NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Leave it to Bruce Arians to throw a wrinkle in an opposing defense’s game plan simply by adding a wrinkle to his offense.

All Arians had to do to force Seattle to scramble a bit before Sunday night's kickoff was announce that his backup quarterback may get a few snaps.

Arians' announcement Monday that Ryan Lindley would start in place of Drew Stanton against the Seattle Seahawks gave Seattle’s Pete Carroll and his staff the go-ahead to start preparing for the third-year quarterback. Then Arians said that rookie quarterback Logan Thomas may be used throughout the game, as well, with his own package of plays.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesQB Logan Thomas brings a different set of skills to the table than starter Ryan Lindley does.
“I think Bruce did a really good job of letting that out because he made us have to go ahead and think about all the stuff (Thomas) could do, as well,” Carroll said on a conference call with the Arizona media.

Carroll said the Seahawks haven’t spent more time this week preparing for Thomas.

“It’s just regular stuff,” Carroll said. “There’s not a quantity amount here. We just work at figuring it out. They can’t both play at the same time and they can’t both be out there, so we just defend the guy that’s on the field.”

Technically, both Lindley and Thomas could be on the field at the same time.

“Not playing quarterback,” Carroll responded.

But the difference between the two is noticeable and distinct, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. In no great discovery, Wagner labeled Lindley as a passer and Thomas as a "run threat." He said the Seahawks won't focus on who the quarterback is, instead they just plan to chase the ball. But Wagner added that Seattle will prepare for different formations and plays that each quarterback may run.

Carroll is more than marginally familiar with Thomas, the Cardinals’ fourth-round draft pick in May. Carroll’s son, Brennan, has been an assistant coach at the University of Miami for the last four years so the elder Carroll has seen his share of ACC football, including watching Thomas when he played at Virginia Tech.

“I thought he was a really terrific competitor, very versatile, huge arm and a tremendous looking athlete who could run with the ball,” Carroll said. “We’re going to try to prepare for all of the things that he could possibly do.”

Thomas has played just once this season, in Week 5 in place of Stanton, who left the game with a concussion. He was 1-for-8 passing in about a quarter-and-a-half.

Taking a smaller playbook into Sunday night’s game should help Thomas if he gets on the field again. But in 11 weeks, Thomas said he’s grown as a quarterback.

“I think just overall knowledge of how things are going and picking up the little things, the little nuances within our offense,” Thomas said. “Little by little getting better and better.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- A week ago, Ryan Lindley was the backup to the backup, just another in a long list of Arizona Cardinals' transactions this season.

He would watch as the media herded past him, their lights focused on the story of the day.

[+] EnlargeLindley
Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsCardinals coach has described the preparation of Ryan Lindley -- who has shared quarterback rooms with Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Philip Rivers this season -- as "meticulous."
That all changed when he replaced Drew Stanton in the third quarter of a 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams. On Wednesday, Lindley stood in the Cardinals locker room, surrounded by reporters and cameras on all sides, looking composed and collected. He took each question in stride -- about 2012, about his streak of 181 passes without a touchdown, about the magnitude of Sunday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks.

He didn't break a sweat, even under the heat of the TV cameras' lights. He was, as his coach, Bruce Arians, would say, as "calm as a cucumber."

But Lindley is good at hiding it.

He admitted that being a backup quarterback can be "pretty nerve-wracking," especially when he's thrust into a critical third down and asked to get the offense into field-goal range -- which he did.

"Once it happens, you kind of stop thinking about everything," Lindley said. "You say, 'I got to go in.' You kind of just go in a straight, almost, robot mode that, 'Hey, this is what I need to do. I have to go do it.' You can't think about Thursday night, you're in St. Louis. You just have to go get it done.

"That's kind of why I think everything up to Sunday is going to be tougher and then once it gets to Sunday, it's just, 'Hey, let's play.' That's kind of how I felt last week.'"

Arians will let his third-string quarterback play; that's one thing he's remained consistent on this week. He won't turn Lindley into a game manager, won't alter the Cardinals' offensive identity because their quarterback du jour is behind center. Assistant head coach Tom Moore has kept his message to Lindley short this week: "Don't play scared, play smart."

What Lindley likes to run isn't much different than what Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton prefer. But with more time to prepare, Arians feels Lindley will look more like the quarterback in practice this week than the guy in 2012 who was part of a 58-0 shellacking in Seattle.

"It's easier than when you're just thrown out there in a very critical game," Arians said. "And he played admirably.

"I thought he was obviously very, very prepared for that ballgame."

Arians called Lindley's preparation "meticulous," a product of watching Palmer and Stanton since 2013 and spending 10 weeks in the same quarterbacks room as San Diego's Philip Rivers.

