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NFL17 Pre-Play: Bloom Is Off But Arians Still In League’s Elite Coach Class

5 Sep

NFL 2017 head coach ranking with Bruce Arians of Arizona Cardinals @ #5:

1) Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
2) Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
3) Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
4) John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
5) Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

— — —

It was a rough 2016 for the Arizona Cardinals and their 5th-yr HC Bruce Arians who still gets mentioned when the NFL’s best are bantered about.

Arians must be a firm believer in aberration, i.e., an unpleasant deviation from the norm. He HAS to be because he won’t, he CAN’T believe that his fairly talent-laden NFC West squad would again lay an egg like they did in NFL 2016 when, in oppposite of many favorable prognostications by fans & press and general roster health they finished a disappointing 7-8-1. Eek.

Progression can be a wonderful thing. From it will spring forth hopes, learning experiences and maybe, just maybe, a 5-year, $25M ($15M guaranteed) contract with a nice buyout clause ($7.5M). Maybe.

I don’t know how the Paterson, New Jersey native’s, who is set to turn 65 in October (10.3.52), contract with owner Bill Bidwell reads but given his former progression, its terms are most likely fair & balanced to both sides.

The problem with progression is that any sudden halt in one’s steady forward progress and it can be bone-jarring. Ouch!

— — —

Beginning his coaching career at Virginia Tech in 1975 as a graduate assistant, Bruce didn’t get his first top NFL gig until late in the game at age sixty when he took over as Indianapolis interim for the ailing Chuck Pagano who was out in cancer treatment (2012) and proceeded to win the first of his two AP-COY awards (+ 2014). In 2013 he took the reins at Arizona and kept winning, going 34-14, a total that excludes his 9-3 Colts mark (11-5), W-L numbers diverted to Pagano‘s career tally by NFL’s record keepers.

2012: Colts 9 – 3
2013: Cards 10 – 6
2014: Cards 11 – 5
2015: Cards 13 – 3
2016: Cards 7 – 8 – 1

Odd as Arizona’s 2016 devolution, odder still was that it happened even as there were some quite notable individual and team bright spots.

Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, the Bengals’ 1st-Rd draftee out of USC in 2004, appeared to’ve fully recovered from his 2014 knee injury, making fifteen starts and putting up reasonable if not great numbers.

Career-long Card and another 04 draftee in receiver Larry Fitzgerald had his eight 1000-yd season in 2016, surpassing the 100 career total in TDs (104).

On defense, Arizona sported a double-digited sack-duo in linebackers Markus Golden (12.5 / tie 3rd) and Chandler Jones (11 / 8th). Not how I’d use my main-defenders (sacks) but it got the job done in part as AZ’s defense ranked a spiffy #2 in yapg (305 (301 HOU)) but a so-so #14 in papg at 22.6 (15.6 NE).

The brightest spot was rising star and MVP candidate (I had him #2 heading into W17), running-back / receiver David Johnson, the 2nd-year man out of Northern Iowa who ran for 1239 (+ 16td), caught 80 passes for 879 yards (+ 4td) and led the League with 20 pay-dirts in total.

Some small comfort for Arians & Crew may’ve been the fact that 2016 was, as Winston Churchill put it in describing the Soviet Union circa 1939, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” especially in the ho-hum NFC which may help to account for this prognosticator’s worst effort to date.

In the American, surprise disappointments were the Jets (10-6 (15) > 5-11 (16)), the Ravens (10-6 (14) > 5-11 > 8-8 (16)) and the Bengals (12-4 (15) > 6-9-1 (16)) who were expected to contend and then, of course, el-foldo come playoffs.

In the NFC, Cards and defending Halas hoisters, Carolina, were favored to shine but stumbled in start and never recovered; Seattle didn’t find the fierceness and only Atlanta & GB looked worthy of taking on New England. And if you thought Dallas (13-3) was the real-deal with the rookies, you don’t watch much NFL.

Will Arizona rebound in 2017? League’s looking pretty pathetic these days, bound to get worse with the art of tackling fading fast and flash-QB filling the ranks, meaning, any team with pro talent in key positions, and that means AZ, should have a good shot a taking the Hunt or Halas trophy come January.

