NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

The Film Don’t Lie: Cardinals

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
A weekly look at what the Cardinals must fix:

In order for the Cardinals to beat the San Francisco 49ers and keep a hold on first place in the NFC West, they will have to improve their four-man pass rush.

Against the New York Giants, Arizona allowed Eli Manning to complete 65 percent of his passes for 157 yards and an average of eight yards per attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He was intercepted once and sacked once under duress from a four-man rush.

Granted, Manning’s completion percentage was higher against five or more pass-rushers (68.4 percent), his yards per attempt and total passing yards were fewer. Manning had a QBR of 93.6 against four or fewer pass-rushers and a 41 QBR against five or more.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sunday started like almost every other game day for Drew Stanton.

Before the Arizona Cardinals arrived at MetLife Stadium for their game against the New York Giants, Stanton knew there was a chance he could play in place of Carson Palmer.

About two hours before kickoff, Sunday became unlike Stanton’s game days for the past three seasons. That’s when Palmer, who suffered nerve damage in Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers, tried to throw. He came to Stanton and broke the news that his right shoulder wasn’t responding.

[+] EnlargeDrew Stanton
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsQB Drew Stanton started his first game in nearly four years on Sunday.
About 30 minutes later, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told Stanton, “Hey, baby, you’re up.”

“I was like, 'All right,'" Stanton said.

And just like that, Stanton was starting his first game since Dec. 19, 2010. He led Arizona to a 25-14 win over the New York Giants on Sunday, throwing for 167 yards on 14-of-29 passing. He didn’t throw a touchdown but he also didn’t throw an interception.

“I looked at the numbers and I was shocked because he played really, really well and the numbers don’t give him justice,” Arians said. “Under pressure, (he) could have thrown some balls away and (he) took some sacks that I wish he’d have thrown balls away just so he’d stay healthy.”

Stanton admitted he was anxious leading up to Sunday’s game because of how real the possibility of him playing was. With Palmer limited in all three days of practice, Stanton played with the first team last week, getting valuable reps he’s missed as a backup.

But Arians never wavered in his support of Stanton, who’s been playing in Arians’ system since 2012 in Indianapolis. In typical Arians’ fashion, when Arizona won the kick, he opted to start on offense. Arians didn’t change the opening play of the game -- a deep pass that resulted in a 19-yard pass to Michael Floyd -- from the 15-play script he gave Stanton and Palmer on the plane en route to New York.

“When you spend as much time with him on the field and just watch him, know his craft and (see) he works extremely hard at it,” Arians said. “He’s extremely accurate. He knows where the ball is going. He worked a little too fast in the fourth quarter on some bang posts that you know he’s throwing them before the guys are turning around.

“He knows this offense inside out. He knows why we do what we do, so it’s easier for him sometimes even than Carson.”

Palmer thought his right shoulder would be strong enough to play Sunday, but the nerves never woke up, he said, the result of landing on it wrong Monday night. Arians said he saw a lot of improvement in Palmer's shoulder on Saturday and even more overnight to Sunday. He was hoping Palmer, as he did last year, would “pull the cape out” and take the field.

“It’s one of those things you just got to wait and hope it wakes up,” Palmer said. “There’s no, 'it needs 48 hours, it needs six days, it need 12 days.' You just don’t know.”

Stanton texted one person before the game to say he was playing: His wife. He may need to text her again next Sunday if Palmer can’t go. The next time he does, however, there won’t be a sense of surprise or relief.

“I think you get to a point in this league (where) you have to start betting on yourself and you have to worry about the stuff you have control over,” Stanton said. “I say that constantly, but until you start believing it, you’re not going to be any good.”

Mathieu wanted more snaps in return

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:35
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu was glad to be back on a football field Sunday, but he would have preferred to play a few more snaps.

It's been nine months and almost a week since Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL, and depending on who you ask Sunday's return was either ahead of or behind schedule. Regardless, Mathieu took the field for four snaps. That wasn't enough, he said.

Mathieu
"I was expecting to play a little but more," Mathieu said. "It didn't work out that way. We were playing great on defense. Gave up a few plays but, yeah, I was expecting to play more going into the game."

Mathieu said he wasn't put in a situation to make a play or test his knee. He said he covered a tight end on one play and was on the back end of a blitz on another.

On his first play, safety Rashad Johnson came on a blitz and recorded his first career sack.

Mathieu was listed as probable heading into the New York Giants game, but his status wasn't certain. He spent the defensive plays he wasn't participating in standing on the sideline with his helmet on, usually a few feet away from either defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or coach Bruce Arians.

