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Cardinals OL D.J. Humphries makes first NFL start at left tackle

Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (74) waits to take the field with teammates during the start of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin remained non-committal Thursday when asked if second-year right tackle D.J. Humphries could make an appearance at left tackle this week against the Atlanta Falcons.

Three days later, Arizona went with Humphries at left tackle and Ulrick John making his first career start at the right edge of the offensive line. John Wetzel, who had replaced starting left tackle Jared Veldheer when the latter when down with a season-ending injury, moved inside to right guard in place of Earl Watford.

“I thought the young offensive line played well until it was put in the position where it was pass, pass, pass,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told media in Atlanta after the 38-19 loss.

Palmer ended up throwing for 274 yards by completing 25-of-45 passes. He was sacked two times and threw one interception in the second half as Arizona attempt the comeback.

The running game produced 4.1 yards per rush on just 14 carries.

For the first time this season, the Cardinals scored on their first offensive possession, driving 75 yards in more than five minutes.

“I thought they played really, really well for three quarters,” Arians told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Paul Calvisi. “Up until that point, I think we played extremely well. First time we’ve scored on the first possession this year.”

Guards Mike Iupati (ankle) and Watford (shoulder) were listed on the injury report this week, but neither were listed on the inactive list Sunday. While Watford came off the bench, Iupati was in the starting lineup.

Beyond injuries, the Cardinals’ offensive line put together what was by far its worst performance of the year last week in Minnesota. The Vikings pressured Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer more than any team had pressure any signal-caller so far this year — 63 percent of Palmer’s dropbacks came against pressure, per Pro Football Focus.

Wetzel, who Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had praised, earned the worst grade among NFL left tackles for Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus. He was credited with allowing three quarterback hits on Palmer and five hurries, plus other plays where he was beaten which didn’t register as pressures.

Between that analysis of the offensive line at hand and the possibility Watford and Iupati were banged up, Wetzel sliding to guard could be the best move for Arizona — even if it puts the inconsistent Humphries in a position requiring more responsibility.

Goodwin’s “maybe, maybe not” response to starting Humphries three days before gameday was dependent on internal conversations and the injury situation. It ultimately made sense that such a drastic change would be under consideration as the Cardinals cling to their playoff hopes.

“Kind of afraid to shake things up, but sometimes desperate measures, from the standpoint of depth and injuries, you’ve got to do desperate things,” Goodwin said on Thanksgiving. “Not necessarily desperate, but to make sure we’ve got the right five guys out there.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. D.J.’s been doing a decent job at right (tackle), so maybe he’ll just stay there. But at the end of the day, I don’t care who’s out there, we’ve got to do a better job of protecting Carson.”

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