Dealing Cards: Bounces not going their way, Cardinals must fight through adversity

Nov 23, 2016, 6:01 PM

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, left, hands the ball off to running back David Johnson...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, left, hands the ball off to running back David Johnson, right, during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Last season, the Arizona Cardinals won 13 games — 14 if you include the playoffs — and while that would indicate they were a great team, many of the games were rather close.

As it was, six of if their victories were by one score or less, with some coming down to the wire before a winner was determined.

So, when viewing this year’s Cardinals with the question of what’s wrong, it’s reasonable to note that of their five losses, three were one-score games when the clock ran out. There was also one tie.

Are the Cardinals really that much worse than they were last season, or is the margin between winning and losing, being average and being good, just that thin?

Arizona still ranks ninth in the NFL in total offense and 18th in points, while the defense is first in yards and 10th in points allowed.

“I think a lot of times the ball just don’t bounce your way,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Last year the ball bounced our way, we won those games. This year, we’ve just got to continue to fight that adversity, and I think we’ll do it.”

At 4-5-1, the Cardinals find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and with four of their final six games being on the road, their chances appear to be rather bleak.

But they have not been mathematically eliminated yet, which means if they can find that something they have been missing, the season could still finish the way they hoped.

It’s just that no one really knows what it is they need to find.

“I can’t put my finger on it,” receiver John Brown said. “I can’t say too much about it — I don’t know. But teams already know what we are capable of doing, and I can’t say too much about it.”

That the Cardinals know what they are capable of is part of what makes this season more difficult to deal with, Brown said.

“It’s a little frustrating because it seems like we’re just stopping ourselves,” he said.

With six regular season games left and their goals technically still within reach, the Cardinals understand this is no time to give up.

Quarterback Carson Palmer said the team’s mindset now is just to win one game, with complete disregard to the playoff standings.

“Can’t worry about seeding or standings or division records; nothing matters other than this game,” he said. “As leaders, as the older guys in the locker room, you just keep everybody’s focus on one day at a time, finishing today.

“We’ve got the practice part done. We have a lot of meetings and a lot of tape to watch. You finish day after day after day, and that’s the mindset that we have.”

If only for one day, the team seemed to carry itself properly Wednesday. Head coach Bruce Arians called it an enthusiastic practice, before admitting they can’t really ask for much more effort-wise. He added they could be smarter though.

But the urgency necessary to turn a season around in short order is there.

“Oh yeah, if you don’t have one right now you don’t belong in the business, and you damn sure don’t belong in this locker room,” Arians said.

Injury update

The initial Week 12 injury report can be found here, though you will need to carve out a solid block of time to get through the Cardinals’ portion of it. Seven players did not practice Wednesday, with that group including receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was given a veteran’s day off, as well as WR Brittan Golden (groin), guard Mike Iupati (ankle), linebacker Kevin Minter (knee), QB Carson Palmer (rest day), CB Patrick Peterson (flu) and defensive lineman Ed Stinson (hip).

Seven other players, including Mathieu, CB Justin Bethel, $LB Deone Bucannon, DL Corey Peters and guard Earl Watford, were limited.

Oh, and if you were wondering, the Falcons’ side of the injury report is six players deep, with only two not practicing Wednesday. The benefits of having last week off, I guess.

Mathieu’s back…for real

On Wednesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians essentially declared Mathieu ready to play.

“Oh did he?” Mathieu said when informed of his coach’s words.

Is Arians wrong?

“Nah, I wouldn’t say that,” Mathieu added. “I think I’m ready to go, but we’ll see how the week goes. If I continue to progress well and everything’s OK, I’ll be out there Sunday.”

Mathieu missed the Cardinals’ last two games with a shoulder injury suffered in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers. Including the bye week, he went three Sundays without playing football, though he did practice on a limited basis in the week leading up to the Minnesota game.

However, Mathieu said confidence was the main reason he did not suit up in the Twin Cities, as he felt having an extra week to heal and add strength would be for the best.

Nkemdiche’s problem is himself

First-round pick Robert Nkemdiche was again inactive for the Minnesota game, and though the Cardinals have played 10 games this season, he has only seen the field in three of them, notching one tackle and a pass defensed.

Throughout the season, when asked about the rookie, Arians offered up defense, saying it’s been a struggle because he was injured in training camp and that effort has not been the problem.

That changed Wednesday.

“Talent – not an issue,” the coach said. “Maturity is. It’s just maturing.”

The 22-year-old defensive lineman was billed coming out of college as supremely talented but not necessarily the hardest worker, and now it appears those issues have followed him to the NFL.

The Ole Miss product was not in the locker room Wednesday when media was so it’s impossible to know what he thinks of his coach’s assessment, but when Arians was asked if Nkemdiche’s situation is similar to that of D.J. Humphries, who was nicknamed “Knee Deep” last season because he needed extra motivation early on, the coach said the comparison was inaccurate.

“No,” he said. “D.J. worked harder.”

Branch in, Johnson out

The Cardinals on Wednesday decided to activate safety Tyvon Branch from injured reserve.

Arians said the call was made to go with Branch because of a need defensively and on special teams, though that did not make it easy to effectively end running back Chris Johnson’s season.

Johnson went on IR the same time as Branch, and will now see his season end there.

“Oh god yeah, it was the hardest decision,” Arians siad. “I put it off as long as I could to make sure that we could do the right thing for the team.”

As for what kind of role Branch will play when he returns, Arians said they’ll have to wait and see. The soonest the defensive back could be available is Dec. 4 against the Washington Redskins, and what the Cardinals need then may be different from what they need now.

“He’s just practicing this week, and we’ll see who’s available next week,” Arians said. “Tyrann Mathieu will be the nickel, and we’ll see where he fits in.”

Peterson hit Bradford, and that’s fine with the Cardinals

In Sunday’s game, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson was assessed a personal foul penalty when he pushed Vikings QB Sam Bradford when the ball was snapped.

When it happened, FOX Sports’ officials expert Mike Pereira said he did not believe a penalty should have been called because Bradford was lined up as a receiver in the Wildcat formation, and as such, he could be pushed like any receiver would be.

Arians was asked if he expects to get an explanation from the NFL as to why a flag was thrown on the play.

“I don’t even want to talk to the league anymore,” he said. “You can call them.”

Asked for his take on the play, Arians said his understanding was that Bradford was fair game outside of the pocket, and given that the Vikings had earlier in the game run a play where a ball was tossed back to Bradford before he threw it down the field, Peterson did what he was coached to do and take him out of the play.

Regardless, some Vikings offensive linemen took umbrage with the Cardinals’ cornerback, with guard Alex Boone going as far as saying “he knows what he did, and he knows what’s coming to him.”

Them would seem to be fighting words, but the way Arians sees it, they don’t have much grounds to be upset.

“Well they shouldn’t have threw the flea-flicker the first time then,” the coach said. “He (Peterson) ain’t going to let it happen a second time.”

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