Monday, November 25, 2013

Wow, Go Little Cardinal!

I had hopes Arizona could beat Indianapolis. If the Rams could do it in in Indy, then surely Arizona could manage at home, I thought. But the doubts always lurk. Palmer could throw a ton of picks. Robert Mathis could obliterate the o-line. Luck could torch the defense.

 None of that happened. The Colts continued their recent practice of starting poorly, Arizona fired on all cylinders from the start, and the game was over almost before it started. The Cards were up 27-3 by halftime, and wound up winning 40-11. That's the most points Arizona's scored, and their largest margin of victory, since they beat Detroit 38-10 last year.  You might recall that was the game where Arizona's D forced 4 turnovers, scored two TD's, and the offense started inside Detroit's 30 three times. Which explains how they scored so many points with less than 200 yards of offense.

The last time Arizona scored more points was Week 14 of 2010, when they beat Denver 43-13 (the game where Jay Feely scored 22 consecutive points).

There's a lot of good here. Palmer was 26 of 37 for 314 yards and 2 TDs. More critically, no INTs (though there were a couple of close calls, but every QB has those). He did get strip sacked once, but the Cards recovered. I'll take it. AT this point Palmer is officially outperforming Kolb from last year. Kolb QB rating was 86.1, and his QBR was 37.96. Palmer's QB rating is only 83.0, but his QBR is up to 47.62. Not spectacular, but he's improving steadily, which is certainly encouraging. The team ran for 120 yards on 30 carries, which is great to see. Mendenhall and Ellington combined for 23 carries and 104 yards, plus Mendenhall had a rushing TD. Go running game! Really encouraging news: Arizona went 7 of 14 on third down! Hopefully that isn't a one game aberration.

The defense only sacked Luck once, but that's alright. They hit him 6 times, Dansby returned an interception for a TD, and Luck threw for only 163 yards. The Colts did average 5.3 yards per carry, but with only 15 carries, that comes out to 80 yards. And 28 of that came on one scramble by Luck (he had 3 yards on his other scramble). Plus there was a 22 yard run by Herron, who had 11 yards on 3 other carries. So 50 yards on 2 carries, 30 on the other 13. I mean, you do't want to allow big runs like that, but on the whole that's not bad. And if you're keeping Luck to one of his worst days passing of his career, then it's not such a big deal.

Depending how San Francisco does tonight, Arizona could be in the 6th playoff spot after this week. OK, the Niners are probably gonna stomp Washington, but you never know. Anyway, I wouldn't have expected that at the start of the season, so hey, games with playoff implications for the Cardinals! Next up, Philly, which should be interesting. On the one hand, it's another road game, against a team coming off their bye, so they'll be well-rested. On the other hand, Nick Foles has gotten some seriously lucky bounces on some of those long touchdown passes, when the other team even remembers to cover his receivers. I'd like to think Arizona's defense won't let Riley Cooper run around their secondary unescorted all day. We'll see.


Monday, November 18, 2013

That One Cardinal Might be Getting Somewhere

Arizona beat Jacksonville 27-14. Yeah, it's the Jaguars, but every win counts, and I've seen the Cardinals blow too many games against shitty teams they should have beaten.

It wasn't a perfect win; Jacksonville scored their first touchdowns at home in almost a year, and were actually leading 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. Once again, Arizona couldn't cover tight ends. They never do seem to figure that out, it's been a problem for years. Arizona went 5-16 on third downs, which is about average for them this year. They only ran for 14 yards on 24 carries, which holy crap, that's bad. I mean, the Jags only ran for 32 yards on 16 carries, but that looks pretty good compared to what the Cards managed. The defense surrendered 111 yards in the first quarter.

So, that's the bad. The good is that after the first quarter, the Cardinals' defense held the Jaguars to 163 yards of offense the next three quarters. The intercepted Chad Henne twice. Carson Palmer threw for over 400 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps more important from my perspective, he didn't turn the ball over at all. Came close once, threw a pass that was intercepted, but turns out Arians had called timeout before the snap. Whew.

Anyway, now Arizona is 6-4, on the fringes of the wild card race. That's good, but the easy part of the schedule is done. Indy is coming to town, which ought to be interesting. The Colts have been fond of digging a hole for themselves for the last 3 or 4 games, then trying to come back. Arizona also seems to start slow, then gets stronger as the game progresses (especially on defense). I suppose they could both just look really ugly next week to start, then both play better later. I'm more than a little concerned about the O-line's ability to keep Palmer protected from Robert Mathis, but we'll see what happens.

One other bad bit of news for them, both the gunners on their punt coverage unit, Justin Bethel and Teddy Williams might be out. Williams tore an Achilles, so he's definitely out, but Bethel had a concussion, so who knows. Special teams have been a big part of Arizona's success this year (Jay Feely's been almost perfect this year, for example), so losing those two could be bad. Andrew Luck is a dangerous enough QB without hit punt returners giving him short fields to work with. I suppose Arizona could just score on every drive. Then they wouldn't need to punt, and the problem is solved, for one week anyway.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Only One Cardinal Still Playing Now

If the St. Louis Cardinals do something in the offseason, I'll touch on it, but for now, the focus turns solely to football. Good news then, that Arizona defeated the Houston Texans 27-24. The defense scuffled a bit in the first half, surrendering over 200 yards of offense in the first half and 17 points. In the second half, the defense held the Texans to 31 yards, and just one TD. The Texans only ran for 76 yards (at 3.6 ypc), and Case Keenum needed 43 attempts to throw for 201 yards, which drops to 159 once you factor in sacks. Jason Bethel blocked a field goal, and the defense recovered a fumble to score a touchdown to start the game.

