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Cardinals still searching for offensive rhythm after third preseason loss

Houston Texans outside linebacker John Simon (51) intercepts a pass by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

If you’re keeping track at home, that’s six straight games in which the Cardinals’ first-team offense was less than electric, excepting some fourth-quarter fireworks against Green Bay in the 2015 NFC Divisional Round.

It’s true that four of those games meant nothing — the three 2016 preseason games to date and last season’s regular season finale against Seattle — but the final image that FOX showed of Sunday’s first half in Houston left little doubt about how coach Bruce Arians feels. As the Cardinals trotted to the locker room trailing 31-10, FOX carried a full screen shot of Arians shaking his head in disgust.

There were plenty of angles to dissect in Sunday’s 34-24 loss, like cornerback Justin Bethel getting beat twice by Texans receiver Will Fuller (once on a TD), or cornerback Mike Jenkins going down with what appeared to be a significant right knee injury that could thin the Cardinals already questionable depth, or Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler carving up the Cardinals defense by completing 11 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown before leaving.

The issue of greatest concern is the offense’s inability to sustain anything in the preseason, but it’s important to remember that plenty of playoff teams have struggled in the preseason for a variety of reasons, from minimal game planning to vanilla play calling to simple lack of motivation.

“We’ve had great practices ever since the spring,” Arians told reporters in Houston after the game. “The first-team offense hasn’t done anything to make me feel like we’re not where we need to be – other than turning the ball over.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer threw a pair of interceptions on screen passes, one that defensive lineman Vince Wilfork tipped, and one that Palmer failed to get over the head of linebacker John Simon, who intercepted it and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.

When Palmer reached the sideline Arians was clearly miffed, motioning for Palmer to get the ball up over the reach of Simon. Cardinals’ quarterbacks have thrown eight interceptions in the preseason while the Cards defense has produced one.

There was some good news for the first team offense. It scored its first TD of the preseason on an eight-play, 75-yard drive highlighted by Darren Fells’ 40-yard catch and David Johnson’s 16-yard run. The Cardinals also ran the ball effectively throughout the game, and Palmer escaped all but a chipped tooth on this scary hit from Houston’s Devon Still that Fox’s Mike Pereira thinks was illegal.

Palmer pronounced himself just fine after the game, and despite the sluggish look of the offense, he thinks the Cardinals are just fine, too.

“I’m excited about what we have getting going here in two weeks,” he told reporters in Houston after the game. “We’ve run the ball effectively, we’ve converted third downs, we’ve made catches in tight coverage. What we have done in practice and throughout camp is improve, and you don’t always get to see that in a couple series in preseason games. I like where we are.”

For now, you’ll just have to take his word for it.

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter

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