Some considered it stunning despite its “meaningless preseason game” handle, but the Arizona Cardinals are coming off a 32-0 shellacking of the Houston Texans in which Arizona’s quarterbacks combined to throw three touchdowns (one each), no interceptions and compile a 136.0 passer rating.
This week, the team travels to the Twin Cities to face the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 of the preseason. The third quarterback this week will not be rookie fourth-round pick Logan Thomas, but instead will be third-year veteran Ryan Lindley.
The former sixth-round pick out of San Diego State has some monstrous shoes to fill after he watched the new guy complete over 90 percent of his passes and lead a touchdown drive against the Texans, capped off by a nifty touchdown pass to receiver Dan Buckner.
Third-stringers or not, Thomas was supposed to have accuracy issues coming out of Virginia Tech. All he did was look like a seasoned veteran throwing easily-catchable passes to everyone.
To say the least, Lindley must be nearly perfect just to come close to matching Thomas’ performance.
Cardinals’ Preseason Week 1 Recap
Is the preseason meaningless? It may be to some, but to rookies like Thomas and wide receiver John Brown, last week’s dominant performances meant a lot.
Head coach Bruce Arians spoke to Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday (h/t Adam Green, ArizonaSports.com), and he had nothing but good things to say of Brown:
He probably should have had a 200-yard game in the first half. We underthrew him, he gets a pass interference penalty (and) we missed him one more time down the sideline. He had an easy shot at 200 yards. We’re excited about the guy.
“Excited” is probably not a strong enough adjective, but it will do for now.
Brown led the team with 10 targets against the Texans. That’s not because Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Thomas forced the ball to him simply to see what he could do—he was wide open on all 10 of his targets and was open on the majority of his routes.
That alone could mean great things are afoot for the offense this season and terrible, horrid things are coming to opposing defenses. How will defenses stop Brown if they’re focusing on Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd? And on the flip side, how will they stop Fitz and Floyd if they’re focusing on Brown?
That double-edged sword could end up being the difference in a game or two this season.
Not only did the offense hit on all cylinders, but the defense played lights-out football as well.
How much stock do you put into preseason games?
The starting defense created a turnover early on when inside linebacker Kevin Minter got a paw on a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass. A host of Cardinals players bobbled the ball in midair before cornerback Antonio Cromartie secured the interception, setting up a field goal for Stanton and the offense.
Toward the end of the first half, the Cardinals defense came up big again. Whereas it took seven hands to haul in the team’s first pick, it took only one hand to reel in the second.
Linebacker Marcus Benard dropped into coverage, and as he turned to find out where Fitzpatrick was going with the ball, he found said ball quickly approaching. He stabbed at the ball with his hand and tucked it away for a highlight-reel interception.
Moving forward to this week at Minnesota, it will be interesting to see, one, if the quarterbacks—led by Palmer, Stanton and Lindley—can continue their success, and two, if the defense can shut down another offensive roster.
News and Notes
No Gloves…This Time
It’s not a bad thing to have teammates fight each other at practice. In fact, you could consider it a good thing. It means they’re mentally and physically into it and ready to do anything for the team.
During practice Monday, defensive end Darnell Dockett and offensive tackle Bradley Sowell were momentarily upset with one another, going at it briefly before their day at training camp was cut short by some old-school punishment from Arians.
They both were told to run laps around the field.
Sowell said after practice it was just a matter of time before something happened, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com (video of the melee included in the link):
If you noticed, we got into a skirmish every drill, so I knew it was going to get heated.
We were coming off a big win where we looked good, and the message (Monday) was to come out and don’t be complacent. Obviously, me and Dockett had the same mindset there.
Ready for Takeoff
Soon enough, both safety Tyrann Mathieu and nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu will come off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and begin practicing with the defense, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. “Within a week” was the quote from Arians.
It’s bigger news for the playmaking Mathieu, as his addition to the secondary could put it over the top this season and truly complete the “No Fly Zone.”
Coming off the PUP list and being ready for game action are two completely different things, mind you. It’s possible Mathieu and Ta’amu will have to be eased into practice, and eventually games, before they’re declared 100 percent ready to go.
An "Upper-Shelf" Tight End?
That’s what the Cardinals could have on their hands if free-agent signee John Carlson stays healthy this season, according to Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com. He showed a glimpse of what he can do when, against the Texans, he ran an out-and-up route with No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney in coverage.
