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Cardinals show diversity in passing game without John Brown

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson, left, makes a one-handed catch against Cleveland Browns defensive back Tramon Williams in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

A week after injured Cardinals receiver John Brown made enough progress from a hamstring injury to play against the Baltimore Ravens, Arizona did something different.

Brown, who has been dealing with hamstring issues for a few weeks now, once again made the active list. But he didn’t make it on the field in the Cardinals’ 34-20 victory against the Cleveland Browns.

The second-leading receiver was listed as questionable to play all week long. Because he’d also been healthy enough to play through the injuries and produce very well the last two weeks, perhaps it was expected he’d play.

Maybe Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians found satisfaction in how his team prepared this past week without Brown participating. Maybe it’d be an opportunity to answer some unknowns.

Or maybe he felt this was an opportunity to think long-term. Resting Brown could pay down the road.

Whatever the reasoning, Arizona’s other receivers more than made up for Brown’s absence. Carson Palmer threw four touchdowns and completed 23-of-38 passes for 374 yards.

“I think it’s a five-headed monster. We can run the ball,” Arians told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Paul Calvisi after the game. “We have so many weapons. Our running game is a focal point.”

Chris Johnson carried the ball 30 times for 106 yards, but it’s what that opened up in the passing game — even without one of those monster’s heads — that made for quite the diverse offense.

To begin, J.J. Nelson caught his first NFL regular season pass with one hand for a 38-yard gain. He closed the afternoon with three catches for 70 yards.

Meanwhile, Arizona went to dual-tight end looks with Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas. Gresham caught two passes, but Niklas acted as Arizona’s red zone weapon and scored two touchdowns. Receiver Jaron Brown made a key 39-yard reception to begin a drive that led to the Niklas’ second score, which put the Cardinals ahead 24-20.

That’s forgetting Larry Fitzgerald, the veteran who got the most attention from Carson Palmer. Fitzgerald was targeted 11 times and made nine catches for 84 yards.

And we haven’t gotten to the Cardinals’ leading receiver.

After falling behind 20-7 at one point in the first half, Michael Floyd’s 60-yard touchdown catch gave Arizona a 24-20 lead it would only build on. Floyd finished with 106 yards on four receptions.

Had it not been for four Arizona turnovers and several missed deep balls — Arians said after the game that the wind in FirstEnergy Stadium made for tough downfield tosses — Arizona would not have needed to rally at all.

“Today we had the potential for a 600-yard day,” Arians said.

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