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-sign, wikiproject; B.Arians, G.Skidmore, 8.5.16, Glendale, wc; L.Fitzgerald, wc, Al-Anbar, Al-Asad, USO, 3.8.09, Cpl-J.Hernandez, Cpt-J.Daniels; Arians, 3.22.17, DoC, T.LaRussa, G.Skidmore; Topps, J.Otto, 1970
Posted: 9.5.17 @ 4.28pE; Copyright © 2017

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NFL16: In a Sorry Season, David Johnson is an Arizona Bright-Spot

1 Dec

Stiff-Arm

It was the time-tested stiff-arm tactic that first caught my eye when happening upon Arizona Cardinals then rookie running-back David Johnson (UNI) two summers ago in a pre-season exhibit game against the San Diego Bolts.

In carrying the pigskin prize, the Clinton, Iowa native had habit of putting his free-arm out like the Heisman guy, an effective tactic at keeping his AFC opponents at bay long enough to tack on a few more yards, no doubt to the delight of Cardinals staff.

az-cards-wc-m-epsilon-9-2-12-logo-10k-2005It’s true that pre-season play by tradition and common sense does not often go full-tilt and must be viewed in a different light than the regular season play. The reasons are well known: Rusty from the layoff, trying to avoid injury (to yourself / opponents) and a team chemistry that is still in flux due to new teammates by-way of the draft, trade or free-agency.

But if I recall right, this Cards – Bolts exhibition was one of the later games when the synergy is beginning to set in, defensive hits get more pointed and borderline players are fighting for their lives to make the final roster. And in this heightened state of competition, David looked to be a gem.

The Whole Package

From the get-go, you could, if possessing of even a rudimentary level of football know-how, see that this 3rd round 2015 draftee (#86) out of Northern Iowa had all the tools to survive head coach Bruce Arians’ roster-cut and then thrive at the pro level once given a starter’s spot.

It’s kinda’ basic but Johnson clearly knew his playbook. And how many rookies and then vets too have suffered a roster cut simply failing to know that much?

arians-8-5-16-wc-g-skidmore-2-2m-az*David let the O-line do its thing, found holes the playbook predicted and when they weren’t there, could cut on a dime and carve out his own. Then, when quarterback Carson Palmer put the ball in flight, it found sanctuary in a pair of hands that were made to catch.

That pre-season audition, impressive to this viewer and his coaches no doubt, seems to have started David Johnson on a professional pathway to a cherished place.

Born to NFL?

Making the Cardinals cut and sharing duties with former 2000-yard running man in Chris Johnson, David would go on to rush for near 600 yards, eight (8) touchdowns, haul in 36 catches for 457 yards and convert four (4) of those for pay-dirt. Pretty spiffy statistics for a greenhorn.

This 2016 season has David appearing as one of the few bright spots in a sorry Cardinals campaign (4-6-1), one where the team is beginning to show the blight of the dreaded “selfish” disease, as recently pointed out by Mr. Arians. But it’s seen the sophomore’s upward trajectory put David in class with the National game’s top rushers and most reliable go-to receivers.

az-cards-plane-e-maloney-4-6-08-425k*In handling triple-duty in the lion’s share of AZ’s rushing game, a healthy portion of the reception load and turning much of it into touchdowns (13), Johnson’s fashioning himself into a top NFL multi-purpose running back, nearing that stupendous class of 1970s greats like the Minnesota Vikings’ Chuck Foreman and St. Louis Cardinals’ Terry Metcalf, both offensive stalwarts who could do…it…all!

Entering W13 action, here are David’s NFL ranks in key personal stats:

#3 in rushing yards with 921;
Tied at #27 in receptions at 55 (#2 RB);
#40 in reception-yards with 613 (#1 RB);
#1 in touchdowns with 13 pay-dirts, and
#1 in yards-from-scrimmage (run / catch) with 1534.

Every year as the NFL season winds down there are a handful of viable MVP candidates to mull over. This 2016 campaign is no different (Brady, Prescott, Elliott, Carr, Wagner, etc.). But if David Johnson is not in one’s discussion on who should take home the coveted Associated Press award, it might be best that person forget about talking football and stick with The Walking Dead.

*Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Arizona-Cardinals word mark, wc.cca, M.Epsilon, 9.2.12, 2005; UniversityPhoenix-Stdm, wc, K.Lund, 4.10.9; B.Arians, wc, 8.5.16, G.Skidmore, Glendale-AZ; AZ-Cards-plane, wc, 4.6.8, E.Maloney; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 12.1.16 @ 3:11pm EST; Copyright © 2016