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Coordinators Tarver, Olson speak about respective players

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JASON TARVER

Q: Are there any tricks or secrets to getting off the field on third down?
Tarver: “Well, we’ve got to win our one-on-one matchups. You saw a lot of times where we had great pressure and then something slips out or whatever. Any tricks? No, that’s when you’ve got to focus. You’ve got to do your job, you’ve got to win your one-on-ones. We mixed coverages effectively in that game, but I will say one thing, we need to create longer third downs. We had a lot of short, especially in that game. Then when we do get the shorts, we’ve got to do our job. We’ve been, this season, pretty darn good in the red zone when our backs are backed up. There are a couple things we can fix, and have fixed, from the last game, but we need to make that translate into short yardage and get more knock back and then play with our eyes through our coverage. Cover guys need to have their eyes on their coverage. Front guys need to knock the offense back. One thing we need to do is create longer third downs, the next thing we need to do is do that formula right there, which we do in other phases. So, that’s what we need to focus on and have been, today at practice especially.”

Q: What will it be like facing the former Raider Carson Palmer?
Tarver: “I really like Carson, he’s a great person. But really, the guys on this defense, there are only two that were even here when Carson was in the building. Miles [Burris] and ‘B-Ross’ [Brandian Ross] a little bit, and ‘Chim’ [Chimdi Chekwa]. That’s it. He wasn’t here with this group of players, so it’s like any other game. He’s a good quarterback with a strong arm so we need to make sure we play top-down coverage and we need to make sure we find ways to affect him in the pocket.”

Q: What did you see from Carson Palmer in his last game after coming off of the shoulder injury?
Tarver: “He played well. He threw it to the open guy for the most part and didn’t throw the ball to the defense, kept it away from them and ran a functional game, moved the ball and didn’t make any major mistakes.”

Q: How much of the Chargers game, defensively, was mistakes on defense and how much was facing a quarterback at the top of the game?
Tarver: “He made some plays. What I liked is most of that game, we’re challenging, we’re running, we’re hitting. If we’re challenging and running and hitting and swarming and playing with passion, a lot of that will start to clean itself up. There was more of that going on, so that was improvement. Where we weren’t quite as good is in areas where we have been good. There were a couple of red zone things, the second drive, the third drive, of their touchdowns, that those are plays that we have practiced and done a lot. We need to play those plays better, hold them to field goals. In a game like that, if you can hold that offense to a field goal a couple more times, that would have done it. That’s what an NFL game is, when you’re playing at that high level they back and forth. He made some plays, but our challenge was better. This week, and going forward, we need to challenge the ball. We need to play, we need to stop the run on first down and we need to play top-down pass coverage. By saying that, what happened in the last game, we won a lot of those vertical balls. We lost a couple. We need to make sure we keep winning more of those because you can rally to anything else. A little bit of both, he made some plays, but our improvement was in, we’re there, now we need to learn how to finish.”

Q: It seems that LaMarr Woodley was a stand up edge rusher quite a bit. Is there more of emphasis on him doing that?
Tarver: “No, he’s being used the same way. We allow our edge players, we want their best get off and we want their best use of hands, and we want their best ability to dig out runs and set edges. So, with Khalil [Mack] and Woodley, they’ll play up at times because they feel comfortable in those stances, so we’ll use those stances and the players will use their stances as an advantage for them. So, he’s been standing up when he can because that’s where he feels comfortable.”

Q: Does he have the discretion to do that or does the defense dictate this?
Tarver: “In certain defenses he’ll be down and in certain defenses he’ll be up, but most of the time, in other words, it depends on the formation and what the call is. He can be a lot of times, when it’s just a tackle, he can be up, because that’s where he feels his best get off is and we do too.”

Q: How do you get more production out of LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck?
Tarver: “Well one, they’ve got to win their one-on-ones. You can see it across the board, we’ve got to win our one-on-ones. Both of them have put in good effort and they’re professional in their work. They’re trying to keep themselves healthy, and that’s good, but the biggest thing is, you get one-on-one blocks, that’s your job, you’ve got to win. We can create them and then it’s working together, but I know you heard it from Coach Tony [Sparano] too, the biggest thing for us is there are one-on-ones out there. We’re winning some, we’re going to win more, at all positions. That’s what has to happen. You strive to create those and you’ve got to win them.”

Q: As far as their comfort for the defense, that is fine, it’s just a matter of beating the guys they’re up against?
Tarver: “Yep. Shortest answer ever (laughing).”