Arians said it's nice to have Mathieu back, but he didn't watch him play much Sunday.

"The bit he played I was probably doing something else," Arians said. "We'll watch the tape. His role will increase each week now that he's back at it."

Mathieu will have another opportunity to test his knee next Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers before Arizona heads into its bye week.

"I wasn't really put in a position where I had to see if my knee was back to where it was," Mathieu said. "So, hopefully in the next couple weeks I can build some confidence by doing more things, hopefully getting put in situations here I have to use quickness and my instincts."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kenny Demens forgot for a second that he had a kickoff to cover.

The Arizona Cardinals' backup inside linebacker was too busy celebrating Ted Ginn’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter when his breath -- or lack thereof -- finally caught up with him. Panting, Demens went to the sideline after realizing he was needed on the ensuing kickoff. There he found linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, who saw Demens was gassed but told him he needed to make a play regardless.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsTed Ginn's fourth-quarter punt return for a touchdown rallied the Cardinals past the Giants on Sunday.
Demens raced down the field on the kickoff with a freshly minted 19-14 lead and stripped New York Giants returner Quintin Demps. The fumble was recovered by Arizona’s Robert Hughes and in a matter of two plays, the Cardinals went from a team that had an excuse for losing -- because it started a backup quarterback -- to a team with a clear road to a 2-0 record.

“It was one of those things that we were trying to get a spark going, trying to get a spark and then we got one,” quarterback Drew Stanton said after the Cardinals' 25-14 win on Sunday. “From my standpoint, we were trying to push the ball downfield. They were just doing a good job of being stingy in the red zone. They showed us a couple different techniques. We were trying to do some different stuff against them that it wasn’t happening the way we wanted it to.”

Stanton, who replaced Carson Palmer as the starter because of a nerve injury in Palmer’s right shoulder, led the Cardinals to a touchdown on the opening drive. In the 45 minutes that ticked away between that TD and the Ginn return, Arizona’s offense was abysmal.

The Cardinals had two three-and-outs to start the third quarter before a 13-play drive yielded three points on a 37-yard field goal by rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, bringing them to within 14-13. Four plays later, Ginn broke loose and swung the momentum.

Ginn said he didn’t remember the specifics of what sprung him for the touchdown, except that he made one Giant miss immediately after he caught it. Demens credited the type of blocking scheme called by special teams coordinator Amos Jones, which required the special-teamers to hold their blocks a few seconds longer. It worked. Once Ginn got through the scrum, he was in a foot race that he wasn’t going to lose.

It was Arizona’s first punt return for a touchdown since Patrick Peterson did it in 2011.

“We actually needed a touchdown,” Ginn said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time than then. You know, like I said before, you just let the game come to you. You just play the plays.”

With momentum swinging toward the team from the desert, Ginn could see the Giants beginning to deflate. But New York’s Eli Manning, who had carved up the Cardinals’ secondary to that point, had enough time to orchestrate a comeback. It continued on the Giants’ drive following Demens’ forced fumble. Manning took the Giants 53 yards to the Arizona 17 when New York running back Rashad Jennings slipped and fell, losing the football, which was recovered by Arizona safety Rashad Johnson.

Arizona’s defense responded to the momentum swing even as Arizona’s offense managed just another field goal. The Cardinals held New York to two three-and-outs late in the fourth, as linebacker Larry Foote picked off Manning on New York’s final play. Even though it didn’t happen until the fourth quarter, the momentum delivered by Ginn and Demens was noticeable throughout the team.

“The team wins and it’s always the special teams, they set the tempo,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “That kickoff return, getting that fumble was huge.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 25-14 victory over the New York Giants:
  • Peterson
    Peterson
    Cornerback Patrick Peterson said he let the Giants get the best of him during the series in the third quarter on which he got a holding penalty and then a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone. The second penalty put New York at the Cardinals' 1-yard line and the Giants scored two plays later.
  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said his fingers are crossed that “somebody” will decide to return to the team on Monday. That “somebody” is outside linebacker John Abraham, who took a leave of absence this week. Abraham’s presence was definitely missed Sunday in New York, especially on the pass rush.
  • The Cardinals bucked a trend of not traveling injured players. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who’s out for the year with a torn ACL, was in the locker room, as was Frostee Rucker, who missed the start because of a calf injury.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:04
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 25-14 victory against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: When Carson Palmer was deactivated, the questions about how Drew Stanton would play in his first game since 2010 began. Despite some pressure up front, Stanton was able to keep the offense steady and get the Cardinals a much-needed victory heading into Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers. Stanton isn’t the quarterback of the future for the Cardinals, but he showed he is capable of steering the ship, especially if Palmer is out for a significant period of time.

