Cardinals Beat Cowboys With Defense, Patience And A Little Luck

The Cardinals once again upset the Cowboys at UoP Stadium in a thrilling affair. Arizona improves to 5-7 on the season while the Cowboys fall to 7-5.

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Cardinals Vs. Cowboys Rewind: Faking The Icing Of The Kicker

The Arizona Cardinals came out of Sunday's win over the Dallas Cowboys with a lot of positive momentum. Not only did they emerge with no (known) new injury concerns, they finally beat a good team and proved that their improvements on defense are not a fluke of playing the St. Louis Rams twice.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said at his Monday press conference that he was very pleased with the way his team responded to the challenge of playing a very good opponent and they had generated a lot of confidence heading into next week's challenge, the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers

Whisenhunt even addressed the large contingent of Cowboys fans who for the third-straight year left disappointed.

"I know they had a few fans there yesterday. Hopefully, we'll play more like yesterday and take care of that in the future," he said.

Kevin Kolb showed positive signs

Whisenhunt reported that after a shaky first half, quarterback Kevin Kolb showed a lot of promise. He made some athletic plays and nice throws and his mobility wasn't limited by the foot injury. Kolb also showed progress on something that plagued him early in the season.

"We didn't see any running out of the pockets or having to throw it away that we saw earlier this year and that's a credit to Kevin and getting more comfortable in our offense and working at it," Whisenhunt said.

To ice or to fake the ice?

Whisenhunt admitted that he was considering calling a timeout to "ice" the Cowboys kicker on their field goal attempt late in the game. In the end, he decided not to call the timeout but he was near the official pretending that he might.

Icing or not, the Cardinals recent success blocking kicks is in the minds of opposing teams.

"No question about it. And let's be honest, I think those other teams have seen what our guys have done and it's no question they are aware of that as well," Whisenhunt said.

Darnell Dockett said the same thing after the game: "Now matter how many yards they get, just keep them out the endzone. Doesn't matter if they drive all the way from the one-yard line to the two-yard line. Make them kick a field goal and we will have a good chance of blocking it."

According to Whisenhunt, Patrick Peterson almost blocked the point after try after the Dallas touchdown. His team is confident they can impact the other team's kicking game even if they don't get to every ball. So far, that seems like a far more effective strategy than calling a time out to ice a kicker.

The national media seems fixated on the Cowboys clock management late in the game and decision to call a timeout right before the final field goal attempt. That focus does a disservice to the Cardinals defense that allowed just one touchdown all game and to the offense that played well in the second half and in overtime. 

The Cardinals might have been helped by a bit of luck, but a 49-yard field goal is no sure thing under any circumstances and Arizona still moved the ball 80 yards for a game-winning overtime touchdown. All the icing talk in the world can't change that.

Change in offensive identity with better defense

Twice now we've heard Kevin Kolb talk about the Cardinals defense and how important it is for him as the QB not to turn the ball over so they can have a chance to be effective. While no team wants to turn the ball over, Kolb seems to be saying that with a stronger defensive unit, he can afford to take some sacks and not try and force plays.

"You know our defense is playing great," Kolb said after the game. "You try to keep all those things in your head as you're going...The defense has told us on the offense, 'Hey, just don't turn that thing over, we're playing good right now.' You don't want to get out there and try to do too much."

Coach Whisenhunt, perhaps employing "coach speak", wouldn't go that far. 

"It's always been our intention to be a good defense. In this league, championships are won with having a good defense. If we can get to that level that we appear to be moving towards as a defense, and get back to the way we've played around here as an offense, we'll be a pretty good football team. We'll be a tough team to beat and that's really what we're striving to do."

He wouldn't even admit to a change in play-calling based on having a defense that can be trusted to limit the opposition. One might think that such a luxury would allow the offense to be more conservative, which is what Kolb implied, but Whisenhunt doesn't like to give away anything that might help an opponent game plan against him so we are left only to observe and speculate.

Injury notes

Todd Heap missed Sunday's game with the lingering hamstring injury but Whisenhunt said he believes that Heap has "turned a corner" with the injury. We'll see.

Safety Kerry Rhodes returned to practice in a limited fashion last week doing individual drills. He status will depend on how he looks in practice this week. In his place, the Cardinals have used CB Richard Marshall as a safety in some situations and Rashad Johnson has shown consistent improvement as well.


NFL Monday Morning Recap: Arizona Show Growth, Road Map To Cardinals Playoff Berth

Coach Whisenhunt has the Arizona Cardinals on the right track and it is unlikely, but playoffs isn't completely out of the question for the Cardinals.


