The Arizona Cardinals closed out what was for all intents and purposes an impressive showing in the preseason with a 32-24 victory over the Denver Broncos Thursday night at Sports Authority Field.
While the team’s 3-1 record won’t mean much once the regular season gets under way Sept. 8, here’s a look back at the last four weeks by the numbers.
Carson Palmer and the first-team offense had their fair share of troubles inside the red zone, but the first-year Cardinal didn’t commit any costly turnovers — something that hasn’t always been the case in recent years for quarterbacks in the Valley. In three games, Palmer threw two touchdowns to go along with no interceptions. The former Heisman Trophy winner’s only real blemish came on a turnover on downs against the Dallas Cowboys.
The preseason is primarily about finding the best 53 players to fill a roster, but it’s also about staying healthy. The Cardinals did that for the most part, outside of the broken left leg suffered by first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper on Aug. 24. Cooper had successful surgery on the leg earlier this week, but he is expected to miss a majority, if not all of the 2013 season.
Bruce Arians made no bones about it after Thursday night’s game. He doesn’t care about overloading the running back position, even if it means five guys (Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Alfonso Smith, Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington) make the 53-man roster. While a lot of recent attention has been placed on Williams’ future with the team, the duo of Taylor and Ellington deserves some of the headlines, as well. On 61 carries, the two rookies combined for 202 yards and a touchdown.
The battle for the team’s fourth wide receiver position behind Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd was one of the more intriguing plot lines during the preseason. And all of the candidates — Jaron Brown (11 catches, 145 yards and two touchdowns), Charles Hawkins (11 catches for 209 yards), Kerry Taylor (nine catches for 122 yards) and Mike Thomas (two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown) — acquitted themselves nicely.
Although the offensive line suffered a notable loss with the injury to Cooper, all and all they did a nice job in pass protection. In four games, Cardinals quarterbacks were sacked eight times. And of those eight sacks, seven occurred with backup Drew Stanton or Ryan Lindley behind center.
Todd Bowles’ defense forced an NFL-high 10 turnovers during the preseason, including six in their 12-7 victory over the Cowboys back on Aug. 17.
Neither Patrick Peterson nor Tyrann Mathieu had much of an opportunity to make a big play on special teams during the preseason. But while the former LSU teammates recorded three fair catches out of a possible seven chances, each had a return of 24 yards.
Three of the Cardinals’ 10 preseason takeaways were recorded by undrafted rookie safety Tony Jefferson, who wears the No. 36. Jefferson finished the preseason with 13 tackles, a sack and a QB hit.
While briefly tested with the signing of Dan Carpenter, 37-year-old Jay Feely did enough to earn the placekicking job going into the 2013 season. Feely converted on six of his eight attempts, including two from beyond 50 yards.
Arizona won three of its four preseason games for the first time since 2010. That season, Ken Whisenhunt and Co. finished last in the NFC West with a 5-11 record.