NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson participated in a full practice on Thursday, basically assuring he’ll play Sunday in Dallas.

He was limited Wednesday, a day after passing the concussion protocol.

Safety Tony Jefferson was upgraded to limited after not practicing Wednesday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia but not diagnosed until Monday morning. During the open portion of practice, Jefferson worked on the kickoff coverage unit. He cleared the concussion protocol later Thursday.

Linebacker Kenny Demens (knee) was also upgraded from limited to full.

Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited, as was tight end Troy Niklas (ankle).

Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee) were all full.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu wanted to make a play.

 Any play. Just get his hand on the football. It didn’t have to be a crucial moment of the game. He just felt that the next step in his return from ACL and LCL surgery would be to find his play-making rhythm again.

It came in the fourth quarter and just happened to be on one of the most important plays in Arizona’s 24-20 win. On the second to last play of the game, Mathieu skied over Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews to deflect a potential game-winning touchdown.

“Probably my best game,” Mathieu said. “Wasn’t really thinking about my knee. I was moving around pretty good. I was in coverage and finally [able to] break on the ball [and] get an incompletion, so that was encouraging.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Sunday was the most encouraging game he’s seen out of the Honey Badger, who had four tackles while playing a season-high 76 snaps against the Eagles.

“He’s gotten better and better and better and more confident,” Arians said. “I think the day that brace comes off, he’ll be back to full speed, in his mind.

“He’s already back to full speed, but in his mind he’ll back there and more comfortable.”

But Mathieu’s brace may not come off for the rest of the season.

He began wearing it during training camp, and it took him a couple months to adjust to wearing it. This week, almost two months into the season, Mathieu said he’s just starting to feel comfortable with it.

“I don’t want to have any setbacks,” Mathieu said. “So, I’ll probably just keep it on.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Whether the Dallas Cowboys trot out Tony Romo or Brandon Weeden at quarterback Sunday is still yet to be determined, but it doesn't matter to the Arizona Cardinals.

They expect to see the same Cowboys' offense regardless.

"They're not going to change," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It's not like they're all of a sudden going to go to the read option.

[+] EnlargeRomo
AP Photo/Tim SharpAsked Wednesday how he was holding up, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo reponsded: "Oh, a box of chocolates over here."
"It's going to be the same offense. People were asking, 'What was it like getting ready for Carson (Palmer) or Drew (Stanton)?' You get ready for what you see on film because it's very, very hard to change. You're going to stop DeMarco Murray and it doesn't matter who's throwing the ball."

The Cowboys wouldn't commit to starting Romo on Sunday. He didn't go through their jog-through on Wednesday, coach Jason Garrett said, and will continue going through rehab. Garrett labeled Romo's status as a day-to-day situation.

Romo was hurt in the third quarter of Dallas' loss Monday night when he took a knee to his surgically-repaired back from Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson. Romo left the game but later returned.

Garrett said Romo's injury Monday night was not related to his offseason back surgery, clarifying that it was a direct result of Robinson's hit.

Asked Wednesday how he was holding up, Romo reponsded: "Oh, a box of chocolates over here."

He had a CT scan Wednesday, but said on a conference call with Arizona reporters that he's also taking it day by day.

"I think you have to just take it each day and see what you can do more the next day," Romo said.

Whether he plays Sunday will come down to his tolerance for pain and his physical abilities, Garrett said.

"He has to be able to move around and do the things he needs to do to play in a game," Garrett said. "Hopefully, as the week goes on, we'll get a better reading on how painful it is for him to be able to do what he needs to do and we'll make the right evaluation for him and for our team."

Romo said he can handle the pain. So, it'll come down how much he can do physically that will determine his status for Sunday.

If Romo can't go, Arizona will face Brandon Weeden, who saw his first action of the season Monday night during a short stint in place of Romo. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.

"The one thing about Brandon, he does have a really, really strong arm," Arians said. "He can get it way down the field, as does Tony.

"There's nothing changing as far as who the quarterback is."

This game has the makings of a primetime matchup. The Cardinals are currently 6-1, their best start since 1974, and are sitting atop the NFC. The Cowboys are 6-2 and tied for second in the conference. Each leads their respective divisions.

And just because of the magnitude of the game leads Arians to believe he'll see Romo on the field Sunday.

