GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an interception ripe for the taking.

At the third quarter ticked away of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was looking deep for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. His pass sailed high and deep as Graham cut off his route. Waiting, what looked patiently, in the end zone were Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson.

Once they saw the pass start sailing both took off for the end zone. Cromartie was inside. Peterson was outside.

Cromartie jumped, trying to time his leap with Ryan’s throw but the ball went right through his hands, potentially slightly tipped by him. It bounced at Peterson’s feet, falling incomplete, both their hopes of a Pro Bowl interception dropping with it. All four Cardinals were on Team Carter, which lost 32-28 to Team Irvin at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I just dropped it,” an animated Cromartie said after the game. “Can’t say nothing about it. I just dropped it.”

Peterson picked up the ball and threw it at Cromartie, who was sitting on his knees, upset at himself for missing the pick. It was all done in jest but it was also the lightest moment of the most uncompetitive game of the season.

“He said, ‘here you go, here you go,’” Cromartie said.

Peterson wanted the pick. Badly. It would’ve been his second straight Pro Bowl with an interception.

“Definitely would’ve had that ball if he wouldn’t have tipped the ball,” Peterson said of Cromartie.

If he would’ve returned the interception for a touchdown, he could’ve given the Houston Texans' JJ Watt a run for defensive MVP of the game.

“I wanted to win the freaking truck,” said Peterson of the SUV that’s awarded to the MVP. “That was my only opportunity I had to get back to the end zone. But I didn’t get any plays tonight. But it happens.”


PHOENIX -- Conventional thinking would suggest the Seattle Seahawks would have an advantage, albeit slight, in Sunday's Super Bowl because they play at University of Phoenix Stadium every year against the Cardinals.

Not so, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said during Super Bowl media availability Sunday at the Arizona Grand Resort.

Despite Seattle's familiarity with the surroundings, the Seahawks will be facing an entirely different team -- one with a quarterback -- he said.

"It's a different team you're playing,” Bennett said. "We're playing the Cardinals, which they don't have a quarterback.

"We're playing New England, which has a great quarterback. It's one of those things where it's different."

Arizona played four quarterbacks this season due to injuries. Starter Carson Palmer was hurt twice last season, his year ending in Week 10 with an ACL injury. Drew Stanton had his year end in Week 15 with a right knee injury. Ryan Lindley started Arizona's last two games of the regular season and the Cardinals' playoff game against Carolina.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A Dick LeBeau-Bruce Arians reunion won't happen next season in Arizona. LeBeau has decided not to join the Arizona Cardinals staff, according to a source.

The two talked last week but LeBeau opted against moving across the country to join the Cardinals as either their defensive coordinator or linebacker coach. Former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was named the New York Jets head coach on Jan. 13.

LeBeau resigned as the Steelers' defensive coordinator on Jan. 10 after 11 seasons in Pittsburgh.

Arizona is still without a defensive coordinator or a linebacker coach, since Mike Caldwell joined Bowles in New York.

Arians and LeBeau coached together with the Steelers from 2004-2011.

(Read full post)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Whether former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau joins the Arizona Cardinals’ staff is still up in the air.

But if LeBeau moves to the desert, regardless of what capacity, the Cardinals would be getting one of the top defensive coaches of this generation, Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said after Saturday’s Pro Bowl practice.

“He’s by far one of the greatest defensive coordinators in football,” Timmons said. “He created the cross-inside blitz. That’s the blitz we’re known for, especially lately, the past 12 or 15 years. It just terrorized offenses for years.

“That all being said, c’mon really, this guy’s the best.”

Since LeBeau became the Steelers' defensive coordinator in 2004, the team's blitz rate was 31.1 percent, tied for second most over that period behind the Cardinals', who blitzed the most at 32.6 percent.

Part of what makes LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback, an effective coach, Timmons said, is that he understands players of this generation and knows how to connect with them.

But like Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who was the Steelers' wide receivers coach from 2004-2006 and then their offensive coordinator from 2007-2011, LeBeau doesn’t sugarcoat much, if anything.