Cardinals Win Over Cowboys, Keys To The Game: Kolb Trusting His Defense, The Defense Delivering

The Arizona Cardinals won their fifth game of the season and for the second-straight time at home survived an opponent's game-winning field goal attempt and won in overtime with a walk-off big play. The "Cardiac Cards" might not be all the way back, but they sure did make an appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium these last two games.

The big picture story of the win over the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday was the Arizona defense and the confidence they gave Kevin Kolb not to feel like he had to make all the plays. Early in the season, he seemed to try and do too much where as now he seems much more comfortable taking a sack and living to fight another day.

Kolb admitted to being rusty in the first half and to a certain degree overwhelmed by the speed of the game, but he still made good decisions and was patient until things settled down for him. The defense kept the game close until the offense could get going. They put up 287 out of a total 336 yards and scored 16 of 19 points once Kolb as able to settle in and clean up some mistakes.

While the second half is where the numbers stand out, the first half demonstrated his maturity and understanding of the situation. The key was not forcing throws and risking turnovers. He took four sacks for 21 yards in the first half and just one sack for two yards in the second. Several of those sacks came late in the play after the initial protection stood up and he had held the ball too long.

"You know our defense is playing great," Kolb said. "You try to keep all those things in your head as you're going. As I become more comfortable, as I did in the second half, you can try and make a few more plays. The defense has told us on the offense, 'Hey, just don't turn that thing over, we're playing good right now.' You don't want to get out there and try to do too much."

It was a very positive game for Kolb and he showed his maturity and confidence in the way he "managed the game". His teammates certainly seem to trust him which is very important.

Defense turning legit

The Cardinals' defense allowed just 13 points to a Dallas team that's averaging 24 per game and held the Cowboys to 54 yards below their season average. Over the past five games the Cardinals have allowed an average of just 17 points per game which would be in the top three in the league if spread out over the full season. 

Making that number even more impressive, they did it despite ten turnovers from the offense in a three-game span. You can see why they would tell Kolb to take care of the ball and give them a chance to win the game.

The credit for the improvement on the defensive side is nothing sexy. Like many things, it's a combination of hard work and having the right people in place.

"I think time; getting more comfortable with the defense and being able to play faster...It's a shame earlier in the season we didn't have a little bit more success in some of those games. This speaks a lot of our players that we are able to finish the the last four or five games the way our defense has played, so it's really good to see our guys believing in what we are doing and playing good ball."

It's helped having the impressive rookie Sam Acho playing in-place of Joey Porter at OLB but but the biggest difference has been the cohesion of the front seven in stopping the run and the communication in the secondary that's prevented the big plays that haunted the team early in the season.

It's a bit too soon to say, but it appears the Cardinals are finally developing an identity as a football team that relies on their defense and strives to control the ball and not make mistakes on offense. The big play might still be there at times but team isn't dependent on winning shootouts like they used to be.

Arizona has won four of their last five games playing that way and will get another crack at the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers next week. The Niners have already clinched the NFC West but there's no doubt the Cardinals will be amped up for another shot at them.


Cardinals Vs. Cowboys Score Update: Dallas Up 10-3 In Defensive Tussle

The Arizona Cardinals defense, particularly the front seven, continue to demonstrate the improvement we've been seeing for the last several weeks. The front line got pressure on Tony Romo (three sacks) and did a solid job against the run which helped keep the game close while the Arizona offense tried to find its footing.

The Cowboys were the first team to get into scoring position but missed a 53-yard field goal on a kick that went wide left. The Cardinals used the good starting field position to drive 27 yards and put their own three points on the board.

Neither side was able to do much offensively although the Cowboys did tie the game with a 50-yard kick with about six minutes left in the half. From there a series of poor possessions twice forced the Cardinals to punt from their end zone. 

On the second sequence, the Cowboys started their drive from the Arizona 33 and eventually scored on a 15-yard pass from Romo to Dez Bryant for the first touchdown of the game which game Dallas a 10-3 lead which is where the first half ended.

Kevin Kolb made a few decent throws in his first game back but he also missed open receivers and was sacked four times. He hasn't shown his previous propensity to flush himself out of the pocket and he's not forcing passes that aren't there. Unfortunately, that's led to him holding the ball longer than his protection can hold up.

Kolb is 7-11 on mostly short passes with a total of 44 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. The Cardinals have a total 49 yards offense. Romo went 11-20 for 135 yards with one TD pass. Defensively, Arizona held Dallas to 48 yards on the ground.