He executed it to perfection, scorching past Clowney and hauling in a 13-yard touchdown from Palmer. Only, it didn’t count because center Ted Larsen was guilty of illegally putting his hand in a defender’s face—which I highlighted on Twitter:
On Carlson TD called back by hands to face, Larsen's first move was open palm to face mask of DT. They'll learn pic.twitter.com/HoP7pvJXiq— Shaun Church (@NFLChurch) August 11, 2014
If Carlson stays healthy, there is little doubt he will have an impact for the Cardinals. With so many weapons for opposing defenses to cover, from the brawn of Fitzgerald and Floyd to the speed of Brown and Ted Ginn, Carlson will certainly have his share of opportunities. They can’t cover everyone perfectly on every play, and it’s almost assured that, between the two of them, Fitz or Floyd will draw double-coverage on nearly every play.
Be ready, John.
John Abraham Joins the Team
Speaking of John being ready, John Abraham showed up for camp Thursday. He took a physical and spent the afternoon with strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris to “get him up to speed,” and according to Arians, he will still be the starting "Will" linebacker once he’s ready to play, per AZCardinals.com.
But he’s not ready to play—not yet. He must work to get into “football shape” before re-assuming the starting role.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
During the regular season, this section will feature Cardinals players matched up against the opposition. But it’s the preseason, and intersquad matchups are what you need to watch. Here are this week’s matchups in no particular order.
Left Guard: Jonathan Cooper vs. Earl Watford
The battle is real, as is the toe injury to projected starter Jonathan Cooper. After missing all of his rookie season with a broken leg, the former No. 7 overall pick’s leg was rolled up underneath a heap of players during the Texans game. He missed practice Thursday, according to ArizonaSports.com's Green, and hasn’t practiced all week.
Is it a problem that Jonathan Cooper is struggling early after returning from a broken leg?
Should he sit out for any reason, Earl Watford would assume the starting role in his place, as he has at times throughout camp. This is a huge deal because Cooper struggling means Paul Fanaika will probably be the starting right guard when Week 1 rolls around in a few weeks, and he’s not exactly elite.
Ideally, Cooper will rebound, solidify his starting left guard spot and force Watford to the right side, where he would start over Fanaika. If Watford looks good enough to supplant Cooper, you know he’s good enough to oust Fanaika.
No. 3 Wide Receiver: Ted Ginn, Jr. vs. John Brown
By missing last week’s game, Ginn hurt his chances of being the team’s No. 3 receiver. Brown went off and did what he did, and if he’s not in the driver’s seat to start in the slot, he should be soon.
This game is very important for Ginn if he wants that spot. As it stands now, he has some catching up to do.
Is it possible Ginn’s fate is already sealed? Could Brown have already won the No. 3 receiver spot? He’s been the talk of camp and, as mentioned earlier, is seemingly always open.
The importance of having a receiver quick and savvy enough to get open consistently cannot be overstated. Teams search all over the football world for players like that, and when they find one, they do anything they can to get him—even draft them “too high” and cause mini freakouts among the fanbase.
We’ll see how this plays out, but as of now, Brown has a leg up on Ginn.
Strong Safety: Tony Jefferson vs. Deone Bucannon
For a while it was assumed first-round pick Deone Bucannon would start from Day 1. As of now, however, second-year undrafted free agent Tony Jefferson is penciled in as the starting strong safety—and he’s playing well.
Bucannon still gets playing time for now, but as the “dollar” linebacker in the dime package for coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense. All that really means is the Cardinals have three safeties on the field in dime sets, increasing the defense’s athleticism while keeping the thump on the field.
This one will be interesting to watch, because as much as some want Bucannon to start, Jefferson has worked his butt off to be where he is right now. He felt snubbed by not being drafted last year, and he’s out to prove to 31 other teams they were wrong to pass on him.
Cardinals’ X-Factors of the Week: Running Backs
Outside a couple nice plays last week, the running game did not show up against the Texans. As a unit, the running backs averaged only 2.2 yards per carry. Undrafted rookie Zach Bauman out of Northern Arizona led the way with seven carries for a team-high 29 yards and 4.1 yards-per-carry average.
Starter Andre Ellington wasn’t in long enough to get into a groove, but he carried twice for seven yards. What was really troubling were the two bigger backs directly behind Ellington on the depth chart, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer. They together carried 13 times for 16 yards, a paltry 1.2 yards per carry.
As good as the quarterback and receiver play was, the running backs were just the opposite; they may as well not have been on the field.
This week, we need to see some things from the backs. Ellington, Taylor, Dwyer and Co. have to get it going. Look for emphasis to be placed on the running game this week simply for Arians to see what he’s dealing with.