Stock watch: One of the main reasons Ted Ginn Jr. was signed was to improve Arizona’s kickoff and punt return games. After an unimpressive Week 1 and a lackluster start against the Giants, Ginn proved there’s a method to his madness, returning a fourth-quarter punt 71 yards for a touchdown. He had a couple of head-scratching returns Sunday before the touchdown, including a third-quarter return -- after New York went up 14-10 -- in which he went backwards and the Cardinals started their drive at their own 7.

Second-guessing the secondary: With all the injuries and absences in the front seven, the secondary knew it would be called upon to pick up some slack. But instead it was picked apart by Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who completed 67 percent of his passes for 277 yards. All day, the Cardinals’ secondary appeared to give too much room to Giants receivers, and they took advantage. The front seven did its job, holding the Giants’ running game to 81 yards, which forced New York to start passing more. Manning threw 25 passes in the final two quarters, which put the pressure on Arizona’s secondary.

Game ball: Ginn changed the game for the Cardinals with his 71-yard punt return, which gave them a 19-14 lead. It was Arizona’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2011.

What’s next: The Cardinals return to University of Phoenix Stadium to host the San Francisco 49ers at 1:05 p.m. PT.
The Cardinals didn’t stop coming at San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Monday night, and it led to a win, but they may want to slow down against the Giants this weekend.

Arizona blitzed Rivers on 57 percent of his drop backs, including all five on the Chargers’ final drive of the game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rivers wasn’t as efficient against five or more pass rushers, completing 52.4 percent of his passes when blitzed compared to 66.7 percent against four or less rushers.

But, according to the stats, New York Giants quarter Eli Manning was better against the blitz than four pass rushers in a Week 1 loss to Detroit, 35-14.

He was 5 for 8 for 45 yards (5.62 yards per attempt) with a touchdown and no interceptions while tallying a QBR of 84.8 against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When the Lions didn’t send the house, Manning was 13 for 25 for 118 yards (4.72 yards per attempt) and two interceptions, with a QBR of 11.8.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was pleased with how the front seven pressure Rivers and forced him to step up in the pocket.

“We need to get a little more,” he said.

Arizona may be without one of its top pass rushers if linebacker John Abraham decides to not return to the Cardinals during his five-day leave of absence that expires Saturday. He had 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bowles said losing Abraham would take away another natural leader on defense.

“Fortunately, we have many to come in after that,” Bowles said. “Obviously, his statistics and his career speaks for itself, but we need to have another guy step up.”

Enter Sam Acho, who Abraham replaced last season. He’ll replace Abraham in the starting lineup, across from Matt Shaughnessy.

Arizona re-signed Marcus Benard this week with its roster exemption from Abraham’s leave and Thomas Keiser, who was acquired after final cuts, will see his role expanded. According to Pro Football Focus, Keiser had two hurries and a batted pass in 10 pass rush snaps.

“He’ll play a little more,” Bowles said. “He had to learn the system. He hadn’t been here that long so he’s got to get the playbook down.”

But the key to Arizona’s pass rush will come from the middle of the defensive line, most notably from the combination of defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly.

Kelly, who played 47 of 61 snaps against the Chargers, had two quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. In his first game with the Cardinals, he impressed Arians with his ability to pressure the Rivers.

“I think he and Calais both, with their length, they have a tendency to bull rush and get low,” Arians said. “When they can’t get there, they need to stop and get up, get their hands up. If they could put a picket fence up, that would be hard to throw down the middle. That’s something we’ll work on.”

Mathieu hopeful to 'squeeze in' Sunday

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:00
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. – This might be the week Tyrann Mathieu returns to the field, more than nine months after tearing his ACL and LCL.

With the game plan installed, Mathieu said he might be part of it.

Mathieu
“Hopefully, I can squeeze in there, possibly,” he said.

During his Wednesday appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Mathieu has looked better in coverage this week and has improved his body control. Mathieu’s snaps with the first team have also increased, Arians added.

A decision was going to be made Thursday if Mathieu would play this week, Arians said on the radio, but he doesn’t meet with the media until Friday. Arians has said in the past that a realistic goal for Mathieu’s return was the first week of October, which comes after Arizona’s bye week.

Whenever Mathieu returns, he wants it to be in the same role he had as a rookie.

