Injuries threatening to define Arizona Cardinals’ season

Oct 2, 2017, 5:39 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2017, 11:15 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle D...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner as linebacker Dekoda Watson (97) pursues during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians has coached through seasons where injuries decimated his roster. As interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, Arians had a hard time simply learning the names of his countless fill-ins.

“I think we had 15 guys on IR,” he said earlier this season. “It was more than a challenge, going through what we went through defensively on IR, and seven rookies playing on offense.”

The biggest challenge for a coach is not letting those injuries become the excuse that derails the season.

“Oh yeah, it can go the other way in a heartbeat,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen, and all the coaches, to make sure that we continue to know that when we put that helmet on, what’s expected of us.”

Arians is facing that challenge this season with the Cardinals.

Arians confirmed Monday that linebacker Markus Golden would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL sustained in Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals placed Golden on injured reserve, making him the third starter this season to land on that list.

Running back David Johnson is on IR after sustaining a wrist injury in the season opener in Detroit that required surgery. Left guard Mike Iupati is on IR with a triceps injury.

In addition to those injuries, left tackle D.J. Humphries has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Arians said Humphries probably wouldn’t play on Sunday in Philadelphia because he re-injured the knee last week in practice.

Guard Alex Boone and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche also missed the 49ers game (Boone could return this week), linebacker Deone Bucannon just returned from offseason ankle surgery that sidelined him for the first three games, and receiver John Brown is still playing through a quadriceps injury that forced him to miss two games.

Johnson is considered one of, if not the best, running backs in the NFL, Iupati was critical to the Cardinals’ run game, Brown is critical to the passing game and Golden led the team in sacks last season with 12.5.

“It breaks everybody’s heart in there because they know how hard he plays,” Arians said of Golden. “It takes a lot of spirit out of the defense because he brings it every play.”

In instances like this, every NFL coach will recite the mantra that injuries are part of the game. Every player will fall back on the next-man-up mantra, which will now fall to players such as Kareem Martin and Haason Reddick in Golden’s absence. There’s a reality at play in the salary cap ruled NFL when so many key players go out of the lineup, but no one dares mention it for fear it is embraced.

“You’ve got to keep going, it’s another guy’s opportunity,” Arians said. “Those guys, Kareem, Haason, whoever it is off the practice squad, have to be able to go up and bring that energy because they know what they’re replacing.”

In rare instances, a team can overcome multiple injuries, like the Colts did that 2012 season in making the playoffs, and like the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers did in the 2010 season, when they had 15 players on IR by the end of the regular season.

More often, when you remove critical pieces from a roster, a team will feel it. The losses have already been noticeable on offense, and Golden’s absence will impact the defense.

The Cardinals face a major challenge in preventing those injuries from defining their season.

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