"Oh, I would think 100 (percent)," Arians said. "He's not going to miss this game. It's too big. He's a heck of a competitor. He showed it coming back in that game."

Cardinals have to handle Andre Ellington with care

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29

ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss talks about the team’s depth issues at running back and keeping Andre Ellington healthy.

The Film Don't Lie: Cardinals

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
A weekly look at what the Arizona Cardinals must fix:

The Cardinals' defense isn't used to seeing zeros under the sacks column, yet it’s happened twice this season, most recently Sunday in a win over Philadelphia.

Despite blitzing quarterback Nick Foles 19 times, they weren’t able to bring him down once. For the season, Arizona has seven sacks -- compared to 19 through seven games in 2013. With the meat of the Cardinals’ schedule beginning Sunday in Dallas, Arizona needs to figure out a way to get to the quarterback. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been sacked 17 times this season.

But Arizona is ranked last in sacks per pass attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information, getting to the quarterback just 2.4 percent of the time. How bad is that? The next five worst teams have a combined nine wins. Arizona has six. Only one team has fewer than seven sacks overall.

The Cardinals need to stick to what works for them in order to turn around their pass-rushing woes: blitz, blitz, blitz.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cardinals have blitzed on 47 percent of dropbacks in the past two seasons, the highest rate in the NFL. But how does that translate to sacks? Even though it didn't work against Foles, the Cardinals have four of their seven sacks when blitzing and are holding opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 60.3 when blitzing compared to 66.3 when they don’t blitz.

The Cardinals need to stick with what's getting them the most production, and that's blitzing.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Running back is the latest Arizona Cardinals position bitten by the injury bug.

Second-string back Stepfan Taylor could miss "significant time" with a calf injury, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said during his Monday news conference. Taylor played five snaps in Sunday's 24-20 win against the Eagles before leaving the game in the third quarter.

He did not return.

His absence leaves Arizona with just two running backs who have played this season, Andre Ellington and fullback Robert Hughes. The Cardinals, maybe most notably, are down a running back who can pass protect and be effective in short-yardage situations. Taylor didn't have a carry Sunday, a week after getting 12 carries for a career-high 40 yards in Oakland.

Marion Grice, who was signed on Sept. 23 and was active for the first time Sunday, will likely get into the mix, Arians said.

"Marion will slide up the depth chart," Arians said. "Robert Hughes could get some time depending on what the situation is and what package, but, yeah, Marion will be the next guy up."

The Cardinals may also look into signing another running back, Arians said. A trade is another possibility, but the NFL trade deadline is looming Tuesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time.

Another option is promoting practice squad running back Kerwynn Williams, whom the Cardinals signed on Sept. 18 in the wake of Jonathan Dwyer’s addition to the non-football illness list, to the active roster. Williams is 5-foot-8 and 198 pounds, and was drafted in the seventh round in 2013 by Indianapolis.

"He’s looking really good in practice," Arians said.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' defense didn’t care Sunday how much real estate it had to defend against the Eagles.

For the entire first half, the Cardinals were digging in somewhere on average around the Eagles' 20-yard line when Philadelphia took possession on offense. But that changed in the second half. After the Eagles’ opening drive in which they started at their own 20, Philadelphia began the next five drives between its 42 and Arizona’s 48.

That stretch yielded 10 points, putting Philadelphia up 17-14 in the process.

[+] EnlargeCardinals defense
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsDespite having to defend some short fields in the second half, Arizona's defense mostly kept the Eagles out of the end zone.
“You never want to give them the ball at midfield three or four times in a row, but (the defense) came up huge,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

Arizona’s offense was ineffective for most of the final 30 minutes, except for touchdowns book-ending the half and a field goal late in the fourth. In one stretch, Arizona had four three-and-outs in a span of five drives. The other drive lasted four plays and ended when running back Andre Ellington fumbled the ball away.

“We know what’s at stake and the offense is struggling a little bit,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “We just have to keep us in the game.”

Besides giving up a touchdown and a field goal, Arizona forced the Eagles to punt twice and intercepted quarterback Nick Foles once.

With their backs against a short field, the Cardinals were bound to give up some points but they relished the chance to make a stand.

“We look at it as an opportunity to show out, an opportunity to shine out there,” linebacker Alex Okafor said. “We take it as a challenge and we love stuff like that because we know it’s on our shoulders and we have to win the game.”

