Keim Time: Larry Fitzgerald helps carry the Cardinals’ offense
A 23-0 shutout of the New York Giants on Sunday gave many Cardinals fans something to cheer about this Christmas, but with the playoffs out of reach, there are still lingering problems that the teams hopes to resolve for 2018.
General manager Steve Keim joins Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station every Monday morning during the season. On a post-Christmas Tuesday edition, he discussed solid play across the board defensively, another strong outing from Larry Fitzgerald and his priorities for the coming offseason.
It’s Keim Time.
First of all, I’m sure it’s a little more enjoyable after a win like that. What did you see from your group on Sunday?
Well I think number one, we showed a lot of resiliency to bounce back from a disappointing loss in Washington last week to do what we did defensively, regardless of the team we were playing. Any time you can beat a team in the National Football League and hold them to a shutout, which we have not done since 1992, to me says a lot of things about not only the players we have on the field but the character in the locker room.
Let’s talk about that defensive shutout, the game’s big plays. You look at what Antoine Bethea did in that game, and then (Robert) Nkemdiche with the scoop and score aided by Deone Bucannon, you know, just talk about what you saw from them defensively and why they were able to get that shutout.
Well I think it started with (defensive coordinator) James Bettcher and the job that he had done preparing for the Giants’ offense from a schematical standpoint. You know, there were several young guys who stepped up. I thought Deone Bucannon played his best game of the season and arguably as a pro. He was extremely disruptive flying all over the field, showing the foot speed and explosiveness that we’ve always been excited about. Chandler Jones did not record a sack but at the end of the day, Chandler is a disruptive force. He continues to make sure quarterbacks do not have the ability to get in rhythm or to get set up in their drops, and then caused two big-time holding penalties, which took them out of field position.
So Chandler continues to play at a Pro Bowl level and then again, just the leadership on defense. Guys like Frostee Rucker, guys like Karlos Dansby, I thought Antoine Bethea was exceptional, you know with two interceptions and was all over the field as well. So again, without a playoff berth to play for, sometimes in this business you question what the urgency is and that’s what I’m extremely proud of. Our guys came out in front of our home crowd and stepped up and answered the bell.
I know you are constantly evaluating. How much does this final game in Seattle, how many players roughly do you think you are you looking at in terms of evaluating whether you keep them or not for next year? How much does one game play into that?
Well a lot, it’s not just one game but, you know, really the whole body of work throughout the regular season. You know a number of players who are not under contract next year, as well as a number of players who are under contract who may not be on the team as well. You know, we just got to make sure that we are making good, sound decisions and a lot of things that will go into it is not only how you played in this game coming up, but how you played throughout the season. It starts with the mental preparation and the urgency and the attitude that you play with.
Shifting a little bit, let’s talk about the use of Fitz in the football game. Not only having a great day receiving the ball, but getting his first pass completion and just kind of the emphasis that was put on Fitz on offense.
Well, I mean, the guy took over the game offensively for us, I don’t think that’s any secret. To see what he can still do at his age, and the fact that he is going to his 11th pro bowl, which is phenomenal, it says a lot about Larry Fitzgerald the person, the player, the team leader that he is. There is no doubt that he willed us to win on offense. There was times when we didn’t have a lot going for us and Larry stepped up and made a big play like he always has and created some excitement in that stadium and energized our sidelines.
Steve, I want to go back to something you said at the start of our interview. You mentioned the resiliency that your team showed yesterday, and I know earlier in the season that was something Bruce Arians sort of mentioned he wanted to see more of. Has that grown with this group over the course of the year?
I think it has, I think to some degree the continuity has improved. The guys have gelled particularly on the defensive side. Now offensively, we’ve been hit with so many injuries it’s been tough to really gel on the offensive line whenever you only have one guy that’s starting who started the season for us and then you have a number of injuries to the quarterback position, running back position. It was nice to see Larry play so well and then John Brown, coming off the injuries that he had this season, had a touchdown and a big third down conversion for us. So it was nice to see John get back in the action.
One more question for me. When you are looking at this team and you are going through this evaluation and obviously there is only one week left, who do you want to see, you know, make sure you get back next season, who are the guys you are targeting? Who do you want to make sure you get back next season on this team, considering there’s really only one more opportunity to really evaluate guys?
You mean which players in particular that are going to be free agents?
You know, that’s something that we will talk about internally, Max. I mean, but there are a number of players that contracts are set to expire, you know that’s an ongoing process. You know, we’ve made some of those players extension offers, like a Corey Peters, who has agreed to terms with us, so we’re happy to have Corey back. But the bottom line is, moving forward, we have a lot of work to do as I said last week. It starts with guys who are willing to be competitors and who are going to be great locker room guys. That really where it starts to make sure we have the right chemistry going into 2018. We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year, with the injuries, with the some of the losses, so we just have to make sure, again, we use this season, and in particular, our issues we’ve dealt with as learning things where we can look back and we can grow from it instead of having the attitude, ‘woe is me.’ That’s something I believe in wholeheartedly not only in the scouting side of it, but as an organization in general, just where we can look back and, again, find out where we missed, where we made mistakes, and where we can put our best foot forward and improve.
How difficult is it to assess the offense with all of the injuries? I know you don’t want to look at it as an excuse over the course of the year, but now that we are getting to the off season and you have to make tough decisions about who needs to come back and what holes need to be filled. I imagine it can’t be easy to look at the offense and fully know what you have because so many key players missed time?
Yeah, it’s tough to find out if a quarterback can throw in rhythm because of the receivers that he had to deal with, or the offensive line, with the running backs, that we’ve had a situation where we played musical chairs up front. But at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles that these guys have to win, and to me, to play in the NFL you have to be able to step up and win those one-on-one battles. If you cant do it consistently, you know, we will be out there looking not only on the street, but in free agency and the draft to find players that can do that. That’s something we will sit down and look long and hard at, and I have no doubt that again, we can plug some of the holes where we’ve had some issues and build a much stronger roster in 2018.
I know you guys want to be playing for a playoff spot here in this final week, but does it serve as extra motivation that you can just take maybe your biggest rival right out of a playoff spot here in 2017?
Yeah, I mean, I think anytime you play a division rival it’s big regardless of what’s at stake but at the end of the day, the biggest thing is we are all competitors, we want to win every game you know you can’t really, in my opinion, look at where your draft slots could potentially be and let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans and to our organization to compete every week and try to put the best product on the field. So you know we will deal with the draft and free agency when it comes, but you know our mindset this week is to go up to Seattle and try to get a win.