Not letting the moment overtake Lindley is as important to Arizona winning Sunday night as is him not throwing an interception. The risky throws will happen by design, Lindley said, but that's why he enjoys playing for Arians, who won't shrink the playbook for Lindley.

"That's what makes it fun to play for him," Lindley said. "You know you're going to go out there and you're going to go for it. It's not going to be, 'Hey, we're going to rein it in, we're going to hone it back because we've got a lot to lose.'"

Sunday is almost here and the questions, the criticisms, the hype will be over.

Then, with home-field advantage and the NFC West title on the line, Lindley will revert back to that robot mode he was in Thursday and just play.

"I always do try to stay pretty low key and I think that's something on the field as a quarterback you have to stay pretty calm," Lindley said. "You can never get too high and never get too low. It's just something I try to do.

"Obviously, it's more excitement for me just to be able to get an opportunity. For myself, you talk about 2012 -- not many guys get one, let alone two. I'm excited for it."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Wednesday was important for the interior of Arizona’s offensive line.

It gave coach Bruce Arians a better look at how left Jonathan Cooper was playing with a cast on his left wrist and how right guard Paul Fanaika played while still recovering from a sprained ankle.

Both players were limited in practice Wednesday, according to Arizona’s injury report.

Quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) and wide receiver Jaron Brown (toe) did not practice.

Joining Cooper and Fanaika as limited were linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee), defensive end Calais Campbell (hip), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), linebacker Larry Foote (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) and running back Kerwynn Williams (knee).

Left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) practiced in full.

Three of Seattle's starting offensive linemen did not practice Wednesday: tackle Russell Okung (tackle), guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle) and center Max Unger (ankle/knee).
TEMPE, Ariz. -- During his press conference Wednesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was asked what the best-case scenario was for Drew Stanton's return.

"Sunday," the coach answered.

Realistically?

Stanton
"Sunday," Arians repeated. "Like I said, the brain does funny things."

While Arians' answer may have had some jest behind it, Stanton, who suffered a right knee injury on Thursday night in St. Louis, was serious when he said it's still too early to tell if he could play Sunday night against Seattle.

With a playoff berth already clinched, the Cardinals can afford to keep Stanton off the field as he continues to recover despite home-field advantage on the line against the Seahawks. Stanton said he hasn't suffered any setbacks during his rehab, which was six days old Wednesday. He said he has started jogging with a brace on his right knee to get acclimated to wearing it during games.

"I've never had an injury like this before," Stanton said. "So (I'm) dealing with it, trying to just trust the rehab that they have in place for me every day."

He was at Wednesday's practice, watching the quarterbacks warm up during the portion open to the media. The last time Stanton threw a football, he said, was "the other day" when he played catch with his son and his Mickey Mouse football at home.

Stanton said he's tried to maintain his range of motion since going down in the third quarter against the Rams with what's been reported to be a Grade 2 ACL and MCL sprain by keeping the strength built up in his quads and keep them firing.

"It's felt good," Stanton said. "It's one of those things you just go to kinda take time and the healing process is different for everybody.

"That timetable that everybody wants to put on it, I can't put one on it nor do I want to."

Stanton is keeping his goals simple for now: progress every day. While Sunday may not be realistic for his return, Stanton agreed with Arians.

It's the best-case scenario.

"I think as a competitor and as a guy that wants to help this team win, I want to get back as soon as possible now," Stanton said. "What that means? I don't know.

"I would like to be out there as soon as I can and I'm going to do everything within my power to do that."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Scoring all a team’s points comes with its rewards.

Casillas
Catanzaro
Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro was named the NFC special teams player of the week Wednesday after kicking four field goals and scoring all of Arizona’s points in its 12-6 win over St. Louis on Thursday.

He hit from 51, 46, 44 and 23 yards. The 51-yarder in the third quarter tied a career long.

This was Catanzaro’s second weekly honor this season. He also earned the award after Week 6. He became the fourth rookie in franchise history to win multiple player-of-the-week awards in their rookie seasons.

Catanzaro was Arizona’s sixth player-of-the-week selection and the Cardinals’ fourth special-teams honor, the most in a season for the franchise.

Hope for Ryan Lindley as Cardinals QB?

December, 17, 2014
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ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss says Ryan Lindley’s comfort level with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald should help him Sunday.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- First it was Kurt Warner, then it was Tim Tebow.

Whose name will be tossed around next, whether seriously or not, to become the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback?

Tebow
An article by the satirical website DailyLeak.org claimed over the weekend that the Cardinals signed Tebow in the wake of Drew Stanton's injury Thursday night in St. Louis. As of Tuesday night, the Cardinals had not announced Tebow's signing.