Arizona held Philadelphia to two three-and-outs when the Eagles started drives near midfield. On a drive that started at the Eagles' 49, the Cardinals allowed seven yards. On the drive that began at the Arizona 48, the Cards held the Eagles to -4 yards. Both resulted in punts.

Okafor said Arizona’s defense didn’t change their strategy or schemes when backed up on short fields. It played at one speed the whole game.

While Arizona basked in the chances to flex their defensive muscle in those situations, the Cardinals understand how easy it could’ve been for Philadelphia to break the game wide open.

“I mean, that’s as critical as it gets,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “The cool thing about a short field is there’s only so much field for them to work with. The offense’s plays get limited. They can only do so much, especially the Eagles. They don’t really have that power game. They’re more of a finesse game. And it works for them but in the red zone as long as you play the boots and the play-action and our guys up front play the run well, you can do a good job of stopping them.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. – There wasn’t a doubt in Antonio Cromartie’s mind that he was returning his first interception as a member of the Cardinals.

He picked off Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who had marched Philadelphia to the Arizona 25, about 2 yards deep in the end zone. He could’ve easily taken a knee and given the Cardinals’ offense possession at the 20.

But he didn’t.

“Honestly, I’ve always been told I’ve had a green light,” Cromartie said with a smile. “I was just trying to make a play. When you look back on it, we got the ball, I think, at the 40-yard-line, the 35, something like that. I’d rather have it there than the 20 to try to get the offense on the short side of the field.”

Cromartie weaved his way to the Arizona 38.

Cromartie finished Sunday with his first two picks as a Cardinal, giving him 28 for his career. He has had three in four of the last five seasons and four in the other.

“It was huge,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Obviously, they are in scoring position and he brings it all the way out to the 40. The other sets us up and we don’t convert."

The first pick came on an Eagles’ formation that Cromartie said they show in the end zone. Once Cromartie saw Jeremy Maclin in the slot, he knew exactly where Foles was going with the ball. Cromartie was supposed to be covering the tight end, he admitted later, but he broke on the ball once he saw it thrown.

“If I don’t do that, it’ll probably be a touchdown on that play,” he said.

Cromartie’s second interception came in the fourth quarter on a pass from Foles that was behind intended receiver Riley Cooper. He picked it at the Cardinals 42 and returned it 18 yards to the Eagles 40.

“They weren’t on the same page,” Cromartie said. “He threw the ball behind. When you have an opportunity like that, you have to make sure you capitalize on the opportunity and that’s something we did as a whole entire defense.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald had already done his part.

By the time Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer gave rookie receiver John Brown a secret signal on third-and-5 late in the fourth quarter that led to the winning touchdown, Fitzgerald had already had the third-best receiving game of his career.

With a running game that yielded only two plays of 10 yards or longer, Palmer turned to the pass to get Arizona by the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20.

"We were a little stagnant offensively," Fitzgerald said. "Not just in the second half but throughout the course of the first half.

"I've been saying this for a couple weeks, but we have to do a better job."

Andre Ellington, who had 24 carries last week, had 23 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown on Sunday as Arizona's lone rusher.

Fitzgerald finished with 160 yards on seven receptions, which included an 80-yard touchdown catch and run that proved the 31-year-old isn't out of gas just yet.

"I haven't lost anything," Fitzgerald said. "That's all I'm saying. No, I haven't lost anything."

The play was sprung by a Ted Ginn block that was a tick away from being a flagged as a pick. Fitzgerald made the catch, cut back to his right and took off. As he was sprinting down the right side of the field toward a 14-7 lead, he saw he was pulling away from Eagles defensive backs when he looked up at the videoboard.

"It was nice and clear," Fitzgerald said. "So, I was able to see where the guys were behind me and not look back."

Fitzgerald and Brown showed how dynamic Arizona's passing game can be with Palmer leading it. After Fitzgerald's touchdown, Palmer, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns on 20-for-42 passing saw the Eagles start keying on the Pro Bowl receiver more often, which, in the end, may have helped give Brown the opportunity he needed.

On third-and-5 from the Arizona 25 with 1:33 left and the Cardinals trailing by three, Palmer saw the coverage he wanted and gave a signal to Brown. He faked an in route, made a double move and took over. As soon as he saw the defensive back flat-footed, Brown said he knew he had him beat. After splitting Philadelphia's Cary Williams and Nate Allen, Brown initially thought Palmer overthrew him, but Palmer had seen Brown's extra gear before and knew the rookie would catch up to it.

