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Steve Keim Time: Cardinals coming together at right time

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) scores a touchdown as Green Bay Packers free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Steve Keim, Cardinals general manager

Sometimes, it’s best to go straight to the man in charge.

And when it comes to the Arizona Cardinals’ roster, that man is Steve Keim.

Arizona’s general manager since January 2013, Keim’s deft touch with the draft and free agency has led to the team becoming a Super Bowl contender.

Lucky for us, Keim happens to be a weekly guest on the Doug and Wolf Show, right here on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

After a dominating 38-8 victory over the Green Bay Packers that clinched a first-round bye for the Cardinals, we thought it would be a good idea to put his words into print, allowing you to read what the GM is thinking. So, without further ado, here’s this week’s edition:

All year long, you guys have been chasing that “max performance” game, was yesterday the closest you have come to achieving that?

“I think it was. When you look offensively, defensively and special teams as a whole, I think it was probably the closest we’ve played to playing a complete game, especially defensively, the way we got after the passer. We’re able to win those one-on-one match-ups that we’ve talked about in the past. It was fun to see our guys get after Aaron Rodgers, that’s for sure.”

How stunning has the change in national attention and brand been from your standpoint? 

“Yesterday was a great day to reflect. It goes back three years ago when Michael Bidwell had a vision, I had a plan, and together, in my opinion, hired the best coach in the National Football League. It was fun yesterday to sit back, to watch it all come together to see the plan and vision, everything in place, the way those guys play at a high level. To see the depth we’ve built here. Again, so many people have contributed and have done a great job: our scouting department, our coaches, the business side, everyone had a piece in the success so far. We’ve done a great job with our salary cap. Mike Disner, who helps me structure and negotiate contracts, has done a phenomenal job helping me with these veteran contracts, and some of these incentive-laden deals that we’ve done. It’s been a fun process to watch and yesterday was just extremely rewarding.”

What did you guys see in (defensive coordinator) James Bettcher that we’re seeing now?

“One thing early on in the process is that he’s extremely intelligent, James really understands the game. I don’t know if it was people making a big deal out of the fact that he’s worked under Todd Bowels or he’s worked under Chuck Pagano, he’s worked under a lot of different coaches, but he’s an intelligent guy. I knew he would take some of the things away from what he did learn from Todd Bowels, yet at the same time he is true to himself. He understands the schematical approach and he has put in some different wrinkles. More so than anything, what this coaching staff does a great job is they cater to our players strengths. They take certain guy’s skill sets and they understand what their limitations are and they mask some of those limitations, and they cater their strengths and put them in a position to succeed. James does an excellent job of doing that.”

You’ve secured the #2 seed and a first-round bye, but still have a chance for the #1 seed. Do you rest the players, and do you have a say in the decision? 

“Coach and I will talk about that, but there’s a lot of different scenarios that’ll potentially play out. We were focused on Green Bay, so at 7:45 on a Monday morning as we’re now turning our attention to Seattle, those conversations will be had in the next day or two. So we haven’t talked about it at length yet, and I’m sure those conversations will come in the next day or so.”

Do you have a general philosophy on “rest versus rust”? There might be a three week span for players without game action.

“I don’t have a lot of experience in this situation, which is good for the first time to be put in this situation. It’ll be a long conversation. It’s a double-edge sword, do you chance certain players getting injured versus the potential to have the #1 seed and you can go back and forth, so we’ll be having this conversation today or tomorrow.”

Is Dwight Freeny getting better as the season unfolds?

“No doubt about it. I think it’s more so about game shape and getting back in the groove. You saw the spin yesterday, you saw he’s ability to get off the edge. He still has a really quick first step to get off, and it’s been really fun to watch Dwight to get off that edge, because there’s been no one better over the last decade than Dwight Freeny rushing the passer.”

Was it fun to see your defensive line (9 sacks) rotation get going?