On Monday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians named Ryan Lindley the starter and Logan Thomas his backup. Arizona even signed rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews to the practice squad.

Even though the Tebow claim was false, it didn't stop plenty of people from believing it.

The article was shared almost 36,000 times on Facebook as of Tuesday night and had 25 comments, some of which were supporting the invented roster move.

"After the game in St. Louis the Cardinals coaching staff began seeking out other options," the article read. "The obvious choice for them became former Heisman winner, Tim Tebow. A standout in college football at the University of Florida, he struggled with passing accuracy at the NFL level."

It even included a fake quote from Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.

"We've been talking for a few days now, kind of since the St. Louis game," the quote read. "I'm just excited to bring him [Tebow] in, really focus on football right now and maybe implement a Wildcat package before next week's game [against the Seahawks]."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Bruce Arians might tailor the game plan to what Ryan Lindley does best and likes to run, but the Arizona Cardinals won’t look any different than the first 14 weeks this season.

“We won’t change,” Arians said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “We try not to change who we are.

Lindley
“To me, it’s, ‘Alright, Ryan, here’s the plan. There’s enough stuff here, give me some shots that you really like and are very comfortable with.’ I think for me, putting him in a comfort level is huge. That’s what separates some coaches who would just say, ‘Hey, you got to play this system.’ We’ll fit the system.”

Arians stressed the importance of making Lindley as comfortable as possible. Like he did with Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton earlier this season, Arians will let Lindley script certain plays against Seattle so he's running what he’s comfortable with.

Lindley was “on fire” during Arizona’s bonus practice on Monday, Arians said.

On “Pardon the Interruption” Tuesday afternoon, Arians said the Cardinals’ game plan will be built around Lindley’s strengths. But they won’t ask the third-year quarterback to simply manage the game.

“No, we don’t do any of that game-management stuff,” Arians said on PTI. “We’re going to sling it.”

In addressing any potential timing issues between Lindley and his receivers, Arians said he’s been throwing to them since he was re-signed on Nov. 11. Add in the time spent working with them during offseason workouts and training camp, and Lindley has had plenty of time to build a rapport with this season's receiving corps.

And Thomas has been with the team since getting drafted in May so the receivers have had time to adjust to him.

“They know when Logan’s in there they better get their damn head around because it’s coming hot,” Arians said. “They’ve figured all that stuff out by now, so they should all know each other well enough to adapt to the game plan.”

Arians said on PTI that the Cardinals’ real MVPs are the backups. They’ve been preparing for a chance to start since OTAs, but “you don’t really plan on this many injuries,” Arians said.

Having 18 players miss a combined 90 games because of injury this season dating back to Darnell Dockett going down with an ACL injury during training camp isn’t anything a coach wants to experience.

But Arians has made the most of it.

“It makes it fun as a coach,” he said. “You got to work every week and no one gets bored around here, that’s for sure.

“It’s almost like if we don’t get an injury, everybody’s gonna (be like), ‘Hey, what’s going on?’” Arians said. “They’re expecting it every week and every game. So, each time it happens it just galvanizes this bunch even more.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Standing in front of his locker Monday, left thumb in a cast, Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said Arizona’s defense wanted to keep the Seattle Seahawks from scoring more than 14 points.

Ambitious and confident? Yes.

Realistic? Perhaps.

Seattle has scored fewer than 14 points just once this season, in a 13-9 win over Carolina in Week 8. The Seahawks have outscored opponents 79-27 in their past four games with the league’s No. 1 rushing offense but the 31st-ranked passing attack.

By comparison, the Cardinals have given up 14 or more points in 11 of their 14 games. They’re sixth against the run and 29th against the pass, but have a plus-4 turnover margin in their past two games.

The key for Arizona keeping the Seahawks to 14 points or less -- and possibly winning -- is to neutralize Russell Wilson. In three of Seattle’s four losses this year, he threw for 180 yards or less. The more the Cardinals can get to Wilson, the better chance they have of winning. When Arizona upset Seattle last season, Wilson threw for 89 yards and was sacked four times.

The last time these teams played, in Week 12, Arizona lost 19-3 and was minus-1 in turnover margin. However, the Cardinals limited the Seahawks to just one touchdown. While Seattle has scored seven touchdowns in its past four games, Arizona has allowed five touchdowns in its past five games.

In November, the Cardinals held Wilson to 169 passing yards -- at the time, their fourth straight game keeping a quarterback under 200 yards. Since then, Arizona allowed 211 or more in its past three. But the Cardinals' defense is finding its personality once again and allowed 280 total yards to St. Louis last Thursday night.

