downs.

Through four games this year, including most of one with Johnson, Arizona has 86 carries for 228 yards and one touchdown with a long of 14. They have 129 yards before contact and 99 yards after contact, along with 13 first downs.

“The good thing about David being in the backfield is that even when the play’s not blocked completely right, he still gets yards,” tight end Troy Niklas said. “I think that’s where we’re missing him, if I can pinpoint something. When things don’t go right on the front of the line, we’re missing those yards, like yards after contact and stuff like that that he was able to get us.”

Goodwin said just the type of running back Johnson is could “bring more life to the offense.”

Red zone

The Cardinals have had few problems this season moving the ball between the 20s. It’s when they enter the red zone that Arizona can’t find ways to score.

The Cardinals have scored four touchdowns this season, the fourth-fewest in the league. They’re also ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, rushes, yards per rush and first downs. Last season, with Johnson, Arizona struggled with just completion percentage and yards per pass attempt in the first four games.
However, Arizona’s success in the run game last season carried over into the red zone.

This season, the Cardinals have rushed the ball just 11 times for 20 yards in the red zone for an average of 1.82 yards per carry and one touchdown. A year ago, with a healthy Johnson, Arizona had 22 carries for 57 yards, an average of 2.66 yards per carry and three touchdowns in the first four games.

Johnson was responsible for 13 carries for 27 yards in the red zone. He averaged 2.08 yards per carry and scored twice in the first four games of last season.

“He was just kind of a sure bet” in the red zone, Niklas said. “Just give him the ball, and whether it’s him running a route or him running it in, it’s a pretty sure bet there.”

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s not necessarily an Einstein-esque revelation, but the word is out: The Arizona Cardinals struggle mightily to run the ball against good defenses.

Thursday night was the case study.

The Seattle Seahawks stacked the box against Adrian Peterson, who was coming off a career-high 37 carries for 159 yards, and slowed him nearly to a halt with 21 carries for 29 yards — the fewest yards he’s ever had in a game with at least 20 carries. Peterson said he felt he got the runs he wanted in the Cardinals’ 22-16 loss, but when he found holes, Peterson ran into Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner more often than he wanted.

“Those [are] opportunities that I have to take more advantage of and beat the guy one-on-one to make something happen,” Peterson said.

It could’ve been a sign that Peterson was fatigued after having so many carries just four days earlier. Or it could’ve been a sign that the Cardinals have a hard time against strong front sevens.

Or it was both.

Peterson ran for 9 yards on 11 rushes against eight or more defenders in the box on Thursday night, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He ran for 105 yards on 25 carries against eight-man fronts against the 49ers.

The book on how to defend Peterson this season is being written. His last two games included his most and second-most runs against eight or more defenders in the box this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The difference is the talent level on those teams. Peterson ran through San Francisco’s defensive front with ease, but had only three runs of 5 yards or longer against the Seahawks.

Yo-Yo Adrian
The production of Adrian Peterson in his four games with the Cardinals:
DATE OPPONENT RUSHES YARDS AVG. LONG RESULT
10/15 Bucs 26 134 5.2 27 W
10/22 Rams 11 21 1.9 6 L
11/5 49ers 37 159 4.3 25 W
11/9 Seahawks 21 29 1.4 9 L
ESPN.com
“It was some missed opportunities on my part,” Peterson said. “They did a great job defensively of containing us. We just really couldn’t get into a rhythm.”

Peterson was held to 21 yards on 11 carries in Week 7 in London against the Los Angeles Rams, who have one of the best defensive lines in the league. That game could have been looked at as the textbook way to slow Peterson, but there were too many other factors involved: travel, time change, practice conditions, weather.

Aside from being played on a short week, Thursday’s game was played in familiar surroundings on a familiar field in a familiar stadium.

And the Cardinals still couldn’t get the ground game going.