“He’s so open,” Timmons said. “You respect that. As a competitor, you respect a person that is open and is real. That’s the thing about him. There’s nothing whitewashed about him.”

LeBeau was scheduled to meet with the Cardinals last week but Arizona hasn’t made an announcement regarding its next defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

And like Arians, age is irrelevant for LeBeau.

Timmons said LeBeau does push-ups in between periods at practice.

“I think age is [just] a number for this game,” Timmons said. “I think he’s going to be good.”
PHOENIX -- The Pro Bowl has become a fluid event, with changes coming annually.

The NFL made two more changes for this year’s game, which will be played at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN at University of Phoenix Stadium. Here’s a look at the two changes this year, followed by a list of the wrinkles implemented in 2014:
  • Teams will be allowed two timeouts per quarter instead of three per half. If a team uses just one timeout in the first or third quarters, it can carry the remaining timeout to the second and fourth quarter, respectively.
  • The goalposts in each end zone will be narrower, from 18 feet wide to 14 feet wide.

A reminder of the changes implemented in the 2014 game:
  • The media will choose an offensive and defensive MVP.
  • There will be a two-minute warning in the first and third quarters.
  • Possession will change hands after each quarter.
  • There won’t be kickoffs. A coin toss will determine initial possession, and the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scores.
  • Rosters will include 44 players on each team.
  • Defenses will be allowed to play Cover 2 and press coverage. Teams used to be allowed to play only man coverage, except for goal-line plays.
  • Starting at the two-minute mark of each quarter, the clock will stop if the offense doesn’t gain at least 1 yard, similar to an incomplete pass.
  • The clock will start after incomplete passes on the signal of the referee, except during the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
  • A 35-second/25-second play clock will be used instead of the usual 40-second/25-second play clock.
  • The clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- They were teammates for just one season at LSU, but that was all New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. needed to develop a respect for Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu that's still strong four years later.

Beckham was a freshman at LSU when Mathieu was a sophomore in 2011, and together they lost in the national championship to Alabama. They would've been teammates again in 2012 but Mathieu was kicked off the team that August for failing a drug test and later had any chance of reinstatement disappear after he was arrested two months later.

"It's been a guy that I've looked up to for a long time," Beckham said after Friday's Pro Bowl practice at Scottsdale Community College. "A guy who's been at the top and a guy who's been all the way down at the bottom and still remained the same the entire way through.

"Skills like that is something that I admire in a person -- someone who goes through such controversy and adversity and is still able to overcome it."

But Beckham never thought Mathieu would give up.

"Just says a lot about the person and his character," Beckham said. "It's something that I expect from him. I expect nothing but greatness from him. That's what he gives every time."

Beckham experienced some of that adversity during his rookie season in 2014.

He missed the first four games with a hamstring injury but recovered to lead all rookie receivers with 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. His injury, coupled with the knee injury Mathieu suffered in Week 14 of 2013, kept them from working out together during last offseason.

The two New Orleans natives kept in touch and would "chop it up back-and-forth," Beckham said. They also share a similar style: Like Mathieu, Beckham has the top of his hair dyed blonde.

"I don't know if it's really [a tribute] to him," Beckham said. "It's our little style, so it just works out."
With the Arizona Cardinals' loss in the playoffs still fresh in their memories, it’s time to review the 2014 season, while also previewing 2015. Over the next 11 installments, I’ll look back, and then ahead, at every position for the Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsLarry Fitzgerald carries a $23.6 million cap hit next season, which means he may not be back in Arizona.
2014 Review: The momentum was already built heading into 2014. Larry Fitzgerald was coming off his best season since 2011. Michael Floyd had surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. And the receiving corps got a jolt when Arizona drafted speedy John Brown out of small Pittsburg State. But instead of building off 2013, Fitzgerald and Floyd regressed statistically because their roles were strictly defined -- Fitzgerald was the quarterback’s underneath option, when they decided to look his way, and Floyd was the deep sideline choice. Fitzgerald had 103 targets, his fewest since 2004. Brown was the most targeted receiver on third down with 42 catches compared to 36 for Fitzgerald and 24 for Floyd. Fitzgerald suffered a knee injury against Detroit and missed the next two games. Jaron Brown filled Fitzgerald’s role but dropped an easy touchdown in Seattle in Week 12 that could’ve changed the course of the game. Ted Ginn was seldom used, catching 14 of his 26 targets for 190 yards. But last season was a chance for Floyd to break out and prove he’s capable of being Fitzgerald’s replacement, should Fitzgerald not return next season. By not catching a touchdown without Fitzgerald on the field, Floyd just boosted Fitzgerald’s worth.