“I don’t want to just be a certain package guy,” he said. “If I’m out there, obviously I want to be out there every down.”

The decision to play Mathieu at free safety and nickel corner would mean he’d take the places of Rashad Johnson (free safety) and Jerraud Powers (nickel corner). Both had good camps and preseasons, and Powers had Arizona’s lone interception on Monday night, but Mathieu’s value comes in his ability to play three positions. He doesn’t have to come off the field when Arizona switches to its base, nickel or dime packages, decisions that would force Johnson and Powers to shift positions or even sub out.

Mathieu doesn’t think it'll be tough to crack the starting lineup, but getting healthy might be the first step toward returning to his old position. He’s seen himself make the same strides Arians has noticed.

“I’m not thinking about cutting and thinking about my knee anymore,” Mathieu said. “Not any concerns tackling. Not really worried about that.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington didn’t practice for the second straight day, putting his status for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants in doubt.

Ellington
Ellington is suffering from a left foot injury and spent the open portion of practice Thursday on a stationary bike alongside linebacker Alex Okafor, who also didn’t practice because of a thigh injury. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, who missed practice as well, was running on an outside field during the open portion.

Ellington was limited twice last week and missed last Friday’s practice before playing Monday night.

Okafor and Rucker aren’t expected to play.

Safety Rashad Johnson was the only change on Thursday’s injury report. He was upgraded to fully practicing.

Right guard Paul Fanaika (knee) was limited again, as were quarterback Carson Palmer (right shoulder) and punter Dave Zastudil (left groin).

Safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee) practiced fully.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If the New York Giants are scratching their heads, bewildered at how long it’ll take them to learn their new offense, all they need to do is look across the field on Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals know a thing or two about taking a while to learn a new scheme.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinCarson Palmer can empathize with what Giants quarterback Eli Manning is going through.
 New York is in the same boat Arizona was at this time last year, when the Cardinals began running Bruce Arians’ new offense. There was confusion. There was poor execution. There were losses. The spotlight may shine brighter in New York than in Arizona, but the issues on the field aren’t that far apart.

“I’m not patient,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said during his conference call with the Arizona media Wednesday. "I’m not one of those. I don’t have a real good handle on that maybe because we haven’t done that around here, and I haven’t done that for a long time. I have to bite my tongue sometimes and kind of step back and realize that it is a process. We don’t make excuses around here.

“What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad. We do think that there has to be a certain amount of time as you go forward here to absorb the many changes and adjustments and the communication skills that have to be utilized, because it is a foreign language to us as we began this. We’ll see. Hopefully it’s going to get here sooner than later.”

When they sat down for a TV roundtable this summer, Arians and Coughlin didn’t get into the potential struggles of installing a new offense. But when he watches Arizona’s offense take the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Coughlin will see proof that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Even though the offense stumbled in Week 1 against the Chargers, it’s still farther advanced than last season.

But Coughlin will need to learn to handle the bumps along the way.

“To learn it in a live game situation against new defenses every week, new coverages, new schemes, different players and all the things that come up during the season, it takes time, and not just an offseason,” Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said during his conference call with New York reporters on Wednesday.

He added: “It took us four, five, six, seven, eight weeks until we were all on the same page and, for the most part, everybody was doing what he was supposed to be doing at the right time. You go through phases: eight guys doing it right and three doing it wrong, and then 10 guys doing it right.”

The proverbial light bulb didn’t go on for Arizona until Week 8 in a win over Atlanta. The next weekend was a bye and then Arizona won six of its final eight and nearly made the playoffs, all because the Cards had a better understanding of their new offense.

“That's when, all of a sudden, you could see the guys around [Palmer] start to get it and play faster and play better,” Arians said on his conference call with the New York media Wednesday. “Instead of waiting to see a guy come open, he was throwing [to] guys open. When you can throw the ball on time, trust the receiver is going to be there, everything happens a second or a second and a half faster. And that's a lot of time when you're talking about the passing game.”

Since Arians has already gone through what Coughlin is currently experiencing, he’s not jumping to conclusions about New York, and he’s certainly not judging Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Last season, Manning led the NFC with 27 interceptions. Palmer was right behind with 22 -- 14 of which came in the first eight weeks when wide receivers were confused about formations and Palmer was forcing passes to players instead of letting the defense dictate who’s open. In comparison, he didn’t throw any in Week 1 this season.

Manning, however, has already thrown two in 2014 as he adjusts to learn the Giants’ new West Coast offense.