"We're a pretty well-built offense," Palmer said. "I think we have a lot of things you can't key on. There are a lot of guys you have to worry about. Obviously, Larry is going to get a lot of that key from a defense that is going to be very keen on where he is in a formation because his motions and adjustments are right before the snap."

Brown's touchdown capped his first career 100-yard game. He finished with 119 yards on five catches.

"He's had that opportunity for that catch twice and didn't quite make it," coach Bruce Arians said. "Now, it's more time at practice.

"It was a great throw, but again, it was a great, great catch of him adjusting to a Willie Mays' catch over his shoulder."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 24-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles:
  • Brown
    Wide receiver John Brown has been compared to some of the best small receivers in league history, but linebacker Sam Acho went one step further: "People compare him to Marvin Harrison. I think he's better and I loved watching Marvin Harrison, but [Brown]'s unbelievable."
  • When Cardinals coach Bruce Arians took the podium Sunday, he wanted to keep his comments to a minimum for a reason. "I'll be brief so you can get to the guys that actually won the game, not the one that almost lost it," Arians said.
  • On their winning touchdown hookup, Brown said quarterback Carson Palmer gave him a signal that the ball was coming to him after seeing a favorable coverage. But Palmer refused to give the signal, even after being pressed for it a couple of times. "We have a lot of signals," Palmer said. "Some are dummy signals, some are live signals. I guess it's too late to call it a dummy signal."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With the news that Eagles running back Darren Sproles will be inactive Sunday, Arizona’s top-ranked defense has one less threat to worry about.

Sproles was Philadelphia’s second-leading rusher behind LeSean McCoy, running for 211 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. His average of 6.6 yards per carry was the highest on the Eagles.

Without Sproles, Philadelphia’s running responsibility falls on McCoy, who’s averaging 70.3 yards per game and has one touchdown.

“Ain’t too many guys gonna solo tackle him,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “We’re going to have to get a bunch of guys to the ball.”

The Cardinals’ run defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL, allowing 72.5 yards per game.

In the Eagles’ one loss this season, on Sept. 28 at San Francisco, Sproles ran for 4 yards. Philadelphia’s next best rusher without Sproles is quarterback Nick Foles, who’s run for 53 yards this season -- an average of 8.8 per game.

No Sproles also means Arizona will have one less concern on returns. Sproles is averaging 15.6 yards per punt return, including one touchdown.

Sunday won’t be easy for Arizona in a battle of 5-1 teams, but without Sproles, it just got a little more manageable.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It appears Calais Campbell's right knee is ready to be tested again.

The Arizona Cardinals defensive end was listed as active for Sunday’s game against the Eagles. How many snaps he’ll play is still yet to be seen. Campbell said he felt good enough to play Friday and was hoping the knee would feel the same way when he arrived at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

Campbell has missed the past two games because of a strained MCL suffered in Denver in Week 5 on a controversial chop-block by Broncos tight end Julius Thomas.

Also active for the Cardinals will be running back Marion Grice, who is slated to see his first action of the season for Arizona. Grice, an Arizona State University product, was signed on Sept. 23 off the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad but has been inactive since joining the Cards.

Quarterback Logan Thomas returns to the inactive list, alongside linebacker Thomas Keiser, linebacker Glenn Carson, nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, guard Earl Watford and rookie tight end Troy Niklas.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The requirements for Troy Niklas' return to the field are quite simple these days.

If he can push a sled, he can play.

“He’s a damn tackle, he ain’t no wide receiver,” Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He don’t need to be worrying about making cuts, so he better have his ass back on the practice field next week.”

Niklas, Arizona’s rookie tight end, heard the same message in the training room Friday, when he missed his ninth straight practice with a sprained ankle suffered in Denver in Week 5. He’ll miss his third straight game Sunday when Arizona hosts Philadelphia.

This is just the lastest injury to plague Niklas’ six months in the NFL. He came into the league recovering from hernia surgery and then broke a bone in his right hand in June. And now the ankle.

“Definitely been a pretty unreal series of events,” Niklas said. “Unfortunate, I guess. I’m trying to stay positive and heal up as fast as I can so I can get back out there.”

