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Wear and tear: Cardinals snap counts, injuries add up

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes (57) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Thirteen Arizona Cardinals appeared on the team’s initial injury report for a Week 6 visit to the Minnesota Vikings. None of those players’ problems appear significant.

Rather, it’s a sign that head coach Steve Wilks is well aware of the repetitive beating his team is taking, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He’s pushing for key players, including six starting defenders, to rest.

The Cardinals even altered their usual practice schedule Wednesday, something that Wilks admitted was about looking ahead to a short week as Arizona hosts Denver next Thursday night.

In the locker room, the mood might’ve been lighter after the Cardinals’ first win of 2018, but the hangover lingered three days after they suited up to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

“If you play 50 snaps versus 100 snaps … you definitely will feel a little different,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Just a little bit of wear and tear.”

Ahead are trips to the cold tub, trips to the hot tub, rest and more time taken than usual just to get out of bed.

Arizona’s defense played 92 snaps on Sunday, the most since a 1958 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Five of those ended in a Niners turnover. That game alone, seven Cardinals played more than 90 snaps.

Those are adding up.

Safety Budda Baker, who has remained a participant on special teams duty, is fourth in the NFL with 420 total snaps through five weeks of play. Josh Bynes (412, 10th-most) and Patrick Peterson (405, 17th-most) have also seen a lot of action.

Five Cardinals rank in the top seven of total defensive snaps taken NFL-wide: Antoine Bethea (387), Baker (383), Peterson (383), Bynes (379) and Tre Boston (379).

Arizona still leads the NFL — by far — in allowing its opponents to possess the ball an average of 36:07 of the game, three minutes more than the next most-gassed defense this year and seven more minutes on average compared to an 8-8 Cardinals squad a year ago. They’re allowing the third-most first downs per game.

Nonetheless, Arizona’s defense has quietly held up considering the circumstances, some of which is self-inflicted and a lot of which can be blamed on a Cardinals offense that can’t stay on the field. Arizona is giving up 391 yards per game, ninth-worst in the league.

For what it’s worth, the team ranks 11th in the NFL by allowing just 22.2 points per game and 5.4 yards per play.

Can the Cardinals take solace in the fact that they continue to grind and hold opponents despite tired legs?

“It’s all about the wins and losses. But you do, you do kind of go back and look, we gave up this many rush yards, we gave up this many pass yards — you do look at that,” Bethea said. “For us, if you can have five turnovers, five takeaways, you can score on defense, you can put the offense in position to score, it kind of balances things out.

“When Sunday comes, we got to be ready to play. It’s kind of up to us as well. We have to get off the field, you know, third down. Regardless of how many snaps we play, man, we got to be ready.”

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