As Arizona’s defense gets better, so does Seattle’s offense but Mathieu’s goal wasn’t unrealistic.

QB snapshot: Ryan Lindley

December, 16, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Lindley and how he played in the Cardinals’ 12-6 win in Week 15:

Lindley
 Not much can or should be made of Lindley’s performance in place of Drew Stanton on Thursday night because he came in cold off the bench and played just 25 snaps. Lindley was asked to throw passes he seemed ill-equipped to make because of a lack of practice with the receivers. He looked good on short passes, including a 6-yard pass to Michael Floyd on his first play that put the Cardinals in field goal range.

But he was asked to throw a back-shoulder pass to John Brown that was a little too far outside, and two passes to Darren Fells were either behind him or too high, while a deep ball to Brown wasn’t thrown in line with the receiver and was nearly picked. One of Lindley’s passes was intercepted by St. Louis but was overturned after a review. On most of the incompletions, the timing seemed off. Others weren't good decisions by Lindley throwing into traffic.

Lindley’s arm looked strong, and although his timing was off, that should be expected after not taking first-team reps since he returned to the Cardinals in November.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu returned to practice Monday with a cast on his left thumb, beginning the process of playing this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks.

Mathieu
Mathieu fractured his left thumb in Week 13 in Atlanta and had surgery to insert a pin, which cost him the last two games.

“I wasn’t going to miss this one,” Mathieu said. “I didn’t want to miss the last two, but we’re really excited about this weekend.”

Playing will play the cast, which extends from his thumb to about midway up his forearm, will make it tough for Mathieu to hold on to potential interceptions, he said. It won’t be downsized for Sunday night’s game, leaving Mathieu to cradle the ball with his body if he’s able to make a play.

Mathieu couldn’t put a percentage on his health but said the pain is minimal.

“I think I’m healed up enough to finish out the season,” he said. “So hopefully I don’t have any more setbacks.”

The Honey Badger returns as the defense is finding its rhythm again, recording seven sacks, forcing three fumbles, recovering two fumbles and picking two passes in its last two games, both wins.

“It’s good to get Ty back and he’ll get used to playing with that cast,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “So, it obviously builds depth, which we need.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Maybe Sunday night will be different.

Maybe Ryan Lindley, who'll take the first snap of the game from center Lyle Sendlein, will throw his first NFL touchdown, complete more than half his passes or get more than 4.5 yards per attempt.

But most likely not.

When quarterback Drew Stanton went down with a right knee injury that's been reported as a Grade 2 ACL and MCL sprain, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was faced with one of the toughest decisions of the season. Go with a third-year quarterback with limited experience, or a rookie slinger with eight career pass attempts? Neither Lindley nor Logan Thomas were ideal candidates to start Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks, with home-field advantage and the NFC West title on the line.

Arians had to pick one. And, to his credit, Lindley was the right choice. But if Sunday's game would've been tough to win with Stanton under center, it'll be nearly impossible with Lindley, whose career record as a starter is 1-3.

Lindley enters the game with 181 pass attempts without a touchdown, the most in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. For a team that's scored two touchdowns in its past four games, that's not the news Arizona wants to hear. The Seahawks have allowed just two passing touchdowns and intercepted four passes in their past five games -- which included Arizona in Week 12.

Since 2012, Lindley has the worst completion percentage (51.4), fewest yards per attempt (4.3), least amount of touchdowns (0) and lowest total QBR (9.1) among 60 quarterbacks with a minimum of 150 pass attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Arians won't change how he calls a game -- that was evident Thursday night. But he will tailor his game plan to Lindley, who came out of college with a reputation for having a strong arm but making poor decisions. In 2012, Lindley had three passes that ended up 25 yards or longer -- but only one of them was thrown for more than 20 yards in the air. On Thursday night, after taking over for Stanton in the third quarter, Lindley threw five passes of 13 yards or longer (13, 14, 16, 24 and 39), but all of them fell incomplete.

Yet, there's hope.

As a rookie in 2012, Lindley liked the middle of the field, where opposing quarterbacks have been successful against the Seahawks this season. He was 43-for-68 (63.2 percent) on passes between the numbers from 0 to 19 yards, per Pro Football Focus. This year, quarterbacks have completed 68.1 percent of their passes of any distance between the numbers against the Seahawks for eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

On paper, Lindley doesn't look like the quarterback who can clinch the Cardinals' first NFC West title since 2009 and keep them home throughout the playoffs.

On the field, he may end up looking like the same man.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- During his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim dismissed reports Monday morning that quarterback Drew Stanton could be out up to four weeks with a knee injury, saying there’s no timeline on his recovery.

