When we last checked in with the Arizona Cardinals, they were coming off a wholly uninspiring preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, a 31-10 loss in which Carson Palmer looked wobbly during his cameo appearance, backup Drew Stanton was even worse and rookie corner Brandon Williams was tested early and often. Has anything meaningfully changed in a week’s time?
Nope, they’re still bad, only there was a minor health scare from coach Bruce Arians in the middle of the week which caused him to miss a day of practice.
We still don’t have very much information to go on, of course. Palmer played two series against the Chargers in Arizona’s 19-3 defeat at Qualcomm Stadium as opposed to one the week before. But whereas he had what should’ve been an easy pick dropped against the Raiders, he wasn’t as fortunate this time, San Diego’s Brandon Flowers managing to hang on to a blind hitch pass thrown pretty much right at him and rumbling the other direction unimpeded 25 yards for the game’s only touchdown.
Palmer didn’t have Larry Fitzgerald, who’s nursing a sore knee to throw to, while the Chargers abandoned all pretense and sat both Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. Stanton came on in relief of Palmer and completed just 2-of-7 passes, and among his misfires was an airmailed post into the grubby mitts of San Diego safety Jahleel Addae, returned 61 yards to set up another score.
“I’m very disappointed in the performance, especially offensively,” Arians said, a reasonable statement given the Cardinals’ meager output of three points and 209 yards of offense.
Preseason is supposed to be about evaluation and getting people reps in different game situations and the Cards never even got to practice any of their red zone offense. The furthest they penetrated Charger territory all game was the 31-yard line, and that humble drive ended with a missed field goal attempt from Chandler Catanzaro. Even the promising run blocking from the week before dried up, the Cardinals averaged just 3.0-yards-per-carry on 21 attempts.
There were bright spots, to be sure. As inept as the offense was, they were at least disciplined enough to avoid penalties, by and large. And the defense held their own, despite their lack of pass rush, a problem that threatens to be a persistent weakness throughout the year. The Chargers converted 8-of-17 third downs, but went 0-for-2 in the red zone and 0-for-1 in goal-to-go offense. Williams wasn’t fried to a crisp by Keenan Allen, for example, but again he didn’t have to face any Rivers’ floaters of death either.
You get the feeling that the Cardinals are going through the motions in camp and these practice games, the veterans mainly trying to avoid injury during what scant playing time they receive. It’s a common occurrence for teams that just missed out on the brass ring.
No matter how much the front office and coaching staff try to snap the players out of it, there’s this subconscious fog permeating the locker room, a feeling like reaching last season’s accomplishments is a given, a matter of pressing the reset button on the X-Box rather than starting 0-0 like everyone else. Arizona doesn’t look hungry or motivated at the moment and it may well take a couple of beatdowns for them to wake up. But we’ve seen these hangover years go all the way bad too, where some teams just never recover from their malaise — the narrow wins from the year before turning to heartbreaking defeats this time around, “Murphy’s Law” and all that.
We’ll know more next week. Palmer and Co. will get one last shot to right themselves in the dress rehearsal game Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium, the site of this season’s Super Bowl, coincidentally enough. The guess is Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, rookie Robert Nkemdiche and just about all of the team’s front line players will get considerable snaps in this one, with the exception of Tyrann Mathieu, who’s still working his way back from ACL surgery.
The play-calls will still be basic, but if the Cardinals can’t look like a real squad against a J.J. Watt-less Texans, then it’ll make for an ominous sign in advance of their Sept. 11 opener against the Patriots, even with Jimmy Garappolo.