“No doubt, I think that was the whole plan going into the season, was to create that type of depth on your defensive line where it can be an 8 or 9 play drive, and you’re rotating players in and out and as those offensive linemen tend to tire and get exhausted, you have fresh legs coming in that can create pressure. So many guys are stepping up, Markus Golden is getting better and better as a rookie. Guys like Red Bryant, Frostee Rucker, Calais played at a high level yesterday, and then again, getting the pressure from Dwight and some of those guys, it’s just been really fun to see.”

Are you surprised with the progression of David Johnson?

“No doubt, every week  he continues to amaze me with the different things he does. I think the stuff that jumps off the tape, when you get the chance to watch the coaches tape, just some of the things he does athletically for a big man, when you consider he’s 226 pounds, he makes things look so easy. The ball he caught out of the backfield, he almost looked like a salmon skier the way he had a double jump cut, changing directions and he’s ability to bend his knees and laterally explode. It’s really fun to watch, and one thing you didn’t see at Northern Iowa when we looked at him coming out was his ability to lower and finish between the tackles. There’s no doubt he has run like a big back at times between the tackles and has that perimeter skill set as well. To top it off, he has unbelievable receiving skills, so he’s about as fleet a back you’ll find.”

When you hit on a guy like that in the 3rd round, do you get feedback from other guys around the  NFL?

“Well, it sure beats the alternative when they’re telling me we missed on players. I think you have friends around the league, whether it’s guys like Jason Licht or Rick Spielman or whoever it may be that you communicate with that’ll give you a a little “atta boy”, but there’s a lot of things that go behind it. Your coaching staff putting those guys in position to succeed, your scouts doing a great job unearthing those players, particularly some of the guys we have at the smaller school level. That gives me a great sense of pride, the job we do with our scouting department of not only finding those young players at smaller schools, but not being afraid to select them and pull the trigger.”

Evaluate the performance of the offensive line. 

“I thought they played excellent. There were a play or two here and there where guys that got beat, they (Green Bay) have some players up front defensively, with Mike Neal, Peppers and some of those guys that can create some pressure, but I thought as a whole those guys played exceptional. I think Bobby Massie continues to play well, Jared Veldheer I thought did an excellent job versus Clay Matthews, Mike Iupati was phenomenal in the run game, some of the stuff he does for us, at 340 pounds the way he can pull and play in space has been fun to watch. And to watch David Johnson get behind him and run with patience and vision. So everything is coming together, that’s the good thing is right now to see everybody clicking on all cylinders and this is the time of year to get hot.”

Were there question marks entering this game with the secondary and Carson Palmer on the injury report?

“I think internally we had confidence all along, as much as it was deflating for us to lose a player like Tyrann. We knew that Jerraud Powers could move inside and play that nickle, and do an excellent job as well as Justin Bethel being able to play outside and do a great job. We had a lot of confidence there, I thought D.J. Swearinger stepped up and played excellent. And then Carson, the guy is like a machine; I don’t care if it’s a knee, if it’s a finger, whatever it is, the guy is as tough as they come. I know earlier in the week people were concerned about his ability to throw with placement and touch with that finger, because he had to compensate a little bit with his throwing motion. But, I didn’t see anything that would have concerned me off the tape for sure. I thought he played at a high level as well.”

Would you wear the bikini outfit that Palmer wore before the game?

“No chance. You certainly would not want to see me in that outfit.”

Does wearing that outfit show a type of leadership with Palmer?

“I think that some of the games those guys play with each other, I think it shows you how tight of a group we have in that locker room, it’s like a brotherhood in there. Those guys have each other’s backs, they have a lot of fun. That’s the whole mantra behind this season, this team, this organization we’re having success and we’re having fun doing it, which makes it all that much more special.”

How would you evaluate the team’s health at this point?

“Pretty good. I think on the surface, last night talking to our doctors and Tom Reed after the game, our trainer, seemed like there was some bumps and bruises, nothing out of the usual. If anything, hopefully, we can get some guys back, Rashad Johnson was close to going yesterday, hopefully we get him back this week. It was good to see Andre (Ellington) get back in there, I thought he made some nice runs, showed the quickness and foot speed that we were all excited about earlier in the season.”


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