NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - INSIDE SLANT
If the Cardinals are going to make a move this season, now is the time. If the Cardinals are capable of making a move, it will happen now.
What appeared in the summer to be a brutal schedule now looks much easier.
Their next three opponents, the Falcons (2-4), Texans (2-5) and Jaguars (0-7) are 4-16.
The Texans and Falcons, playoff teams a year ago, are struggling. The Jaguars are predictably awful.
After this week's game against Atlanta, the Cardinals have a bye before facing the Texas.
"Obviously, it's a big game," coach Bruce Arians said. "Got to get to .500, got to win at home. One thing I have been stressing to the team is we need to start faster at home. Defensively, offensively, the entire team, to get off to a better start."
That won't be easy against the Falcons, who have outscored opponents, 41-3, in the first quarter this season.
The Cardinals offense, in contrast, has scored only two touchdowns in the first quarter this season.
Arians isn't sure what to do about it, but he's changing the team's practice regimen.
He asked every play to examine what he has done between the end of Friday's practice and the kickoff on Sunday.
"Whatever you're doing, change it," Arians told his players. "Try something new and see if we can't come out of the gates a little faster."
Does that include taking a different route to the games?
"No, because you might get lost," Arians quipped.
Quarterback Carson Palmer said players need to play closer attention to the script of plays used to open the game.
"Just not having any mental errors on those 15, 20, 30 plays," he said, "not having one little mental error here or one little blunder there, being efficient on those first plays of the game."
SERIES HISTORY: 27th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 14-12, but have lost the last two and five of the last six. In Atlanta last season, the Cardinals took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had three interceptions in the first quarter. It could have been worse had the Cardinals offense been competent. Starting quarterback John Skelton was replaced by rookie Ryan Lindley in the second quarter. The Falcons held the Cardinals to field goals the rest of the game and won, 23-19.
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Cardinals have been affected by the new rule preventing a defensive player from pushing a teammate from behind in order to block a field goal and extra points. The Cardinals had used the technique effectively over the past several years. Defensive end Calais Campbell, 6-foot-8, blocked six field goals from 2009-2012. He often was aided by a push.
"That was huge, it made my job a lot easier," Campbell said.
The rule was changed because the technique was hazardous to blockers.
"Sometimes, you could just run over them and their feet would get tangled," Campbell said. "But they're still falling down a lot, so I don't know."
--Assistant athletic trainer Jim "Machine" Shearer retired after last Thursday's game against Seattle. Shearer had worked 797 games in 40 years with the team. Shearer declined to talk about his surprise retirement, but said this about his job a few years ago.
"The players are good," he said. "Management's been good to me over the years. The best thing that's happened to me ... is when we won the NFC Championship Game against Philadelphia. To see the joy on my family's faces -- my wife, my son, my daughter -- was just unbelievable. I'd sure like to get back to the Super Bowl again, because what a great experience, what a great experience."
--Bruce Arians has been supportive of quarterback Carson Palmer through Palmer's many struggles this season. And Palmer is appreciative.
He said, "That's who Bruce is. He's going to fight for his guys. He's going to fight for his locker room. You show fight for him, and he'll show it back for you."
BY THE NUMBERS: 18.8 -- That's Carson Palmer's completion percentage on passes that travel at least 20 yards downfield.
QUOTE TO NOTE "I kind of let my wife take care of business at home as much as possible. Oh, at home? We need to defend our place." -- Carson Palmer when asked about the importance of "taking care of business at home."
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Cardinals conducted two padded practice this week, which is allowed once a year under the CBA. The practices weren't a punishment, but an attempt by coaches to look at some of the younger players on the squad. There won't be any changes in the starting lineup, but it wouldn't be surprising to see some younger players get some snaps. Candidates include right tackle Bobby Massie, who could take over from Eric Winston for a few series; guard Earl Watford, a fourth-round pick who has yet to play on offense; and safety Tony Jefferson, a rookie who has had limited time in the base defense.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is struggling but Arians hasn't been close to playing backup Drew Stanton. Arians says he's not the type to change quarterbacks often.
--DE/OLB John Abraham recorded his first two sacks of the season last week, forcing a fumble on each. Abraham has 46 forced fumbles in his career, the most of any active player. He's two shy of the NFL record held by Jason Taylor.
--CB/PR Patrick Peterson's longest punt return this year is 18 yards. As a rookie in 2011, he had eight returns of at least 20 yards and four of them a year ago. Peterson is averaging 5.8 yards a return this year.
--K Jay Feely has made 11 consecutive field-goal attempts. Feely has made 26 of his last 27 attempts, dating to last season.
--ILB Karlos Dansby leads the team with 68 tackles. He has 11 passes defensed.
--G Daryn Colledge (back) is limited this week. Colledge has never missed an NFL game, a streak of 126 games, including playoffs.
--G Earl Watford (knee) was injured in a car accident on Tuesday. Watford attended practice on Wednesday but did not participate.
--DE/OLB Matt Shaughnessy (knee) is limited in practice this week. Shaughnessy has been a solid player and has started most games since Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander were hurt in Week 3.
--RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee) has missed practice time this week. If he can't start, rookie Andre Ellington will.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) should be improved this week with the extra rest between games. Fitzgerald was about 80 percent against the Seahawks last Thursday night. Fitzgerald needs four catches to reach 800 receptions in his career. If Fitzgerald reaches that mark, he would be the youngest player to do so. Dallas tight end Jason Witten is currently the youngest player to catch 800 passes.
GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Cardinals would be smart to try and get matchups against the Falcons linebackers. That means using rookie running back Andre Ellington, who presents matchup problems in space. It would help quarterback Carson Palmer to throw some shorter passes in order to build confidence. Defensively, the Cardinals must figure a way to control tight end Tony Gonzalez. Tight ends have killed the Cardinals this season. The Rams Jared Cook caught seven passes for 141 yards with two TDs. Saints Jimmy Graham: 9 for 134 and 2 TDs. 49ers Vernon Davis: 8 for 180 and 2 TDs; Seahawks Zach Miller, 5 catches for 40 yards, 1 TD. Safety Yeremiah Bell has been beaten for six touchdowns, so that's a mismatch.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez vs. Cardinals linebackers and safeties -- The Cardinals will use a variety of tactics to control Gonzalez and maybe something new. What they have been doing against tight ends hasn't worked. Maybe cornerback Patrick Peterson will take a turn.
--Cardinals DE John Abraham vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker -- Abraham is a full-time player now and had two sacks last week. A former Falcon, Abraham knows Baker well and vice versa. Abraham needs to win this matchup.