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No matter who’s in, Cardinals focus on self-improvement vs. Cowboys

Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

TEMPE, Ariz. —  Regardless of whether the Dallas Cowboys hold out their stars and no matter how many snaps Arizona gives its own key players on Sunday Night Football, the Cardinals are focusing on fixing the fundamental flaws from their Friday win over the New Orleans Saints.

Arizona was gashed for 183 rushing yards and 6.5 yards per Saint carry in their second preseason outing.

Forget that the defensive line suffered losses with injuries to starting tackles Robert Nkemdiche and Corey Peters, plus backup Olsen Pierre. And forget that starting linebackers Josh Bynes and Deone Bucannon didn’t play due to minor injuries.

Forget it’s the preseason.

Arizona head coach Steve Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb have spent the practice days since then trying to fix run-fit miscues that led to those gaudy numbers for New Orleans.

“What we have to do a better job of as a defensive front, as a defense in general, (is) in terms of being disciplined in our gaps,” Holcomb said Thursday.

“That’s the biggest thing — and trusting in the system. Guys are in position and then somebody gets nosy, jumps out of their gap and all of a sudden the ball is on the second level, it’s a 15-yard gain.”

Compared to the defense, Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has found relatively more to be pleased about as he installs a new offense.

A poor second-team offensive line performance in Week 1 of the preseason aside, the Cardinals’ quarterbacks have all played well.

Starter Sam Bradford hasn’t thrown an incompletion on seven passes, and rookie Josh Rosen went 10-for-16 last Friday for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Behind a so-far impressive offensive line that was rebooted this offseason, running back David Johnson looks healthy, and young wide receivers Christian Kirk and Chad Williams combined for 103 yards on seven catches last week.

McCoy believes his team is playing faster and in a good spot learning the offense.

“I’m a strong believer in throwing a lot at them in the offseason so that they hear the install a couple times throughout the offseason,” McCoy said. “When they first get here, when we’re not outside, when we’re inside with the players, you’re teaching those things. The OTAs, the minicamp, you kind of reinstall things and you understand, ‘OK, they’re learning.’

“I think the best part of training camp this year — the mistakes have been cut way down,” he added. “I think they’ve been dialed in. I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job of teaching the system to the players, ’cause we have thrown a lot at them.”

KIRK LIVING UP TO HYPE

Before final cuts press Arizona into tough decisions, the final two preseason games are also about the continued process of finding out what positions, situations and duties McCoy should lay on each of the wide receivers that will be utilized in the regular season.

“We’re moving so many guys around, I wouldn’t say it’s one person (impressing),” McCoy said. “It’s great to see Christian make some plays, Chad makes some plays. Each week and even out at practice, we’re moving so many different guys around and playing so many different players, it’s hard to say just one guy. But I’m happy with where they’re at, and the competition’s been great.”

Kirk, who Wilks on Wednesday said separated himself, made four catches for 49 yards in New Orleans, including a nifty touchdown grab off a Rosen laser through traffic. The rookie second-round pick from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale has impressed Fitzgerald.

“That’s one of the first things you notice about him, his attention to detail,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s very quiet in terms of his demeanor. He doesn’t say much, but he’s listening all the time to what’s going on.

“The most important thing that I love about him is he just works his (expletive) off every day, man. He’s just a tireless competitor every single rep, every single route, every single competition drill, special teams — whatever it is, he’s giving you everything he’s got.”

EXTRA POINTS

– A day after Wilks failed to tip off any word about the competition at the defensive end spot opposite Chandler Jones, Holcomb suggested it was a strong last two days for former Cowboy Benson Mayowa, who is listed on the depth chart as the first team end. Vontarrius Dora was also named by both coaches as in the mix.

– Fitzgerald on being ready for the regular season: “Next Thursday (after Arizona closes its preseason against the Broncos) can’t come fast enough.

“I’m good. I feel great. I just want to keep it that way. That’s why I want the preseason to get over and the road games start coming and the road checks start coming.”

– McCoy wouldn’t reveal the game status of Rosen, who sat out practice Wednesday with a swollen thumb. Rosen is day-to-day, Wilks said Wednesday.

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