“I try never to judge a quarterback in a new offense until Week 8,” Arians said. “Because it just takes so much time, and you see the same defense all through OTAs and all of training camp. Now, all of a sudden you're seeing a different defense every week and a different game plan, and I think it takes a while to get through a number of different-style clubs and swing it back and really see the improvement in the second half of the season.”
This is an examination of what the Cardinals must do after their win over the Chargers.

When a future Hall of Famer isn’t targeted until the fourth quarter -- late in the fourth, at that -- something needs to be done by the Arizona Cardinals.

For the first time in Larry Fitzgerald’s career, he wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. It wasn’t necessarily an oversight by quarterback Carson Palmer, who said after Arizona’s 18-17 win over the Chargers on Monday night that he doesn’t want to force passes to Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald isn’t always double-teamed. And with his new role in the slot, there are plenty of options for Arizona to find him.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald needs to be a priority for the Cardinals’ offense Sunday against the Giants, if not just to get the football into the surest hands in the NFL but to help give the rest of the offense single coverage. By going to Fitzgerald early at MetLife Stadium against a New York defense that allowed 341 passing yards to Detroit in Week 1, the Cards won’t just get the offense into a rhythm, but will force the Giants to start paying attention to Fitzgerald. That opens the offense for Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn, John Brown, Andre Ellington and the tight ends.

Palmer learned his lesson last season about forcing passes into Fitzgerald, especially when he’s double- or triple-teamed, which is often the case. But he’s also one of the best receivers in the league at using his body to get himself open. A few quick passes to him and a safety might spend more time on Fitzgerald’s side of the field, which means Floyd, who had 119 yards receiving against the Chargers, might draw single coverage. That, in turn, opens the running game as well as the tight ends.

Arizona has plenty of options, but in order for them to get rolling, it all starts with getting Fitzgerald involved early and often.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Saturday that he saw what he needed from his starting running back, who injured his left foot late last week, he meant it.

It was after Saturday's practice that Arians believed Andre Ellington could play Monday night against the San Diego Chargers. After a brief pregame workout, Ellington suited up and carried 13 times for 53 yards and caught all five of his intended passes for 27 yards in the Cardinals' 18-17 win.

Ellington
Even with 18 touches, however, Ellington wasn't himself and he could tell he wasn't 100 percent.

"I wasn't full speed," he said. "My quickness, I had some quickness going from right to left, but it was a little harder going from left to right."

On a third-and-6 run late in the fourth quarter, Ellington took a pass from quarterback Carson Palmer and headed up the right side of the field. He ran into Chargers linebacker Jarret Johnson, who began to wrap him up but Ellington kept his feet churning. At first it looked like he had powered through for the first down, but his knee was ruled down after five yards and he needed six.

Ellington said his status was kept under wraps because it wasn't a guarantee he'd play Monday night. He didn't run after suffering the injury during Thursday's practice and rested the foot the rest of the week.

Arians said Ellington cramped in the fourth quarter but he played "pretty good."

With a short week before a cross-country trip to New York, Ellington said the foot's been sore and he expects it to stay that way.

"It's kind of a day-to-day thing," he said. "I'm not well aware of how long I'll be out or anything like that. I mean, just getting some rest on it and I'll be good to go for next week."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For 53 minutes, the hype was just that. Hype.

The Arizona Cardinals had talked all offseason about how this year's offense was leaps and bounds ahead of last season's. At one point leading up to Monday night's 18-17 win against San Diego, coach Bruce Arians compared the difference between 2013 and 2014 to an eighth grader sitting in a first-grade classroom.

But when the Cardinals unveiled their new-model offense, the engine barely revved. Until the winning drive late in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Carson Palmer finally kicked it into gear.

“It was the first game,” wide receiver Michael Floyd said. “It’s ups and downs. We knew that there’s going to be some bad series, some good series. We want more of the good and I think we stepped up great knowing that when they came out in the second half and scored, some offenses can just lay down like that.”

After San Diego’s Philip Rivers missed a snap from former Cardinal Rich Ohrnberger, forcing the Chargers to punt on fourth-and-22 from the Cardinals 43, Arizona came to life.

The Cardinals went 91 yards in 4 minutes, 25 seconds with Palmer using six different options -- in addition to his own two legs -- to orchestrate a drive that displayed the deep cache of weapons the Cardinals have been raving about for months.