2015 Preview: Which leads the Cardinals into next season. The majority of the attention on the Cardinals this offseason will be focused on what happens to Fitzgerald, who’s due $16.25 million in 2015 and carries a $23.6 million cap hit. Both numbers are extremely high for a 31-year-old who’ll be 32 by kickoff in Week 1 and had his worst statistical season since his rookie year. The Cardinals appear committed to keeping Fitzgerald but does he want to take a pay cut? That’ll be answered in the next couple of months. Without Fitzgerald, Arizona will have to find a versatile No. 1 wide receiver, which Fitzgerald, despite the play-calling restraints on him, essentially was. Floyd could be that option, but Arizona may look for another receiver in the draft who’ll better fit Fitzgerald’s specifications. While Brown has the speed to be a productive receiver in the NFL, the Cardinals will need to find another bigger receiver to round out their trio, whether through free agency or the draft. All the receivers are under contract for next season. If Fitzgerald stays, his role will have to be addressed. He has the best hands on the roster and isn’t used as often early in game as he should be, nor is he the Cardinals' primary third-down receiver which may be a reason they’re 16th in third-down percentage.

Up next: Outside linebackers
PHOENIX -- The way Team Irvin practiced Thursday, it was easy to tell it's in the Pro Bowl to win it.

About an hour after Team Carter, led by the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff, went through a light practice that consisted of mainly 11-on-11 drills, Team Irvin began its practice at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona, with team stretching.

Team Irvin, led by the Dallas Cowboys' staff, then went through a series of individual position drills before working on 11-on-11.

“We want to win,” Team Irvin and Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. “It’s one thing to get a group of competitors together and the best of the best to do it. And everyone wants to, at the end of the day, say we outplayed you.

“I’m definitely looking forward to winning the last football game I play.”

Team Irvin’s practice was more organized and taken more seriously than Team Carter’s, starting with the stretching, which Team Carter did not do. Team Irvin was divided into lines and went through a series of light calisthenics led by an assistant coach.

During receiver drills, Team Irvin had an assistant act as a cornerback, defending receivers’ first steps. There also was more individual coaching during Team Irvin’s practice.

After the practice, position coaches huddled their players together, similar to the end of a regular-season practice.

The winning team receives $55,000 per player, while the losing players receive $28,000 each.

“We don’t need any practice,” Team Carter and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This stuff is pointless. You saw how long we was out here for -- 30 minutes.

“Not very intense at all. We still want to play hard but have fun and make sure we put on a great show for the fans.”
PHOENIX -- In the mind of Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Sunday’s Pro Bowl is on par with a playoff game.

And he wasn’t about to miss either because of an injury.

Campbell said he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia the first week of February, putting it off until his season was completely over.

“Easy recovery though but it definitely hurts playing through,” Campbell said at the Arizona Biltmore after he was chosen in the Pro Bowl draft. “But I figured if I could play through a playoff game I could play through the Pro Bowl.”

Campbell will play in his first Pro Bowl in his seventh season.
PHOENIX – The Arizona Cardinals' four Pro Bowlers will get to play one more home game together this season.

Alumni captain Cris Carter drafted Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Antonio Cromartie during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl draft. He picked special-teamer Justin Bethel in a separate draft Tuesday night.

“You know, that’s pretty cool,” Campbell said. “I think Cris Carter did a good job with his draft strategy. He waited a little too long to take me, in my opinion.”