For more on the Arizona Cardinals, visit Revenge of the Birds.


Cardinals Vs. Cowboys: Kolb Active, Heap's Injury Struggles Continue

The Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys are a few hours from kicking off their Sunday afternoon NFL Week 13 contest. Both sides have released their lists of 46 active and seven inactive players. As expected, quarterback Kevin Kolb will make his first start since suffering a foot injury in the Cardinals game in Baltimore on October 30.

What was not expect is the continued issues with Todd Heap's hamstring. Heap played in the first four games of the season before the injury which has now kept him out of seven games as of this Sunday. He was activated last week against the Rams but was limited in his role and had no receptions. He has just 13 catches on the season.

Fortunately for the Cardinals offense, rookie TE Rob Housler will play. Housler has shown that he can be an effective weapon in the passing game but has missed the last four games with a groin injury.

Other roster news for the Cardinals is WR Jaymar Johnson getting a chance to be on the active roster for the first time since being promoted from the practice squad. With Johnson active, receivers Stephen Williams and Rodney Stuckey are inactive. 

Johnson was a sixth-round pick for the Vikings in the 2008 NFL Draft. He played in just six games since. Johnson has been impressive in practice and reportedly has blazing speed. If Johnson can use that speed to beat single coverage it might force defenses to commit a safety which in turn could open things up for Larry Fitzgerald. We'll see.

According to the team web site, Jeremy Bridges will get the start in place of Brandon Keith at right tackle. Keith has struggled with knee issues and suffered a concussion a few weeks ago. Bridges has played adequately at times.

Other inactives for the Cardinals includes S Kerry Rhodes (foot), OLB Joey Porter (knee), T D'Anthony Bastiste, QB Rich Bartell.

For the Cowboys, inactives include: WR Miles Austin is out along with QB Jon Kitna, FB Tony Fiammetta, RB Philip Tanner, G David Arkin, G Daniel Loper, NT Josh Brent.


Cardinals Vs. Cowboys Injury Report: Arizona Is A Fine Place To Get Well

The Arizona Cardinals continue to prepare for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. The game is sold out which marks the 60th straight time the fans have stepped up and saved the city from a TV blackout. Here's the updated injury report from Thursday practice and a note from Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic.

Twitter / @kentsomers: Kevin Kolb took most of th ...
Kevin Kolb took most of the snaps with the starters today, still on schedule to start against the Cowboys on Sunday

For the Cardinals, S Kerry Rhodes was the only player who didn't practice. He has his foot out of the walking boot but there hasn't been any stated timeline for his return.

Limited in practice were: CB Michael Adams (hamstring), TE Todd Heap (hamstring),  LB Joey Porter (knee), LB Reggie Walker (hamstring), RB Chris Wells (knee).

Kevin Kolb along with TE Rob Housler and KR/RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (shoulder) were full participants in Thursday's practice.

The Cowboys have a much more extensive injury report:

Did not practice: WR Miles Austin (hamstring), RB Tony Fiammetta (illness), QB Jon Kitna (back), DT Josh Price-Brent (knee), RB Phillip Tanner (hamstring)

Limited: CB Mike Jenkins (hamstring), G Kyle Kosier (foot), S Gerald Sensabaugh (foot)

For more on the Arizona Cardinals, visit Revenge of the Birds.


Sam Acho Making Cardinals' 2011 Rookie Class Look Better

If not for the impact Patrick Peterson has made for the Arizona Cardinals this season, Sam Acho might be the team's most talked-about rookie this year.

In a season where there hasn't been a whole lot to cheer about in Arizona, Acho is giving the Cardinals and their fans reason to have hope for the future for a defense that is now showing signs of coming together. 

The linebacker from Texas, a fourth-round pick, is coming off his best game to date as a Cardinal. He had two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the team's 23-20 win at St. Louis last Sunday. Acho became the first rookie to record multiple sacks in a game since Karlos Dansby got two against the New York Giants in 2004.

Since moving into the starting lineup in Week 8, Acho has 20 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in five starts. 

"It's a testament to the coaches putting me in the right places," Acho said Wednesday after Cardinals practice. 

Acho said he had a lot to learn when he arrived for his first training camp. He admitted he was overwhelmed at first. "I've never seen a playbook this big and I know my playbook at Texas was huge," Acho said. 