Q: Did their success on the rush on the last drive have anything to do with the defense being on the field for 37 minutes?
Tarver: “The first one they ran back-to-back same runs. The first one they got some yards, we missed a tackle at five yards. The next one, we missed a tackle in the backfield, we bobbled them in the backfield. We’ve got to get more guys to the ball like we did earlier in the game. The third one, down in the red zone, was the same play we had just stuffed, and they were able to push us, so that’s a point of emphasis. We haven’t’ been pushed in the red zone all year. That’s one of the things that I was talking about, we play strong in there. So, that’s been an emphasis, both with the players and coaches, because that hasn’t happened to us, we need to correct those. But, we’ve made major improvements in that run game. If you look at the very first play of the game, Miles [Burris] took the guard, threw him on the ground and made the tackle. We’re using our hands and we’re shedding. It’s an attitude, defense is, that focus. When you get your one-on-one block or when you’re supposed to be in the right spot, you’ve got to do it hard and physical and make the play. There’s a lot of improvement there and you don’t ever want to learn in the football league, you want to finish the dang thing off, because that’s our job and that’s what we need to do, and we’re full on preparing for that this week, finishing that thing off. That’s been the focus, let’s say that. That’s been the focus, don’t let go of the rope. You should pull that rope, keep pulling on it, no matter what, it’s your job. Sixty minutes isn’t that long, whatever the time of possession is, and that’s our job. If we want to make it easier, create longer third downs, win your one-on-ones. Then you’re not on the field as much. When a ball is tipped up in the air, we’ve got to get it. It’s our turn. It’s our time to get some tips.”

Q: It seems like you guys are spread out a lot and teams have been in shotgun, whether running or passing. How are you guys doing in that?
Tarver: “It’s improved. Like I said last week, from Miami halftime on has improved. This is another team that is going to spread you to run and throw, but this team also will get big to run, so they do a good job with their personnel groups and knowing who they are. We’re improving in knowing who our identity is. WE’ve had flashes of our identity in the last three weeks. Again, the first four weeks are buried, so you started to see some of our identity in that football game. Now it’s a matter of, I’m going to use the phrase again because I like it, don’t let go of that rope. You just keep pulling that thing and you just keep hitting and fitting the right gaps, and that’s how you play good defenses. Fit the right gaps, get off of blocks and keep hitting people. When we learn how to do that all the way through consistently, and we’re on our way to do that.”

Q: Do you think cutting back on the playbook on offense and defense helped a little bit?
Tarver: “Yeah, with where we were with our personnel, like we said, we buried the other week and having said that, where we were with our personnel was, we were able to use things to still affect the offense. The thing is that our players, the linebacker position we talked about last week, we’re getting more and more comfortable with. Miles Burris stepped up. It was nice to have Sio Moore back. Our defensive backs did a good job of using our look. We revised, I told you guys a little bit, we’ve revised a little bit of our communication system. That was good, because they’re an on the ball offense. That will help us going forward against non-on-the-ball offenses. This offense this week doesn’t function quite as fast, it can, but not quite as fast as the last offense. Our new communication system, it’s not really new, it’s just refining it has helped us. So those things were definite improvements.”

Q: Stacy McGee was a guy you guys were pretty high on last year. What has held him back so far this year?
Tarver: “Again, Tony can tell you about the injuries, but Stacy’s had that hand. And you hear it from me all the time, ‘Use your hands.’ It’s hard to use one hand in this game, and he’s fought, because Stacy’s tough and we love his toughness, but Stacy’s got to continue to improve technique-wise as most second-year players do. His technique is all over the place at times, so as you’re looking through Stacy’s plays, you can find some good and then you can find some where you’re like, ‘Come on, Stace, you’ve knocked that guy back before. Why is that not perfect?’ You’re seeing a little bit of that inconsistency. He improved a little bit this week. We need to see a little bit more, but he’s gaining his health, so we want to see both hands being used.”

Q: So the hand is still a factor? It’s still bothering him?
Tarver: “It doesn’t look like it this week in practice, so I don’t think that’s a reason now. It’s time to – it’d be good to see him get off some blocks and make some plays.”

Q: Two good days in a row for DJ Hayden?
Tarver: “DJ has been working, yeah. It’s good to see him out there. He’s been working, he’s been moving around and getting back on. That football shape is different. You can run all you want, but until you’re running in pads around with big guys running around you and laying on you and moving around, it’s a different type of conditioning. So he’s had two good days.”