This Sunday’s Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium will also be a home game for the quartet. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Peterson was picked seventh overall, followed by Campbell at No. 23 and Cromartie at No. 33.
PHOENIX -- Who Arizona’s next defensive coordinator is will influence cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s decision to return to the Cardinals -- if they want him.

“Honestly, I think it’ll play a role,” Cromartie said Wednesday at a Pro Bowl community event in Phoenix.

At the same time, however, Cromartie, who’ll turn 31 in April, said he can’t be picky about where he continues his career. Cromartie becomes a free agent in March and the Cardinals have yet to announce a replacement for Todd Bowles, their former defensive coordinator who was hired as the New York Jets' head coach on Jan. 13.

On Tuesday, coach Bruce Arians said he may name a new coordinator in the next week.

Once Bowles’ replacement is named, the four-time Pro Bowler will get a better idea of what style will be run -- and if it fits his personal preferences.

“It’s just a point of understanding what kind of defensive scheme it will be,” Cromartie said. “If it’s the same scheme as Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles, when you’re playing a lot of man-to-man and you’re putting your corners out on an island, that’s something that every defensive back thrives on.”

If Arians promotes a current assistant, Cromartie doesn’t expect the Cardinals' defense to change much, if at all, from the 3-4, blitz-heavy scheme Bowles ran the past two seasons.

“I don’t think the scheme is going to change at all,” Cromartie said. “I think everything is going to stay the same, just have a different person calling the game.

“And it’s all about calling the right game and understanding what we’re trying to do and go from there.”

Cromartie, who rated his 2014 as “pretty good” after four interceptions and 53 tackles, including the playoffs, said he hasn’t begun thinking about what his future includes -- or where.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “When contract talks start coming about, that’s when I can start talking about it. But right now, [I’m] enjoying the Pro Bowl and going from there.”
The first impression of new Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is he's open-minded and extremely flexible in his philosophies.

Trestman wants to stick with the same basic terminology the Ravens used last season because it's easier for one person to adjust. He'll defer to coach John Harbaugh on whether he will call plays on the sideline or in the coaches' box. And he'll base how much shotgun alignments they'll use on the strengths of Joe Flacco.

"It's never going to be my offense," Trestman said Wednesday, a day after he agreed to a three-year contract with the Ravens. "It's always going to be the Ravens' offense."

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports"It's never going to be my offense," new Baltimore offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. "It's always going to be the Ravens' offense."
By the end of the season, everyone will know whether it is Trestman's offense or the Ravens' one by looking at the number of rushing attempts. Toward the end of last season, Harbaugh said running the ball was in the Ravens' DNA. In Trestman's 12 seasons as an NFL play-caller, the ball has been in the air more than it has been on the ground.

Remember he's called the "Quarterback Whisperer," not a running back one. Trestman's offense has ranked in the top 10 in passing seven times and ended up in the top 10 in rushing once. Under Trestman, the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears finished 17th or lower in rushing attempts in 10 of his 12 seasons.

“I don't know what he's known as, or who knows him as what, but we have a way we want to play and we have a system in place," Harbaugh said. "We've been running the ball here for a long time. That has been our philosophy and our belief, and Marc understands that. I understand what kind of an offense we're going to be going forward and Marc believes in that, and we're ready to roll with that.”

Harbaugh only interviewed two candidates when searching for a replacement for Gary Kubiak, who left to become the Denver Broncos' head coach. Trestman met with Harbaugh on Monday afternoon, and former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase spoke with him Monday evening.

Even though Harbaugh and Trestman had only been acquaintances, something clicked during their sit-down.

"Once we had a chance to get talking, along with his background, the main thing is that he's such a good fit for us going forward," Harbaugh said. "His experience level, his background in this offense, the fact that he can take us exactly from where we are, offensively, in terms of the terminology and the system that's in place and move it forward and build off of that, that was the determining factor.”

