TEMPE, Ariz. — Two weeks ago, the Arizona Cardinals prepared to face Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick.
It paid off, as they held the veteran to 3-of-8 passing for just six yards, while allowing another 47 yards on five carries. In fact, when Vick exited the game in the third quarter, the Cardinals held a 10-6 lead.
But therin lies the problem: Vick exited the game and his replacement, Landry Jones, was not someone the Cardinals were ready for. The 2013 fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma had never thrown an NFL pass before that game, yet came in and completed 8-of-12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Steelers to victory.
With that memory still fresh in their minds, the Cardinals this week made sure to prepare for both Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, as either could line up under center for the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
Though McCown is the presumed starter, he is listed as questionable with injuries to his shoulder and ribs. If he cannot go, then the second-year pro Manziel will get the nod.
“We never prepared for Landry Jones. It was either Ben (Roethlisberger) or Michael (Vick),” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in relating this week’s work to what they learned a couple weeks ago. “It’s very similar in that Josh (McCown) is very much like Ben. He’s streaky. When he gets on a roll, he gets hot. You’ve got to get him off the spot.
“Johnny (Manziel) is like Michael Vick. He’s going to move around and he’s going to make plays, probably more so down the field, spinning out of the pocket. You’ve got to get ready for both guys. The biggest thing is to stop the running game and then get after the quarterback, and then it’s a lot easier.”
There are clear differences between the two passers.
McCown, 36, has appeared in 75 career games, and this season has completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 1,686 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. While fairly mobile early in his career, he has run just 13 times for 68 yards and one touchdown this season.
Manziel, on the other hand, has seen action in just eight NFL games. He’s appeared in three this season, completing 56.8 percent of his passes for 381 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The 22-year-old is known for his elusiveness, and has rushed nine times for 41 yards.
“Josh McCown is a veteran guy, he can make all the throws, does a really good job reading coverages,” Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson said. “We all know Manziel — he hurts you with his feet. He’s gotten better with standing in the pocket throwing the ball on time, but the big thing with him would be him extending plays and extending possessions with his feet.”
Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher said this week has not been unlike how they approached the Steelers game, noting how their experience from that week may be helping them now.
“But at the end of the day it’s still time spent, it’s still about preparation, it’s still about making sure we’re aware of what’s going to happen when each guy is in the game, what are some of the things they like to do and like to go to,” he said. “There are certainly a little bit of differences — maybe the run game is the same, but in the pass game with Johnny in there you certainly have to defend the scramble play where he’s going to try to get the ball on top of you. McCown is doing a great job possession passing, distributing the ball. There’s quite a few guys that he’s getting the ball to.”
Defensive lineman Calais Campbell said he doesn’t really worry about which QB plays, saying the key is making sure the Browns — no matter which quarterback is leading them — are forced to convert on third and longs.
“Make it hard for whoever is in there,” he said. “If we give them third-and-shorts, it’s going to be a lot harder for us to make the plays we want to make. But if we give them third-and-longs, I think we’ll be fine, whoever’s in there.”
For the most part, that’s the kind of mind-set the Cardinals have taken all season. There are of course things they do differently for each individual opponent, but when it really comes down to it, their focus is generally on themselves and making sure they execute their jobs to perfection.
And if that means needing to take a lesson learned in Pittsburgh and apply it to Cleveland, so be it.
“It’s kind of the same thing,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We don’t want to go out there and be surprised. I think we were a little bit surprised against Pittsburgh with Landry Jones and how well he knew the offense.
“We just don’t want to have one of those let ups again. Obviously it’s a game we feel like we need to win to really put us in position going forward.”
Some stories for pre-game reading
John Brown is questionable for Sunday’s tilt, though the last thing he wants to do is make his hamstring issues worse.
‘Junkyard dog’ Markus Golden is making great strides in increased role for Cardinals.
Justin Bethel seems set to make his first career start at cornerback, which is something he is “looking forward” to.
It’s pretty amazing that Josh McCown, 10 years after being cast aside by the Cardinals, is still starting in the NFL.
Dwight Freeney got his first sack as a Cardinal Monday, and the hope is more are on the way.
Paige Dimakos caught up with Deone Bucannon for this week’s edition of “Four Downs.”
– The Cardinals have already scored 28 touchdowns this season, a total that leads the league. They scored 32 touchdowns all of last season.
– Though 13-33-3 all-time against the Browns, Arizona is currently riding a two-game winning streak in the series. Both of those wins came at home, however. The last time the teams faced off in Cleveland was in 2003, a game the Browns won by a score of 44-6.
– With 13 yards receiving Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald would pass Irving Fryar and move into 17th place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.
– Sticking with Fitz, the Browns, Ravens, Broncos and Jets are the only teams he has not scored a touchdown against.
– The most touchdown passes a Cardinal has thrown through the first eight games of a season is 16, which Kurt Warner did in 2008 and 2009. Carson Palmer has reached that number through seven games, meaning he is one touchdown toss away on Sunday from setting a new mark.
– Through seven games, the Cardinals have tallied a league-best 38 plays of 20+ yards on offense.