Keim Time: Cardinals GM proud of gritty win over Titans

Dec 11, 2017, 9:24 AM | Updated: 5:43 pm
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LISTEN: Steve Keim, Cardinals GM

Just enough offense, four field goals and lots of defense: That was the Arizona Cardinals’ recipe in a 12-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, like head coach Bruce Arians, appreciates the effort from a team missing a large group of starting players. Keim joins Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station every Monday morning during the season, and this week, he addressed arguably the best defensive effort yet this season, the play from quarterback Blaine Gabbert and more.

It’s Keim Time.

Anything surprise you, Steve, from yesterday after you watched the tape?

Oh, no. After this season nothing surprises me. No, I mean, it was a hard-fought win and I was extremely proud of our guys, particularly when you look at the guys on the injured reserve and the frontline stars that are missing. It just continues to say a lot about the character in our locker room when you see different players stepping up and answering the bell.

Josh Bynes yesterday I thought made a big play for us. I thought Tramon Williams played extremely well. He’s a guy that’s been very, very consistent. His ability to read routes, he’s savvy, he’s physical. For a guy that’s a veteran player to come in late in the process like that, again, I’m extremely proud of the way he played.

It’s easy for us to say, “Hey, your defense played well.” Why did they play well? 

Well, I mean, I think it starts up front. There’s no doubt we controlled the line of scrimmage. Guys like Olsen Pierre, Frostee Rucker — again, Chandler Jones continues to play exceptional. To me, again, it says a lot about Chandler, (playing for) a team that has won five games, and he was just rewarded with a contract.

To see the fact that he’s not only grown and gotten better, he’s gotten more physical in the run game and his ability to create pressure, it just continues to get better and better. Fourteen sacks now leads the NFL, (he) also leads the NFL in TFLs. He’s been a dominant force all year and proud to have him here.

I didn’t know that about Chandler Jones. I had no idea that he had a soul that was on fire. It’s just so encouraging to me to see a pro actually get payed, receive the money and actually play better than what he’s played previous to that. It’s got to make you feel good yourself, right?

Oh, there’s no doubt. Ever since we traded for him, we’ve had a good relationship. I had really, really good intel about Chandler prior to the trade. My college strength and conditioning coach, William Hicks, was Chandler’s strength and conditioning coach at Syracuse. He actually worked out with Coach Hicks in the offseason and, again, (I) was able to learn a little bit more than most about these players in free agency or their draft process, or a trade situation because you have some personal information on a player.

You mentioned Tramon Williams and I think he’s really solidified the question everybody had at training camp, which was, “Who’s going to be the corner back opposite Patrick Peterson?” You’re the one who knows this better than me. He’s a free agent. Is this something you want to kind of talk to him about to try to be on the 2018 team, or are you more of a relaxed, “Hey, we’ll wait, see what we have a little later”?

That’s something we’re doing every day, taking a look not only which players we’d love to have back. We’re in constant communication with agents and negotiations for contract extensions — matter of fact I’ll work on some of that stuff this week. But the thing about Tramon is he’s really just a true pro.

His veteran leadership has really paid off. He’s a guy that some may think he’s lost a step or he can’t play as well on the perimeter because he played a little more safety last year in Cleveland. But his anticipation, his instincts and again his ability to read route combinations is phenomenal. There’s a reason he has 30 interceptions in the NFL.

Blaine Gabbert, talk about his performance and what you saw on tape.

He did a nice job. The one thing about Blaine that has impressed me is his ability to bounce back from adversity. He continues to fight and there’s no doubt that there’s throws that he would’ve liked to have back. Some of the touch throws that he needed to make were a little off point, in my opinion. You know, to me he has to do a better job in that area, or whether it’s a route that’s not a pre-determined throw, when he has to go through his progression, he has a tendency to get a little high on his ball placement, or some of the placement of the balls outside the numbers seem to sail on him.

He’s been a guy that, again, for what he’s been through just bouncing back from eight sacks yesterday and continuing to compete was something I was excited to see. When you look at those eight sacks, it really wasn’t all offensive line. It was really, really a combination of the backs not picking up pressure with the blitz-pickup. There were times where we did not do a good job on the gains and stunts from an offensive line standpoint. And then, quite frankly, there were times where Blaine’s got to get the ball out of their hands. Receivers were not recovering down the field. It was a team win and there were team issues when you looked at the things that were correctable.

