Preseason football is not really a great indicator of how a team will fare during the regular season, though if there is one matchup that people look to when analyzing a team, it is the third one.
Historically, the third preseason game is when teams play their starters more and actually game plan a little, making it the closest thing to a real game and actual result than any other exhibition contest.
For the Cardinals, their third preseason game this year is Sunday afternoon in Houston against the Texans, which will give it an even greater feeling of normalcy.
With all that said, here are five things to keep an eye on in the team’s dress rehearsal.
The Cardinals got healthier this week, as they saw Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Bethel, Frostee Rucker and Robert Nkemdiche return to the field. All practiced in some capacity and none appeared to suffer any kind of setback. Head coach Bruce Arians has said all could be available for Week 1 against the New England Patriots, though it’s tough to imagine him feeling confident in their readiness without any preseason action. There would always be next Thursday’s finale against Denver, though teams normally don’t want to use any of their starters in the final preseason contest. How much — if any — of the returnees we will see Sunday is anyone’s guess, but odds are all will play at least a little.
Arizona’s first-team offense has produced all of one field goal in two preseason games. Last week in San Diego, the starters looked not so great. Ask them and you’ll hear how they haven’t run enough plays or had enough snaps to really get into a rhythm, and they’re not necessarily wrong about that. Furthermore, ask anyone how worried they are about the offense’s struggles, and they’ll tell you not at all. Confidence? Hubris? Well, it’s not like Arizona’s offense is an unproven entity. All the skill position guys are back from last season, and we saw in 2015 what the Cardinals were capable of. Still, it would be nice to see a little bit of that form this preseason, if only for the good vibes it would produce.
No risk it, no biscuit is back in charge
It would be unfair to pin the offense’s issues in the first two games on Harold Goodwin, though having Bruce Arians back in charge of play calling has to be seen as a positive, right? The coach, in order to help Goodwin grow as a coach, ceded play-calling duties for the first two games and instead was more of a listener/observer, but Sunday he will be on the headset making the calls. You have to think the offense will look better, if only because Arians’ style and cadence will be more familiar to everyone. It should also help that the starters are expected to see more action. Put it all together, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a more Cardinals-like effort against the Texans. Then again, if the offense continues to struggle…
Brandon’s last stand?
Against Oakland and San Diego, we watched Brandon Williams to see how he was progressing. After all, at that point the team needed the rookie to improve quickly, as he was slated to be a starter. The third-round pick is still lining up opposite Patrick Peterson, but with Bethel healthy and playing and veteran Mike Jenkins also making some waves, his grasp on the starting job may be loosening some. Williams played fairly well in San Diego, bouncing back from a slow start to make a couple of plays, and in practice this week he has had some nice moments. We know the ball will find him Sunday, so will he experience success? If not, his time as a starter may soon come to an end.
To say Drew Stanton has been off this preseason would be an understatement. While never known to be the most accurate QB, he was looked at as an excellent backup who, if needed, could guide the Cardinals to a win or two. Then this preseason happened. In two games, Stanton has completed four-of-13 passes for 74 yards with two interceptions, both of which came on passes where he airmailed open receivers. He has had trouble keeping the ball down, and Arians pointed to his mechanics as the reason why. Stanton is not overly concerned, and given the fact that he is a somewhat proven veteran, it may be unfair to really worry about him. However, given the Cardinals’ Super Bowl aspirations, having a capable backup QB is of the utmost importance and it would not be a bad thing for Stanton to reaffirm that he is one.