“It was hit or miss,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “We knew it was going to be hard. Our good front, we didn’t block as well as we did last week. There were one or two that looked like they were going to come out of there, but they didn’t.”
Adrian Peterson found few holes against Seattle’s defense on Thursday. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
And it’s just going to get harder from here for the Cardinals.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries might have a torn ACL, Arians said. Humphries injured his right knee in the first quarter. It was initially believed to be a sprained MCL, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, but Arians said after the game that “it looks like right now” to be an ACL injury. That would likely sideline Humphries for the rest of the season just as he and the rest of the offensive line were finding a rhythm.

“It’s just a shame,” Arians said. “Guy was playing fantastic. Second time in one year.”

Humphries suffered an MCL sprain in Week 1 and missed the next four games.

Without Humphries anchoring the offensive line, Arizona’s run game might lose the balance it sought with Peterson — and had against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers, who have combined for two wins this season.
When the Cardinals’ run game struggles, so does the offense.

When the run game isn’t effective, the Cardinals have trouble controlling the game, keeping possession, sustaining drives and scoring, tight end Jermaine Gresham said. When it’s working, the run game can help open up passing plays such as Gresham’s 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.

Even though Arizona didn’t break any long runs — the longest was 9 yards — wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald believed the “body blows” against the Seahawks’ front were working.

But for the Cardinals’ run game to work against good defenses, they’ll have to continue doing one thing they did Thursday.

“The one thing I did like about it is that we stayed committed to the run game,” Fitzgerald said. “I felt like we stuck with it. We continued to pound it at them. We’ve got to continue to do that as the season goes on because when you get into those obvious passing situations against a team that has great pass-rushers like Seattle does, it makes it very difficult.”

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TEMPE, Ariz. — If Detroit’s Ameer Abdullah, Indianapolis’ Frank Gore and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott weren’t enough for the Arizona Cardinals defense to handle, San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde might be next.

Hyde may be the best running back of that bunch thus far this season. But he is questionable for Sunday’s game with a hip injury, his status a game-time decision.
The Cardinals might have to come to grips with Carlos Hyde, who proved elusive in piling up 124 yards in a Week 2 win over Seattle. Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
While Hyde may not be as effective as usual with a bum hip, he ranks third in the NFL with 253 rushing yards, and he has two touchdowns as well. He’s averaging 5.16 yards per carry and has 159 yards before first contact — the third-highest total in the NFL.

“He’s a big, strong, powerful back,” Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “He runs really hard. It’s very hard to get him down on the first contact. We have to do a good job of getting a lot of people to the ball, making sure we finish.”

Arizona has allowed 153 yards before first contact through three games, amplifying Peters’ point. The Cardinals are also giving up 85.7 rushing yards per game and 3.13 rushing yards per play.

Hyde is averaging 104 yards his last two games after posting 124 against the Seahawks in Week 2 and 84 last week against the Rams. Only Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt had more the last two weeks.

Peters said the Cardinals can’t mimic their game plan for Elliott because Dallas’ and San Francisco’s schemes differ a bit. But the Niners’ “mindset” is similar to the Cowboys’, Peters said.

“[The 49ers] want to line up and try to run the ball,” Peters said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us. But we’re going to be ready to go and we’re going to be keyed in and hopefully we have a good performance.”

Under new coach Kyle Shanahan, Hyde’s role as a receiver has increased, forcing the Cardinals to prepare for another aspect of the Niners offense. He has 12 catches for 61 yards through three games. He had 27 catches for 163 yards all of last season.
“You see some of the Atlanta philosophy where they’re trying to split him out or they’re going to get him touches and targets out of the backfield as a receiver,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “I think he catches the ball well. I think you can see that. I love how he runs the ball. He runs the ball hard.”

The Hyde that Peters sees on tape this year, under Shanahan, isn’t the same running back he saw last year under former Niners coach Chip Kelly.

“I feel like there’s a difference when you watch him this year,” Peters said. “You always saw the talent, but the zone read is slightly different than putting someone back there in the ‘I’ and letting him get full speed and actually reading it like that.

“He looks a lot better in this offense. He looks more comfortable. He looks like he’s running harder. It should be a good challenge for us.”