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG OLSON

Q: The question from fans is what took so long for the offense to open up?
Olson: “I don’t think I’ve waited. I just think that was the way the game played out. I think there’s more of a comfort level right now with the guys in the huddle and the guys that have been in the huddle. I think the bye week gave us a chance to go back and evaluate where we were at and what we did well and don’t do well. I think simplifying things may have helped. I think our young quarterback, more than anything, as I’ve said from the get-go, he seems to have gotten more and more comfortable every week in what he’s doing and what his responsibilities are. All of those things play into it. We’ve got to become consistent. Did some good things last week, but it’s a new week this week so we’ve got to see if we can get better every week and raise our standards every week.”

Q: Andre Holmes has put back-to-back productive games together. How can he stay consistent as a receiver?
Olson: “Other than experience, I think every year they get older, they catch more balls, they have more time throughout their career that they become more comfortable at catching the football. He’s more comfortable at the position that he’s playing. He’s played X for us now for two straight years and it’s his second year in the system. He has made a lot of explosive plays since he’s been here for us and hopefully he’ll continue to do that. He works very hard and playing the position and there’s no lack of effort in terms of the amount of balls he catches on the jugs machine or that he catches from the quarterback. It’s just hard work on his part and hopefully that will eliminate some of those drops.”

Q: The explosive play that Brice Butler had for a touchdown, was that drawn up? Where he outruns the whole defense?
Olson: (laughing) “Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of those. I’ve just been holding them in my pocket. No, it was good to see. I was happy for Brice. He’s another guy that we had a chance to get him on the field for more opportunities. He did show great quickness getting out of the break and then the speed to run away from people on that particular play. That was good to see.”

Q: How much juice does it give the offense when Darren McFadden is breaking free like he did?
Olson: “Everybody looked fresher to me. Darren looked fast, the wide receivers looked fast. Having a healthy Darren McFadden will be key to us being able to move forward and hopefully be able to continue to move the football on a consistent basis. When Darren is healthy, he can run and he is fast. We have to do what we can to keep him healthy and keep him going. We need to find more explosive players to create more of those explosive plays.”

Q: He’s been pretty healthy this year and he’s been running hard, but without the payoff. Do you notice any difference in him when he is getting the payoff and when he’s not?
Olson: “I haven’t’ really so far this season. This is kind of the first time that I’ve had a chance to really see him healthy and playing. I think they’ll come, I really do. I believe that the more opportunities you get, hopefully one of them is going to result in explosive runs for him. He’s another guy that’s been here a long time. After last year and the previous years, he’s had health issues. Last year he had Rashad Jennings in front of him and now we’ve brought in Maurice Jones-Drew, who has had some injuries, so Darren got pushed back into that starter’s role. You would like to see him stay there.”

Q: Menelik Watson started the game last week and played well. What has been your impression of him?
Olson: “I think he’s one of our good, young players. One of our core players. I think right now there is a good core group of players, Menelik Watson being one of them, Mychal Rivera, Derek Carr. There are some guys there that we can build with. We always look at the end of the week or after the game, where are our young players? How do we feel about our young core players? He’s a guy right now that we’ve felt pretty good about.”

Q: Rivera has had a few drops, he’s had a fumble in the one game, did you think you’d have more out of him by now? He seems like a guy that’s pretty hard on himself when he doesn’t do well.
Olson: “I completely agree with that and I think Mike would agree with that, too. He expects more, we expect more of him. He’s got to do a better job of doing the things that are expected of him. Same thing for us, to have any type of success, he’s got to be that player that we thought he was developing into and that we believe he will develop into. He’s got to be more consistent in both of those areas, in securing the football and catching the football.”

Q: You guys had efficient plays, the four-yard games, chipping away on 2nd-and-10. Can you talk about how much of an impact that has if you are able to sustain it?
Olson: “It’s critical. It was our best game in terms of our third-down conversions, but it was also our best game in terms of our first-down efficiency, so they go hand in hand. To be honest with you, again, those are the things that we studied and in that offseason, we’re just trying to kind of build it around – you’ve always got to be aware of your quarterback and what does Derek Carr do best and what can we do to make sure that he’s developing, and in terms of his development, how it’s going to help the rest of the offense develop. So we looked at a lot of different things that Derek’s comfortable with, whether it be gun runs or gun passes or quick game, deep-vertical game – what are the concepts that he’s very comfortable with. I think that tied into it as well, a little bit. We were efficient with our nickel runs. We were efficient with our heavy runs. It was a good mix there for us.”