But staying positive after three setbacks since he was drafted is much easier said than done.

“It’s pretty tough,” Niklas said. “Just being injured is one of the worst things about playing and for me, watching the team go and win games, it’s awesome seeing them win and having success. It just sucks that you’re not part of it.”

Every day he misses is another day Niklas feels like he’s falling behind. But his ankle is close enough where a return next week is a good possibility.

As Arians said, as long as Niklas can push a sled, he can return to practice.

“I just got to be out there and be able to do my job,” Niklas said. “As I heal up I’ll just be able to do more and more.

“I think just getting back out there is the biggest thing regardless of what I’m doing.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Had Ted Ginn Jr. not recovered either of his muffed returns Sunday in Oakland, he knew this week might have been vastly different.

But he did and he kept his job as the Arizona Cardinals’ kickoff and punt returner for at least another game.

“The good thing about the whole situation is that it didn’t hurt us,” Ginn said. “So, that’s the biggest thing that keeps me afloat. If we didn’t recover the two, then it can be a possibility of a change or whatever coaches may feel.

“But as of right now, I think we’re pretty steady.”

Ginn muffed a punt by Oakland’s Marquette King less than a minute into the game. It dropped through Ginn’s hands and he fell on it just before the Raiders’ Neiko Thorpe could pounce on it.

The second muff came on a kickoff from Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski in the third quarter. Ginn appears to catch the kick and then it falls off his hands, but he cleanly recovers it in the end zone for a touchback.

Ginn was able to return just two of six punts for seven yards in Oakland but didn’t have a chance to return any of Janikowski’s four kickoffs.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians still supports Ginn as his returner.

“It’s been hit or miss,” Arians said.

“He’s a threat any time he touches it. Kickoffs have gotten – I don’t know if anybody’s returning kickoffs anymore – but if and when he gets an opportunity, he can crack any one. So, I’m still pleased, very pleased with him.”

Ginn said his muffs are amplified more because there are so few of opportunities to return a punt or a kickoff. But he was glad to hear that Arians was still behind him.

“Always when your coach takes your back, it’s always a great deal,” Ginn said.

“It would’ve been game-changing plays but in the same sense, they wasn’t. So, just go on, move on. It ain’t no different than missing a pass or missing a block or missing a tackle. It’s all in the same boat. You just fight through.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – If it was up to Calais Campbell, he would be playing Sunday against Philadelphia.

But Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will be the one who makes that call, and Arians said Friday that that status of his 6-foot-8 defensive end will be a game-time decision.

“When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go,” Arians said.

Campbell was listed as limited in practice Thursday and Friday, but said he pushed himself hard this week to see how his right sprained MCL will respond.

“I feel explosive and everything, so it depends on what you consider limited,” Campbell said. “In my opinion, I feel like I can play football and help the team win.”

Campbell has missed the last two games after suffering a knee injury when Denver tight end Julius Thomas illegally chop-blocked Campbell in Week 5. Without him, Arizona has continued its dominating pace against rushing offenses, ascending to the top of the NFL’s rush defense rankings.

If Campbell returns Sunday, he won’t be given a snap count, Arians said. Instead, the coach will trust Campbell to determine his own limits, leaving how many snaps Campbell plays “strictly” up to him. If he’s active, Campbell doesn’t think he’ll play the majority of the game.

“I know that no matter what, going out there having the last two weeks off, my reps won’t be as high,” Campbell said. “I’ll have to rotate, even if I’m going to be able to be out there. The big thing is giving everything I have and being honest with the training staff and my coaches and myself, and just making sure I’m doing what’s best to help the team.”

Campbell’s toughest obstacle to overcome might be the brace on his right leg.

He’s said Friday it’s more of a preventative measure than anything so he doesn’t further injure his knee. Campbell said he has “pretty good” function with the brace on, though.

“That’s different,” Campbell said. “I’ve never played with a brace on my knee before. So, I just got to get used to it. I felt explosive and I was able to play football the way I like to play football.”

If Campbell arrives at University of Phoenix Stadium feeling as well as he did after Friday’s practice, he said he’ll be good to play. But the decision will still be left to Arians.

“There’s nobody quite like him,” Arians said. “Even if he’s 90 percent, the energy he brings, just the respect that he brings, that you want him on the field.”