ARIZONA CARDINALS

Dealing Cards: Bucannon working his way back; Nelson on injury report

Sep 21, 2017, 4:02 PM | Updated: 7:32 pm
Arizona Cardinals' Deone Bucannon signs autographs for fans before an NFL football game against the...
Arizona Cardinals' Deone Bucannon signs autographs for fans before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Bruce Arians addressed the media on Thursday afternoon, his injury update seemed pretty uneventful.

“The only people that did not practice were John Brown and D.J. Humphries,” Arizona’s head coach explained. “Everybody else was limited. A very, very spirited practice, an excellent practice.”

On the surface, that looks pretty predictable. Both Brown and Humphries were likely to miss the Monday Night showdown with the Dallas Cowboys anyway. But when the injury report was released a short while later, J.J. Nelson was revealed as one of those others that was limited with a hamstring issue.

Ultimately, that might mean nothing. The Cardinals have an extra day to prepare for their home opener on Monday, and Nelson could easily be ready to go. If he is, he’ll resume his role as a dangerous deep threat and Arizona’s best hope for any semblance of a quick-strike offense.

If this lingers, however, the Cards could be facing yet another significant obstacle early on in the 2017 season. Last week’s injury report looked far too extensive for a team that had only played one game at the time. And while they did manage to finally knock off the Colts in overtime on Sunday, the absence of guys like Brown, Humphries, David Johnson and Mike Iupati was very noticeable.

One of the main players who stepped up was Nelson. His performance — five catches for 120 yards and a touchdown — was a major catalyst for Arizona’s fourth-quarter rally. Nelson now leads the team with 10 receptions and 163 yards through two weeks. He also has two of the Cardinals’ three offensive scores this year, and has found the end zone nine times in his last 11 outings, dating back to 2016.

Again, this could be nothing. He could play Monday and everything could be fine. But when an emerging playmaker whose game is predicated on blazing speed has any sort of hamstring issue, it’s at least worth monitoring.

Progress for Bucannon

The Cardinals have been without dollar backer Deone Bucannon for the first two games — and the entire training camp. But he’s making progress, and there’s a growing sense he might even be ready to step in on Monday.

“He’s getting real close,” Arians noted. “He looked good today. He was flying around.”

If he is able to go, Bucannon would give Arizona a versatile presence to utilize in the middle of the defense, though Arians said he would be on a snap count. Still, just having him work into the rotation would ease some of the pressure off the other linebackers, including rookie Haason Reddick.

Peterson vs. Bryant

The Monday Night Football crew will likely be zeroing in on one matchup, in particular, this week. Patrick Peterson has more than established himself as one of the truly elite shutdown corners in the league, and he’ll be facing one of the NFL’s most skilled, physical and aggressive receivers in Dallas wideout Dez Bryant.

“Two great players,” Arians explained. “Pro Bowl players, All-Pro players going at each other all day long. So, neither one of them is going to back off. That’s for sure.”

Opposing teams typically shy away from Peterson’s side of the field, but Bryant is such a big part of the Cowboys’ offense that they might not have a choice but to challenge him at least a few times.

“Pat’s been doing this for 10 years now, guarding No. 1 receivers,” Tyrann Mathieu pointed out. “So he’s excited about it. It’s going to be fun. Going to be a fun matchup.”

Quick start

Even though the Cardinals never seemed to truly get going in Week 1, they did jump out to an early 10-0 lead vs Detroit. The same could not be said this past Sunday though, as Arizona carried just three points into the fourth quarter.

“Starting faster,” Larry Fitzgerald answered, when asked what the main keys to success will be for his club in Week 3. “You know, being able to get a good running game, a good flow, a good balance to our offense earlier and often. Being able to have those sustained drives where we’re executing on those third-and-shorts. Things like that.”

Grabbing an early lead is always important, but it could be vital this week with the nation watching. Dallas sped out to a 16-0 lead over New York in Week 1, then leaned on Ezekiel Elliott to essentially run the Giants right into the ground. Last week, however, Denver was able to jump all over the Cowboys, building a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and never looking back in a 42-17 win.

With his team trailing so quickly, Elliott finished the day with just nine carries for eight yards. And the Dallas offense, as a whole, looked lost while trying to rally for most of the game. The Cardinals would love to put the Cowboys in a similar situation at University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday.

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Dealing Cards: Bucannon working his way back; Nelson on injury report