There’s a never-ending argument among NFL evaluators that are now media, and I don’t know if this same argument is among people who are actually paid by NFL teams. But question of accuracy improvement: Can a quarterback be taught to improve his accuracy massively, a little bit — you can tweak but you can’t dramatically improve it. Where are you on the scale of just how much you can improve a quarterback’s accuracy?

I think that you can improve it a little bit, more so from a mechanics standpoint when you talk about footwork and body position and those sort of things. I do think though that natural accuracy, there’s an innate part of it. You either have it or you don’t. Can you polish it and get a little bit better? I don’t think there’s any questions.

The guys that I’ve studied over the years that are naturally accurate have always been accurate through their high school and college careers. The guys who have quite frankly had issues with ball placement and touch and those things have always had those issues. It’s a never-ending process. The problem is there’s a supply and demand. There’s not enough out there who have the natural accuracy and do the things that you’re looking for. That’ll be something that we focus on after the season, moving forward. Again, it’s part of the growth of being an evaluator, too.

Based on what you’ve seen on tape of Blaine Gabbert right now? Where would you put your interest in bringing him back in 2018? What would you say?

I don’t think there’s any question that we would like to have Blaine back. He’s done a good job. Again, based on what he’s done so far, it’s up to him on how much he can improve and what’s the ceiling for Blaine Gabbert. But everything he’s done since he’s been here from a work-ethic standpoint, the intangibles, the commitment to film study and his practice habits have all been excellent.

You got three games left. Who are you thinking about right now? Who’s the leading candidate to be the fulfillment in the one spot you have left to move off IR and move them to designated-to-return?

The problem is, guys, is there has to be somebody that is healthy enough to return and is cleared by the medical staff. Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t foresee any guys coming back for sure. I know Aaron Brewer our long snapper will be able to return this week, but aside from him, there’s no clear-cut option that can tell me with conviction that I think they’re somebody that will come off injured reserve.

There’s a couple other players that I’m hoping to get back this week. We’re hoping that Corey Peters can come back, and Josh Mauro is getting healthier. Adrian Peterson is still a little touch and go. We’ll find a little more out about him this afternoon. It’s a little ebbs and flow to the IR situation for us and it’s just unfortunate that we’ve incurred so many injuries. Again, the guys that have been able to play and the young players in particular have stepped up and really done a nice job for us.

Do you kind of feel like because David Johnson is young, boy, you’d really like to get him a couple touches before the season ends? Or are you kind of more of the side of, “Why even mess with that? Even if he is healthy, let’s just rest him up for next year?”

Nah, he gets paid to play football. If he’s healthy and the docs clear him, you know, I would expect that he should play. But at the same time, you know, if there is any grey area or there are any concerns at all I don’t think there’s reason you’d want to risk it. I know that’s a fine line but that’s the trust you have to have in your medical staff.

Steve, how did the offensive line perform?

I thought they did a nice job in the run game. I thought there were concerns when it came to the handling of the gains and the stunts, more from the timing and technique standpoint. Kerwynn Williams continues to be a gritty little back. Every time he gets an opportunity he does some good things. Yesterday was no different. I thought the offensive line came off the football. For the more part, the run game did the job.

How do you watch film? Do you evaluate differently when you’re fighting for homefield advantage going (to) the playoffs … versus a year like this when you’re not fighting for home field, you’re fighting for .500? How does that change what you do when you watch the film?

It really doesn’t change a thing. Everything I do is based on helping build this roster so that we can win football games. Whether we’re 6-7 or we’re double-digit wins, it really does not change because I’m focused on winning week to week, and I’m focused on building this roster to have sustainable success for the future. Again, nothing really changes. In fact, if anything, the lack of consistency with the lack of success, so to speak, just continues to fuel my fire.

Steve, what would you like to say about Larry Fitzgerald at this pint in his career that you haven’t said already? Number three in receiving yards, all-time.

I will say this, really, it’s pretty simple. I’ve been here for close to 20 years and really when you look at Larry, what else can you say other than, for me, it’s been an honor to work with him throughout his whole career. The fact that I know he’s going to retire a Cardinal, again, gives me a special feeling inside. Really, you know, when you have an opportunity to spend this amount of time with a true professional like Larry Fitzgerald, it reminds me what I got into the business for.

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