All of which was just enough to make up for the offense's typical fuck-ups. Palmer only threw one INT, and managed 2 touchdown passes, but he also lost a fumble, as did Rashard Mendenhall. Rashard also managed just 42 yards on 13 carries, while Andre Ellington ran for 55 on 11 carries. But no, Bruce Arians, you go right ahead giving Mendenhall the lion's share of the work. Why use the vastly more effective option to lighten the load on your intermittently competent QB?

The offense is better than it has been the last, oh three seasons, but let's not fool ourselves. It still isn't good. It might get there, but it hasn't yet. That's what worries me about this team. They can't keep expecting the other two parts of the team to do all the heavy lifting every week. At some point, the offense has to step up and be more consistent. This game wasn't a bad start, ignoring the 3 turnovers. They ran for almost 100 yards, had about 330 yards total offense, only 5 penalties, only 1 sack. If Palmer can just stop handing the other team a short field, they might really get somewhere.


Monday, November 04, 2013

A Time For All Cardinals To Rest

The Arizona Cardinals had a bye this week. I'm sure that'll help a few of their players heal up for the second half of the season. Of the eight games left, they have one each against their rivals in the NFC West, and the Rams and Niners' games are both in Arizona. So hopefully they can manage to win at least one divisional game this year. Other than that, they have to go to Philly in a month, and they haven't played any of their AFC South games yet, though that's the next 3 games. They ought to be able to beat the Jags and probably the Texans, since that'll be in Arizona. I'd feel better about their odds against the Titans if it was a home game, but the Colts are coming to town instead. Not sure that'll make a difference.

The offense is in the bottom third of the league, and the defense is in the top-third. So the offense has improved slightly from last year, and the defense is worse somewhat. They've both regressed, towards the middle, but from opposite directions. It would help if Palmer would stop throwing picks at a Skeltonian rate of once every 20 passes or so, but I'm not sure there's any reason to expect that. Up to this point, the rate stats suggest he's been a slightly worse QB than Kolb was last year, though significantly better than the others. So he's better, but in the way getting kicked in the junk is better than having your foot blown off by a shotgun. I'm hopeful about this Andre Ellington fellow. Har dnot to be about a guy with over 300 yards rushing that's averaging 8 yards a carry. Mendenhall's barely averaging 3. I imagine a better rushing game would take some pressure off Palmer, or at least reduce his opportunities to throw dumb passes.

On the baseball side of things, the Cardinals took that best chance they could hope for and promptly lost the next two games. That's one way to avoid relying on Joe Kelly in Game 7. The offense failed to show up at all, which is disappointing, but maybe not surprising. No real bench, no SS who can hit, Freese and Jay both struggling. Just too many holes, even if the rest of the guys were doing well.

So it's the offseason now. They already bought out Westbrook's contract. So long, Jake, Joe Kelly will carry on your lineage of groundballs and no strikeouts. I'd be fine with the Cardinals going into next season with a rotation of Wainwright/Wacha/Miller/Lynn/Kelly, which doesn't even touch on Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Tyler Lyons, Jaime Garcia, or John Gast. True, the last two likely won't return from shoulder surgery until sometime in the middle of next season, at the earliest, that Rosenthal probably pitched so well in the 'pen the Cards will just leave him there, and that Maness may not have the stuff to face hitters multiple times in one game (though others have succeeded with worse stuff). But they are all at least possible answers for the rotation, and those are just guys who pitched for the major league club. There are undoubtedly guys who were in AAA this year, or will be next year who could be brought up as well.

I'm curious if the Cardinals will retain Axford or Mujica. At one point, Mujica was pitching so well it seemed unlikely they could afford him. Some other team would throw a foolishly huge contract at him. Then he went in the tank, and Matheny ignored him for the entirety of the playoffs. Now he might be significantly cheaper, but do they still want him, or need him? It might be cheaper to let Axford walk, and if there's no market for him, resign him cheaply later.

I'm fine with the Cards offering Beltran a qualifying offer for a one-year deal, but no more than that. He's going to be 37, and his range in the outfield is already a disaster. He's like Lance Berkman was during his time here: completely reliant on his bat to provide value, because his legs and glove aren't bringing anything to the table. I doubt Taveras will get to start next year with the major league club, given the abbreviated nature of his season in AAA, but he ought to be called up at some point, barring disaster. So Beltran shouldn't really be necessary past next year, if that. Besides, the Cardinals need to find themselves a shortstop. That's priority 1. It's not Kozma or Descalso, they have no confidence in Ryan Jackson, which leaves Greg Garcia, or finding a free agent or trade partner. Between Westbrook's buyout, Furcal and Chris Carpenter's contracts ending, as well as Beltran's, they ought to have some money to afford someone good.

If he weren't signed at a ridiculously high amount for practically another decade, I'd say go for Tulowitski. I don't really want the Cardinals to still be paying him nearly 20 million when he's 40. They wouldn't do it for Albert Pujols, who actually had intrinsic value to the franchise beyond his on-field performance, so I wouldn't do it for some hired gun SS who has more injury history than Albert did. Plus, I'm sure the Rockies would ask for the moon in prospects, which I'd only pay if they covered A LOT of Tulo's salary. I'm not sure what constitutes "a lot" exactly. Half? Two-thirds? I'd at least want the Cardinals' contract commitments to him to be no more than 13 million a year or so. Right now, from 2014 thru 2020, he's owed $130 million, so almost 19 mil a year. So get the Rockies to pay 40 million of that, maybe even 30, and I might be interested. SO more like one-third to one-fourth.

But I don't if the Rockies are even interested in trading him. He's really good, and if they think they can contend next year, maybe it's better to keep the finished product, rather than the prospects.

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