“When you get into tight situations we know we got a receiving corps that can make plays,” Ted Ginn said. “That’s all that really mattered when we get into a dog fight like that. We know that one of the guys is going to come through and make a play, and it kinda happened today on that last drive. I believe everybody had some type of ball on that drive to keep it going, no matter if it’s first, second, third or fourth. That’s just our biggest thing: to be ready anytime.”

Palmer hit Ginn once for 4 yards, Floyd twice for 25 yards, Larry Fitzgerald once for 22 and then rookie John Brown for 13 yards on a screen pass that he turned into the winning touchdown.

“That’s what [Brown] does,” Palmer said. “He’s so shifty. It’s like somebody is controlling him with a joystick.”

Andre Ellington, who was questionable for Monday’s game because of a foot injury, added to the drive with an 18-yard run on second-and-1 and Jonathan Dwyer had one run for a yard. Palmer had the most critical run of the drive -- and maybe the game -- when he scrambled for 12 yards to convert a third down and keep the drive alive.

Despite the struggles that encompassed the first 53 minutes, the drive showed off how many options the Cardinals have added since last season.

“We’re capable of that, yes,” Arians said. “We were struggling to hear some at home, which has become a problem sometimes. We had some false starts. But that last drive was something we’re capable of doing.”

One reason it worked was because it included Palmer’s four primary receiving options -- one of which wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. For the first time in his career, Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. Fitzgerald’s first recorded target was a running play gone wrong that led to a throw-away pass in his direction. Palmer went to Fitzgerald again to start the winning drive and again two plays after he caught the 22-yarder.

Those were all the yards Fitzgerald finished with, but they put the Cardinals inside San Diego territory. Through it all, Fitzgerald didn’t complain, Palmer said. He actually told Palmer to start running behind him.

“It was just kind of one of those games where he just doesn’t get a bunch of touches but has one of the biggest plays of the game,” Palmer said.

“Larry just comes up with big plays when we need them, like he did on that one.”
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cardinals' 18-17 victory over San Diego.
  • Secret starter: Cardinals running back Andre Ellington had a good feeling starting Saturday that he’d play Monday night against the Cardinals, but he didn’t want to let on. “We kind of kept it a secret because we weren’t too sure. But I think getting that rest on it helped me out a lot.”
  • Momentous catch: Rookie receiver John Brown said he doesn’t have the football that he scored the game-winning touchdown with, but when he finds it, he’s hoping to frame it. “It’s for my brother.”
  • Rucker appears OK: Frostee Rucker, who left the game in the first quarter because of a calf injury, was standing at his locker following the game and didn’t appear to be in pain.
  • Palmer the runner: When he was informed that he had almost 30 rushing yards, Carson Palmer had a smile as wide as the end zone. He said he hasn’t run for that many yards since high school.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
1:28
AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 18-17 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.

What it means: So much for being "light years ahead of 2013."

The Arizona Cardinals that took the field for "Monday Night Football" didn't look much different than the 2013 version. Even if they did utilize their newest weapons to pull out a come-from-behind win in the season opener. Before John Brown weaved in traffic for a 13-yard touchdown on a screen pass, the Cardinals looked too much like 2013 for coach Bruce Arians to sleep comfortably. Carson Palmer didn't progress through his reads. Larry Fitzgerald wasn't targeted until the fourth quarter. And options seemingly were ignored for long stretches. All told, it was a far cry from the offense that was expected and hyped by everyone on it.

Stock Watch: Safety Deone Bucannon proved why he was drafted. The first-round pick started at nickel back and played a significant role in Arizona's nickel and dime packages at linebacker next to Larry Foote. He finished with five tackles but impacted San Diego's inside running game and was used against tight end Antonio Gates.

Defense depleted more: The Cardinals were at their limit when it came to how many defensive players they could afford to lose. Already without defensive tackle Darnell Dockett because of injury, Karlos Dansby because of free agency and Daryl Washington because of a suspension, the Cardinals lost defensive tackle Frostee Rucker to a calf injury in the first quarter and John Abraham to a concussion in the third quarter. If Arizona was thin before Monday night's opener against San Diego, it's rice paper thin now. Arizona can't afford to be without Rucker or Abraham simply because of depth. Rucker's absence gave Tommy Kelly a chance to get reps and he played well against the run, finishing with two tackles. But Abraham's absence was felt more because it allowed San Diego's rushing attack to take the edge, something it couldn't do with him in there.

Game ball: He may be 34, but inside linebacker Larry Foote played like a man 10 years his junior. He finished with eight tackles and gave life to a position that was decimated by free agency and a suspension.

What's next: The Cardinals travel to New York to play the Giants at MetLife Stadium at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

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