Q: Is there one throw from Derek that, for you, in that game that really stood out on film?
Olson: “I think that first third down, really, on the takeoff there to Holmes, Andre – the very first one there, it was a double move. It’s not an easy throw to make, but he’s pacing, he stepped up in the pocket and he put it right in stride for him. For me, that was probably the most impressive one of the day.”

Q: On some short passes, some easy catches that were dropped early, does he maybe need to take a little bit off of his fastball? It seems like whether it’s from me to you or 60 yards, he throws it hard.
Olson: “He shows pretty good touch, to be honest with you. He’s done that on a couple of those quick screens. We encourage him, ‘You’ve got to get the ball out quickly.’ It certainly doesn’t do us any good if the ball gets out quickly and it’s not accurate. He’s been pretty accurate with those throws, so I think they’re aware of that on some of those what we call our slipper screens – the ones at the line of scrimmage – they’ve always got to be aware of one, how close the receiver is and two, who is the receiver that we’re throwing it to. Is it a running back? Is it a tight end? Is it a wide receiver? You’ve got to kind of judge your velocity based upon not only how close they are, but who that person is that you’re throwing to.”

Q: With pass protection, has it been better than you anticipated coming into this season?
Olson: “It’s been where we’re at. I think that they’ve done a good job – everyone, I think. We spent a lot of time at it. We spend a lot of time in studying opponents’ pressure and blitz packages. I think there’s a lot of pride in that room as an offense. We spend every Friday as a group at the end of the week reviewing everything that we’ve seen and everything that we’ve learned during the week about pressure packages. So there’s a lot of pride involved in that, but really, it’s everybody together: running backs, offensive line, the quarterback getting the ball out, wide receivers knowing when to break off the route and sight adjust or look hot. I think everyone’s involved in that and it’s encouraging. I think that’s one of the encouraging things that we’ve seen and it’s really encouraging when you have a young quarterback that it’s been like that. So I would say that we expected it as a coaching staff. I think Tony as the O-line coach, he expected that going into the season. He also made it readily apparent to those guys, when you’ve got a rookie quarterback now, a lot of it falls on us up front. I think they as well kind of took that as a challenge and they’ve done a good job with that.”

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Breaking down the Cardinals

BREAKING DOWN THE CARDINALS

* The skinny: The Cardinals sit atop the rugged NFC West, which many consider the toughest division, from top to bottom. They keep chugging along despite injuries to numerous players, including starting quarterback Carson Palmer. However, Palmer returned last Sunday and showed that his right shoulder has healed well enough for him to play at a high level. Despite a top-tier defense, the Cardinals allowed six touchdown passes the previous two games. The last time the Cardinals played an 0-5 Raiders team, in 2006, the Raiders emerged with their first victory.

* Players to fear/Offense
WR Larry Fitzgerald. He is on pace for his worst season since his rookie campaign in 2004. Even so, he remains a go-to receiver and someone capable of changing the complexion of a game at any time.
RB Andre Ellington. He has amassed 493 yards rushing and receiving combined, even though he has played with a sore foot for most of the season.
WR Michael Floyd. He has averaged 19.1 yards on his 16 receptions, or 5-plus yards more than any other Cardinals receiver.

* Players to fear/Defense
CB Patrick Peterson. He is regarded by many as the game’s best all-around cornerback. He has the ability to shut down the opposing team’s top receiver.
CB Jerraud Powers. He has a team-high three interceptions and is making teams pay for shying away from throwing at Peterson.
FS Rashad Johnson. He has two interceptions and 33 tackles, which is one shy of the team high.

* Key numbers
833 – Yards passing allowed the past two games.
14 – Number of field goals made by Chandler Catanzaro without a miss this season. He has shored up a problem area.
0 – Number of interceptions for Cardinals on their 178 passes attempted this season.
75.8 – Average yards rushing allowed per game, the third-best figure in the league.

* Injury report: QB Carson Palmer (shoulder), WR Michael Floyd (groin), RB Andre Ellington (foot), TE John Carlson (knee), TE Troy Niklas (ankle), DT Frostee Rucker (calf), DE Calais Campbell (knee), LB Glenn Carson (ankle), LB Alex Okafor (quadriceps) and CB Patrick Peterson (ankle).

* Vegas says: Cardinals by 4

* What others are saying: Eleven of the 13 so-called ESPN experts that predict the outcome of games each week have the Cardinals beating the Raiders

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