Washington vs. Arizona Cardinals: Complete Week 6 Preview for Arizona
The Arizona Cardinals are 3-1 heading into their Week 6 matchup with Washington. While they sit atop the NFC West—in a tie with the Seattle Seahawks—for now, they won’t for long if they suffer any more injuries to key players.
The defense has especially been hit hard, losing defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for the season with a torn ACL before the season. His replacement, Frostee Rucker, has missed time with a calf injury.
Outside linebacker John Abraham is on the season-ending injured reserve list with a concussion, and second-year OLB Alex Okafor will take the place of Matt Shaughnessy, who will miss at least the next eight games while he is on the injured reserve/designated to return list.
Then you throw defensive end Calais Campbell’s knee injury on top of all that, and you may want to take a walk to get some fresh air. We haven’t even mentioned quarterback Carson Palmer might miss his fourth straight game and that Drew Stanton (concussion) is not a lock to play.
The defense could be without four players slated before the season to start along the front seven, plus the offense could have to rely on fourth-round rookie quarterback Logan Thomas, who was 1-of-8 passing last week and was clearly not ready to be thrust into an NFL game.
Here is your in-depth preview of the Cardinals as they face Washington.
Cardinals’ Week 5 Review
OK, we know the Cardinals lost by three touchdowns to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and lost a host of players to injury in doing so. I went over some stats that led to the loss, so if you missed it, check that out.
Moving on, because I’m not one to beat a dead horse.
News and Notes
Cooper Could Start
It’s possible we see a couple of players get their first NFL start on Sunday. None would be bigger than seeing offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, the top-10 pick from 2013 who missed his rookie year with a broken leg and whom Ted Larsen took over for at left guard to start this season when he struggled during camp.
Cooper is ready to start at right guard in place of Paul Fanaika, who has ankle and knee injuries, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. “I’m excited,” Cooper said. “If it happens, it’s about time, that’s how I can say it.”
Okafor Points Out Arians’ Preparedness
The man who will make his first start since a torn pectoral muscle ended his rookie season last year is smart. He understands why head coach Bruce Arians does what he does during offseason workouts, as he told Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com:
The thing is, we’ve been preparing for this since the offseason, since OTAs when coach [Arians] split us up into two fields so the young guys could get extra reps. Coach is a realist. He knows there’s going to be injuries and setbacks throughout the season.
Powers Echoes Mentality of His Coach
Cornerback Jerraud Powers, who leads the team with two interceptions this season, spoke with Bob McManaman of AZCentral.com this week and used the “next man up” idiom most sports teams have adopted when dealing with injuries:
I know we’ve been saying it a lot and it sounds cliché, but we really believe in the next guy up. We have just as much confidence in the next guy or he wouldn’t be here. We just expect a lot out of each other and when we’re on the field, we hold everybody responsible.
That’s good, because we will see a lot of backups starting the game on Sunday.
Birdgang Boo-Boo Brigade
All injury statuses gathered from AZCardinals.com.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Alex Okafor vs. Tyler Polumbus
One of the next men up for the Cardinals, Okafor has a good opportunity to make something happen in the pass rush this week against Washington right tackle Tyler Polumbus.
Why’s that, you ask?
No one has allowed as many sacks this season as Polumbus has, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His six sacks are two more than anyone else has allowed through Week 5.
While Shaughnessy is a far better run defender than pass-rusher, Okafor specializes in getting to the quarterback. I hate to say it like this because it’s going to come off as a slam toward Shaughnessy or insensitive, but Shaughnessy’s injury couldn’t have come at a better time for Okafor.
There is a simple reason for that. The young pass-rusher has an opportunity to earn real playing time. Not over the next two months, when he’s expected to start, but after that, when Shaughnessy returns from knee surgery.
This is a great matchup to help him build confidence. Hopefully for the Cardinals pass rush, he can run with it.
Michael Floyd vs. David Amerson
Like Okafor’s matchup, this is a potential win for receiver Michael Floyd. Not necessarily because David Amerson is a bad player—he’s not. But because Floyd’s 2014 season has followed a specific and almost eerie pattern to date.
Based on the above numbers, Floyd is due to have a big game against Washington, and Amerson will draw Floyd in coverage most of the afternoon.
For what it’s worth, Amerson has allowed 25 receptions on 34 targets (73.5 percent) for 245 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 93.4 passer rating against this season. That completion percentage is really high.
Expect Floyd to have a big day no matter who throws him passes.
Cardinals’ X-Factor of the Week: Andre Ellington
The X-factor is unchanged from a week ago, when I had Andre Ellington in this same spot. I told of how the Cardinals were 9-0 when Ellington carries 10-plus times and how the running back had averaged 6.03 yards per touch through 18 games.
Thanks to an 81-yard touchdown pass from Thomas, Ellington’s career yards-per-touch average increased to 6.13 (20 total touches for 144 total yards against the Broncos). But everything other than the touchdown went sour for Ellington and the Cardinals.
The second-year back carried 16 times for just 32 yards (2.0 yards per carry), including his first rushing touchdown of the season; his offensive line in front of him did not open holes and he was unable to make things happen.
This week, Ellington needs to be on his game, especially if Thomas starts. But if either Palmer or Stanton give it a go, Ellington is the key because both are coming off injuries and would need the support.
This game would not be closely matched at all if the Cardinals were a healthy team. The needle tilts toward the home sideline for every positional unit on the roster when both teams are healthy, so the fact that Arizona likely will be without its starting quarterback, starting right guard and four of its front seven on defense might help Washington out a bit.
That’s not to say Washington is healthy, because it is not.
We all know quarterback Robert Griffin III is out with an ankle injury. Then there’s nose tackle Barry Cofield (ankle; IR/designated to return), cornerback DeAngelo Hall (Achilles; IR) and safety Duke Ihenacho (foot; IR).
Then we hit those who are questionable for Sunday’s action:
- Left tackle Trent Williams (top-three tackle in the NFL when healthy): Knee
- Tight end Jordan Reed: Hamstring
- Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo: Ankle
- Cornerback Tracy Porter: Hamstring
- Safety Ryan Clark: Ankle
Both teams are banged up, but the Cardinals seem to have gotten the worst of it so far. They cannot afford another injury to anyone, to say the least.
This game will hinge on the running game of both teams. The NFL is a passing league, but Washington vs. Arizona will come down to which team can sustain drives through its rushing attack.
Ellington will be the workhorse for Arizona, while star Alfred Morris will carry the load for Washington.
On the season, Morris has carried 84 times for 345 yards (4.1 YPC) and three touchdowns. He offers nothing in the passing game, but he is a banger between the tackles and will lower his shoulder to gain an extra yard or two.
If Washington can run the ball successfully, that could open up the deep passing game for Kirk Cousins and Co. The kid loves slinging it deep to his speedy corps of receivers featuring DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and former Cardinals third-round pick Andre Roberts. Even Reed gets in on the action.
Stopping Morris and Washington’s run game is imperative for coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense. With so many pieces missing up front, the defense will have to rely on young players to make it happen. That means Okafor and rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson have to be prepared to see a barrage of running plays early on.
In the end, the defense should hold Morris in check, which means a solid day all around for the unit is in store. No matter who starts at quarterback, the offense should be better this week than it was last week, when it had nine drives end after a three-and-out.
The Cardinals, in the friendly confines of University of Phoenix Stadium, should win this game with little struggle in the end.
Prediction: Arizona 30, Washington 9
All stats gathered from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.