Stanton
"I think it’s one of those things with that type of knee injury, everybody heals different," Keim said. "And I know that ESPN and some other outlets have put a timeline on it. It’s extremely difficult to do.

"You can say it’s going to be four weeks -- I’ve heard people say 1.5 weeks. Everybody heals differently. Drew will be here around the clock rehabbing, and I know he’ll be ready to go as soon as possible."

Stanton left Thursday night’s 12-6 win against the Rams in the third quarter with a right knee injury that has been reported to be a Grade 2 ACL and MCL sprain, which means they’re both partially torn.

On Sunday, ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that Stanton would be out up to four weeks.

In a season of tough breaks and irreplaceable losses, the Cardinals did get good news Friday morning when the team’s medical staff determined that Stanton’s injury wouldn’t require surgery.

Initially, Keim thought Stanton would "potentially be done for the season."

"After all the bad news we received this year regarding injuries," Keim said, "it was nice to get a little bit of good news for once."
  • When pressed about the possibility of re-signing former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, Keim said it’s hard to get caught up in "what could’ve been, what should’ve been." Keim said: "It’s hard to even think about a guy that hasn’t thrown a football in over five years,” and added: "I try to deal in reality on a day-to-day basis."
  • On the chance to play one game for the NFC West title, Keim said "It’s enormous. It’s exactly the reason you’re in this business."
  • Keim said looking at the big picture of Arizona’s 11-3 record put a lot of things in perspective because of who is leading the teams with the three best records in the NFL, all at 11-3: New England’s Tom Brady, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Arizona’s Ryan Lindley/Logan Thomas.
  • Keim was pleased with how the offensive and defensive lines played in St. Louis, calling Thursday night the offensive line’s best game of the season.
  • Left tackle Jared Veldheer continued to play at a Pro Bowl level, Keim said.
  • Keim was impressed with the improved physicality up front, but said there are "technical issues" that need to be improved.
  • Keim called defensive tackle Frostee Rucker an "unsung hero" and said he told Rucker on Thursday night that he found the Fountain of Youth.
  • After watching Jonathan Cooper's second-straight start, Keim said Cooper is still looking like a rookie. "You see him do some things you like, that excite you, and you see that there’s a bright future ahead but at the same time there’s a lot of areas he needs to improve and most of it’s (technique). It’s the footwork and it’s the time off he needs to knock the rust off."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim wouldn’t say who the team’s starting quarterback will be Sunday night against Seattle, instead deferring the question on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM to head coach Bruce Arians.

Lindley
“He and I will discuss it,” Keim said. “But I know that [assistant head coach] Tom Moore, Bruce and [quarterbacks coach] Freddie Kitchens will have those guys ready to play and they’ll be prepared for Sunday night.”

However, Keim hinted that Ryan Lindley might be the team’s choice to replace Drew Stanton, who is out for an indefinite amount of time with a sprained ACL and MCL, according to reports, by discussing a package for third-string quarterback Logan Thomas.

“I know B.A. talked about Logan and a potential role where he has a package,” Keim said, referring to a report by TheMMQB.com’s Peter King on Sunday night. “Don’t want to get too detailed with that. I know, again, our staff will have those guys ready to go.”

Arizona will sign a fourth quarterback to the practice squad, Keim said, for “emergency purposes” but the team will move forward planning for Lindley and Thomas.
TEMPE, Ariz. – This year, the Arizona Cardinals won’t be on the outside looking in.

With Dallas’ victory over Philadelphia on Sunday night, the Cardinals (11-3) clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2009. Arizona is the first team in the NFC to qualify for the postseason this season.

With a victory Sunday night over Seattle, Arizona would secure the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

While this Sunday night was a significant milestone for the Cardinals, they've said they're not satisfied by just clinching a spot in the postseason.

“It’s not about just getting to the playoffs; it’s putting yourself in the right position once you get there,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said last week.

The Cardinals had to wait until the end of the Sunday night game to find out if they clinched because Detroit came back to beat Minnesota earlier in the day, thwarting any midday celebrations.

This will be the Cardinals’ ninth time as a franchise playing in the postseason since 1948. Once Sunday night’s game didn’t end in a tie – the only way Arizona wouldn’t have clinched this weekend – players took to Twitter to celebrate.


Last season, Arizona missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record, getting eliminated in the final weekend of the regular season.

The Cardinals host the Seahawks on Sunday and then finish the regular season at San Francisco.

Depending on how their next two games go, coupled with how the rest of the NFC West plays out, the Cardinals could end up anywhere from the first seed in the NFC to either the fifth or sixth seed.

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