But veteran Adrian Wilson was there to walk Acho through the playbook and go over concepts. Since then, Acho has wisely sought advice and asked questions of veterans like Joey Porter -- whom Acho replaced -- and Clark Haggans

A defensive end in college, Acho needed time to convert to outside linebacker. 

"Sam's a smart guy. He's been studying and working hard since he's been here," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He made a lot of mistakes early, and when you do that, you have a tendency to lose your confidence. Sam wasn't thrown into the fire where he had to do it in games, so he got a chance to come along the right way. When he got his opportunity he was very confident. That's probably the best thing Sam does right now, he doesn't make mistakes."

Acho thanks his parents, Sonni and Christie, for a positive upbringing the in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He got it done in the classroom at Texas with seven appearances on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll and was part of medical missions to his parents' homeland of Nigeria even as a teenager. He also volunteered as an English language teacher.

Acho's younger brother Emmanuel is a finalist for the Ronnie Lott Trophy in college football. Sam is proud because the award stands for not just good play but exemplary service in the community and high character and high character.

"You could tell pretty quick with Sam that he was a very intelligent young man, very focused," Whisenhunt said, recalling when he met Acho's parents. "The human part of it is that people root for Sam because of who he is, because he doesn't have the ego. He'll do anything that you ask him... one those unselfsh kind of attitudes."

Acho recalls getting only limited snaps in games at the outset of the season and admitted feeling anxious about wanting to tell his coaches to put him in. But he was told to be patient and diligent, and said that paid off.

"Nothing's ever going to be handed to you, nothing's going to come easy," Acho said, remembering words of wisdom from his parents. "if you work and you have faith, then things are eventually going to be OK."

They seem to be right now.

"As long as I'm sacking somebody I'm happy," Acho said. 

Teammates have found Acho to be quite a chatterbox with his questions and enthusiasm. Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett hears it often.

"The best thing for him is to stop talking back to me before I put him in a headlock and kill him," Dockett kidded. "Other than that he's going to be all right."


Kevin Kolb Is Back, Arizona Cardinals Expect Their Prize QB To Finally Start Again

Kevin Kolb is back. After missing four weeks due to a bad case of turf toe complicated by a bone bruise in his foot, the Arizona Cardinals will have their prize quarterback taking snaps Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. At least that's plan barring any set backs and none are expected (which is why they are called "set backs").

"Yeah, I feel really good," Kolb said Wednesday after taking all the reps in practice for the first time since the injury. "Obviously, we'll see tomorrow how it feels after a full day, but I have full intention of playing."

Kolb was nearing ready to go last week, but the team had enough doubt about Kolb's foot they decided early on that John Skelton would get the start so he could get the full benefit of practicing with the first team.  

As to be expected, Coach Ken Whisenhunt was his normally evasive self on such matters.

"The way it's gone this season for us with different guys, I'm not going to say anything like that today. We'll see how it is tomorrow," Whiz said, adding with about as much of a definitive answer as you will get from him, "But I said Sunday after the (Rams) game that we're a lot more optimistic that he'll have a chance to play this week."

Kolb is anxious to get back out on the field and understands how important it is for him and the entire offense to play well in these final five games of the season. 

"We still don't feel like offensively we've played an entire game yet as a complete unit. That's a big goal of ours," Kolb said, adding the offense needs to figure out "who we are".

He did seem to indicate that with the way the defense and special teams are playing, the role of the Cardinals' quarterback is to not screw up.

"I think if you look back on a lot of games, if us as quarterbacks just did our part and just took care of the ball and played a good, solid game then we would have won quite a few of them. That's my mentality and that needs to be our mentality every time we hit the field. Just do your job (then) we'll take care of business."

It will be interesting to see if that becomes the new norm in Arizona. That model has certainly worked in San Francisco and Baltimore, but under Ken Whisenhunt the Cardinals have followed the "Kurt Warner Plan" of letting the QB make big plays to the star receiver. 

That plan didn't work last year with the Derek Anderson Max Hall John Skelton monster and as the team has found out this year, it's not likely to work with Kevin Kolb any time soon. Fortunately, the defense is getting better and Beanie Wells has stepped up his game. That allows Whisenhunt to be more conservative on offense and let's the QB "manage the game", to use that infamous NFL phrase.

We'll see how that plays out, if at all. When you have No. 11 on your team, there's a lot of pressure to throw him the ball and a lot of comes from Larry Fitzgerald himself lobbying for targets. He does make a pretty compelling case. 

