Dealing Cards: Close to must-win game in San Francisco, Nkemdiche healthy
TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s simple: Win the division, clinch a playoff spot.
And right now, seven games into the season, that may be the only way for the Arizona Cardinals to continue playing football games into the New Year.
Entering Week 9, the 3-4 Cardinals are a full two games back of Seattle and Los Angeles, both of whom sit tied for first place in the NFC West at 5-2 and, perhaps more importantly, are playing good football. The Seahawks have won four straight, while the Rams are on a two-game winning streak, which includes a victory over the Cardinals.
“In our sport, we don’t get many games to do it so right now, they’re one-game playoffs and that’s the way we’re treating it,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said Friday.
The Cardinals have been alternating wins and losses each week, meaning they’ve spent the better part of the season chasing .500. And that’s once again the position they find themselves in this week, heading into their matchup at San Francisco.
For that reason, head coach Bruce Arians called the sense of urgency “extreme,” pointing to the importance of a .500 record after Sunday.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “You cannot fall any further behind in our division. Division road wins are huge so this is a big, big game. I don’t think there’s ever a must game but this is pretty close.”
While the Cardinals play at San Francisco, the Seahawks host the Washington Redskins and the Rams travel across the country to New York to tackle the Giants.
It may be too much to ask, but perhaps the Cardinals catch a break this week and gain some ground on their division rivals. That, of course, first requires them taking care of business against the 49ers.
“I thought it was a really, really excellent week of practice and preparation,” Arians said. “Like the road games we’ve had, from now until Sunday, we need to keep preparing and get better. We have struggled in that area on road games, and this is a big road game for us.”
A healthy Robert Nkemdiche
As defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche was holding court at his locker, speaking to reporters, cornerback Patrick Peterson walked by and shouted, “It’s a great opportunity for Robert to be dominant.”
That’s the hope, of course. It’s also been a rare occurrence since the Cardinals selected him with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
In two years, Nkemdiche has played in only eight out of a possible 23 games due to injury. He returned to the field against the Rams in London after missing three weeks and recorded two tackles, including one for loss, in 35 snaps.
“Oh, he’s getting better and better,” Arians said. “He had a great week of practice. He was disruptive in the game—he’s been pretty solid for a month.”
The Cardinals need Nkemdiche to be more than solid. They need him to be disruptive, whether that’s pressuring the quarterback or stopping the run and helping to create more turnovers. The Cardinals have only forced seven, all interceptions, in seven games.
“It can help a lot, honestly, because when you have guys penetrating and getting vertical as d-linemen, it just helps,” Nkemdiche said. “That’s what I’m going to try to bring and that’s what we predicate on as a d-line anyway. It’s part of our technique and our assignment is to get vertical. I’m going to do that. I’m feeling good and healthy, so.”
Final injury report
Only one player, backup center Daniel Munyer, has been ruled for Sunday’s game. He’s got a toe injury that kept him off the practice field all week.
Five players are listed as questionable: Rucker (knee/hip), linebacker Karlos Dansby (finger/hamstring), running back Andre Ellington (quadriceps) plus wide receivers Brittan Golden (groin) and Chad Williams (back).
Neither Golden nor Williams practiced Thursday or Friday.
The 49ers, meanwhile, list seven players as out, including three starters: wide receiver Pierre Garcon (neck), left tackle Joe Staley (eye) and defensive end Solomon Thomas (knee). Four others will miss the game as well, including tackle Garry Gilliam (knee), defensive tackle D.J. Jones (knee), defensive end Aaron Lynch (calf) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (quadriceps).
Garcon and Gilliam will be placed on injured reserve, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan, who added rookie linebacker Reuben Foster (ribs) will be a gametime decision.
Saluting Frostee Rucker
On Friday, the NFL and USAA, the league’s official military appreciation sponsor, announced the 32 nominees for the seventh annual Salute to Service Award.
Rucker is the Cardinals’ nominee.
“It’s always a good thing when you get recognized for doing good things in the community,” he said.
The Salute to Service Award annually recognizes NFL players, coaches, personnel and alumni who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community.
“I’ve always taken the time any time there was something to do outreach with the military or the service. I always raise my hand and am one of the first people to sign up to do it. They mean so much and they protect us. No matter what battle they’re in and why and whatnot, they’re always there and they’re the frontline of the defense,” Rucker said.
“My father was a serviceman, I have an uncle who’s a serviceman, I have an auntie that was in the service for many years and they’re very dear to my heart. I’m just thankful I can represent them the right way.”