The most impressive part of the foundation laid by Kubiak in his one season with the Ravens was his stretch zone-blocking scheme. It's turned eight different running backs into 1,000-yard rushers over the years, and it turned the Ravens from the 30th-ranked run offense to the No. 8 one.

Harbaugh said the Ravens have been using this as their primary blocking scheme since 2010, but he acknowledged Kubiak and his staff took it to another level. Trestman is familiar with this system, and he's spoken to Kubiak about it over the years.

"It's essentially a zone-blocking system, but there are also other gap plays and trap plays and draw plays and other things that go in," Trestman said. "But the platform, or the starting point, is certainly running the zone plays, and that's not going to change.”

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Todd Bowles was greeted Wednesday at his introductory news conference with the same question that confronted his predecessors, Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini.

How does he feel about chasing the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick, who are now contending for their fourth Super Bowl ring?

"I'm going to work on getting my own rings," Bowles promised.

It was hardly a Ryan-like boast, but welcome to a new Jets era. The volume will be a lot lower than it was under Ryan, who famously vowed never to kiss Belichick's rings.

Bowles and new general manager Mike Maccagnan, who also met the media for the first time, will bring an understated approach to running the organization. Their low-key personalities were apparent in a 49-minute session in which they came across as likable, hardworking football guys with no egos.

"These gentlemen, in my estimation, are the people [who can deliver a championship]," said owner Woody Johnson, seated alongside Bowles and Maccagnan.

Neither man provided any definitive statements on the state of the team, although Bowles admitted that a return to the playoffs "isn't going to happen overnight."

Johnson said one of the things that attracted him to Bowles, the former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, was his plan to operate as a CEO-type coach, not focusing on his area of expertise. That's how Ryan did it, concentrating solely on the defense.

Bowles has the ability "to take a 30,000-foot look at offense, defense and special teams, all those areas and how they interact," Johnson said.

Bowles said he's not planning to call the defensive plays. He will leave that to his coordinator, mostly likely former Miami Dolphins

(Read full post)


ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss discusses defensive end Calais Campbell's record $1.6 million donation to the University of Miami.
PHOENIX -- It doesn't take a magnifying glass and a fingerprint kit to figure out which way Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is leaning toward for his next defensive coordinator.

During a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview Tuesday from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Arians all but said he's picked out Todd Bowles' replacement.

"We kinda know the coordinator job," Arians said. "It's just putting the right pieces with him."

Who might "him" be?

Late Tuesday night, Fox Sports' Alex Marvez reported that the Cardinals were close to hiring former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as their linebackers coach to replace the departed Mike Caldwell, who joined Bowles, the former Cardinals defensive coordinator, with the New York Jets.

Landing LeBeau would be a major piece of the defensive coordinator puzzle. It also, in my opinion, tips the scale in one direction. I don't think Arians would hire the 77-year-old veteran LeBeau if he's going to hire a veteran coordinator. That would be a pairing ripe for disaster: the coordinator would have his own philosophy and scheme, and LeBeau would have his. Conflict and disagreements would almost be a guarantee.

For those reasons, I think defensive backs coach Nick Rapone won't be the defensive coordinator.

Since it's likely the Cardinals would remain in house, all signs point to a young coach on staff, such as outside linebackers coach James Bettcher. At 36, the dynamic between Bettcher and LeBeau, who would still be counted on as a trusted voice in leading the defense, would be similar to the offense, where assistant head coach for offense Tom Moore, 76, mentors the younger offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, 41, and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens, 40.

Arians values the experience and years of knowledge older coaches bring to his staff. He also trusts young coaches. Combining the two, in Arians' eyes, is coaching harmony.

But there's still a wild card at play. Where does Mike Nolan, the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator who the Cardinals are interested in interviewing, fit in? Does he at all? Nolan could be the defensive coordinator or the assistant head coach for defense. If Arians stays in house and promotes Bettcher, Arizona would be in need of an outside linebackers coach. Does Nolan go from a defensive coordinator to a linebackers coach?

Even if LeBeau is close to being hired, there's still a lot to figure out.

"We'll announce all that probably in the next week so," Arians said.