Other Injury News

In other Cardinals injury news, TE Rob Housler (groin) was back practicing in full while TE Todd Heap remains limited. As expected Joey Porter (knee) and Kerry Rhodes (foot) are still out with no time table for return.

Beanie Well was limited in practice as has been the norm for him on Wednesday as he gives his knee more time to recover from the last game and prepare for the next one.


Patrick Peterson Enters Hall Of Fame, At Least His Shoes Do

Patrick Peterson may some day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. It's a tad early yet to call the Arizona Cardinals rookie a "lock" for the prestigious honor but he's already got one foot in the door. Or two shoes to be factually correct. 

The Hall of Fame announced  they have inducted Peterson's cleats that he wore during his 99-yard game winning punt return touchdown against the St. Louis Rams on November 6. The shoes commemorate Peterson as the only player ever to have four punt return touchdowns of 80 yards more. The four also ties an NFL record for the most punt return TDs in a season.

Peterson has five more games to break and own the record and will surely do so if opposing teams continue to kick him the ball in the middle of the field. 

The size 12, Nike cleats are now part of the Hall's permanent collection. The look great and probably even smell like winning.


Now, the next trick for Peterson will be to get his jersey in the Hall for setting some records as a cornerback. 

And oh, by the way, Peterson was named (for the second time) the NFL Special Teams Player of the Week thanks to this play. Ho hum.


Cardinals Monday Review: Beanie Wells Response; Kevin Kolb Looking Good For Cowboys Game

Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt was clearly pleased at his Monday morning press conference. He was encouraged by the road win, only the second of the season, and was happy with the way his team finished the game late.

The Cardinals broke a tie with a field goal, got a defensive hold, and were able to run out the clock on offense. These are the types of late-game sequences that went against the Cardinals in several early season losses.

Obviously, a lot of praise went to Beanie Wells for his franchise record-breaking 228-yard game which is also the second-highest rushing game in the NFL this season (behind only 253 yards from the Cowboy's DeMarco Murray which was also against the Rams).

"Beanie (Wells) is sore today (with) a little swelling but not as bad as we thought it might be," Whisenhunt said.

"When he got his knee bent back, it looked horrible. At that point I'm sure most of us assumed that was it, he's done, because he was already fighting the knee. But to his credit, he fought through and came back in and had a couple of big runs. Kudos to Beanie."

Whisenhunt said that Wells has shown a lot of growth this season in his understanding of what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

Other than a few little nicks and bruises, the Cardinals came out of the game with no new injuries.

Kevin Kolb is expected to play this coming week against the Dallas Cowboys. He made a lot of progress last week and was able to participate in practice in a limited way and could have been activated and used later in the game. Whisenhunt said the artificial turf at the Edward Jones Dome caused concerns about his ability to warm up the foot after sitting on the sidelines.

"We are certainly a lot more optimistic about him going this week. It's really going to depend on where he is Wednesday and as that progresses but he made enough progress last week that you feel good about him doing it this week," Whisenhunt said

John Skelton had another poor game with two interceptions and a 12-for-23 completion rate. Whisenhunt said a change in protection call that lead to an early sack got in his head and that he appeared uncomfortable. When Skelton sets his feet and has good technique he throws the ball well. Otherwise, as we saw, the ball can sail.

Other Notes:

  • In the past few games where the Cardinals haven't ran the ball well, Whisenhunt stressed other teams loading up in the box to take away the run. Against the Rams, Whisenhunt said they saw a mix. He credited the wide receivers for blocking well against the St. Louis pressure defense.
  • Whisenhunt challenged his team to run the ball well. He had read comments from some Rams players saying they had shut down the Cardinals in their last game and would do so again. The offensive line and Wells responded well.
  • Sam Acho made a difficult transition to stand up linebacker with no offseason. He's always talking to veterans when he comes off field.
  • "He's (Acho) worked hard and I think he's got a very bright future at that position. Obviously, two sacks (Sunday), causing the fumbles, he came up big for us. It's really exciting to see young guys, especially a player like Sam where we drafted him, making that kind of contribution." -- Whisenhunt
  • Whisenhunt would push for Patrick Peterson for the Rookie of the Year. "What's he's done is special." 
  • Teams try to kick away from Peterson but sometimes the punter doesn't get it right. By kicking to the sidelines, the Cardinals also have an improved chance at getting better field position.
  • Wells was allowed to run one final time to set the rushing record thanks to team PR guy, Mark Dalton, who informed Whisenhunt during the two-minute warning that he was close. Breaking the record was important for the entire team, not just Beanie.
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