Previewing the preseason Week 3 matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the visiting Cincinnati Bengals feels more like a regular-season preview because starters will play deeper into the game. It will be our only real look this preseason at how both the offense and defense respond to different game situations.
There may not be much game-planning, but head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles likely have an idea of how they will call the game leading up to Sunday night.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer told Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com the first unit’s half of play will be just like any other game during the regular season:
It’ll be more of that game-like feel. You can see some oddball looks, go to the sidelines and make some adjustments, then go back out there, adjust to them and then be able to play them out like a regular game.
It is unknown yet whether some players who have missed extended time during training camp—like left guard Jonathan Cooper and inside linebacker Kevin Minter—will play against the Bengals. Arians said during a press conference they have to “get some game action” before he’s comfortable playing them in the Monday night opener against the San Diego Chargers, so that will be interesting to watch as Sunday night approaches.
Cardinals’ Preseason Week 2 Recap
The starting units for the Cardinals played well in their abbreviated time last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Quarterback Carson Palmer completed 4 of 8 passes for 91 yards and was not as efficient as he was the previous week, but he again led a touchdown drive to open the game.
The starting defense allowed only a field goal in its time on the field; even the second unit played well against Minnesota’s starters, who played the entire first half.
A few individuals stood out during the 30-28 loss. Wide receiver Jaron Brown had two receptions for 86 yards and helped set up two touchdown drives.
Right tackle Bobby Massie—whom no one has heard from all camp long—was solid in blocking defensive end Brian Robison, who has given the Cardinals fits in past matchups. Massie has played 24 snaps through two games and has yet to allow a quarterback pressure.
Another player who stood out was kicker Jay Feely; however, he stood out for all the wrong reasons. Feely had kicking duties in Minnesota after undrafted rookie Chandler Catanzaro handled them against the Texans and did well.
While kicking outdoors is more difficult than in the friendly confines of the domed University of Phoenix Stadium, Feely averaged only 68.6 yards per kick (3.6 yards deep in the end zone) with zero touchbacks on five kickoffs. Catanzaro, on the other hand, averaged 72.1 yards per kick (7.1 yards deep) with two touchbacks on seven kickoffs.
Feely did not attempt a field goal but did convert all four of his extra point attempts, though one nearly missed, wide right.
Not to keep drawing comparisons, but here’s one more: Minnesota’s average starting field position following Feely kickoffs was the 25.8-yard line. For Houston after Catanzaro kicks? The 14.9-yard line. Why? Because of kick hang time.
Feely was sending line drives down the field in an attempt to boom kicks out of the end zone while Catanzaro got more underneath his kicks, allowing the coverage team to get downfield before the opposition could set up a solid return.
The two will split duties against the Bengals, according to Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds.
News and Notes
Honey Badger Gets After It
At long last, safety Tyrann Mathieu has been cleared to return to practice. It’s been just over eight months since he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee on a punt return, and watching the team work without him the past few weeks had to be torture for the budding star.
Arians told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com what he’s looking for at practice to get the feeling Mathieu is back to his old self:
He brings a different game-changing player. He’s a game-changer. That’s what you look for in practice, is he getting his hands on balls, tipping balls, intercepting balls? And (you watch) the speed with what he’s playing.
It’s unlikely Mathieu plays this week, and he probably won’t play next week in the preseason finale, either, but that Monday night opener is Mathieu’s target and has been for some time.
Bucannon Bringing Right Mentality to NFC West
He’s trying to learn how to cut back on laying the wood on receivers over the middle, but rookie first-round pick, safety Deone Bucannon, has the perfect NFC West mentality. He told Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (h/t Shane Dale, ArizonaSports.com)he feels big hits send a message to other teams:
I feel like it just fires everybody up. It establishes that we’re more physical than the other team, top to bottom… We’re more physical than you, no matter what day it is, no matter what time it is. That’s how I feel when somebody (on my team) makes a big hit, even if it’s not me.
A couple penalties from Bucannon—or anyone else, for that matter—might be worth it if the result is receivers fearing running slants, digs and post routes into the teeth of the defense. If they start thinking they'll be smashed every time they lay out for a catch, it could lead to key drops or turnovers.
MVP! MVP! MVP!
Arians was asked at Friday’s presser who he would pick as his camp MVP. Who’d he pick and why? “Probably Carson [Palmer], with what he’s done leadership-wise, [and he has] played extremely well.”
In three drives this preseason, Palmer has led the first-team offense down the field on two touchdown drives. The third resulted in a punt. He is 9-of-13 passing (69.2 percent) this preseason for 175 yards, 13.5 yards per attempt, a touchdown and no interceptions for a 137.5 passer rating. He’s been sacked once, by the NFL’s best defensive player, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
Palmer could have a massive season if the protection holds. He was lights-out down the stretch last season, and every player, coach and fan hopes that level of play continues into the early part of this season.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Left Guard: Jonathan Cooper vs. Earl Watford…vs. Ted Larsen?
In an unexpected turn of events, backup center Ted Larsen has thrown his name into the hat that is the left guard competition this offseason. Cooper struggled early and hasn’t played or practiced since the Houston game with a stubborn turf toe injury, and Watford struggled last week against the Vikings.
According to a report by Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, Larsen is next up at the position thought to be Cooper’s. This, from Arians:
When Lyle comes back there’s a real good chance [Larsen will] be our starting left guard. We loved him at left guard when we got him, where he played mostly last year. But to see him play center so well was really pleasing to know that he added the depth, the quality depth.
We'll see how that plays out once Cooper is healthy.
Kicker: Chandler Catanzaro vs. Jay Feely
As noted in Root’s report above, the two will split time this week; Feely will kick the first half, with Catanzaro taking over for the second half. This battle is not as close as some make it out to be, but Feely still hangs on for some reason.
Maybe it’s due process. Maybe the jury is truly still out. I can’t foresee any scenario excluding injury that allows Feely to keep the job heading into the season. Feely was the only kicker on the roster the day after the third preseason game once the team released Dan Carpenter.
This season it could be Feely leaving the team the day after preseason Week 3.
Cardinals’ X-Factor of the Week: Michael Floyd
The third-year wideout out of Notre Dame will play this week after missing two weeks of camp and the first two preseason games with a groin injury. Palmer told Zach Buchanan of AZCentral.com it would take Floyd “a couple practices” to shake off the rust after missing time. Said Palmer:
He looked like he’d been out for a bit like anybody would. It’s going to take him a couple practices to kind of get his conditioning back and his wind back. I think the strength and cutting of his routes, that’s kind of something that just takes you a couple times to get back into it.
That was Wednesday. Floyd has had a full week of practice to knock off the rust and get back into game shape, and we should expect him to look in midseason form Sunday night.
He was the team’s best receiver a year ago and, barring a setback regarding his groin injury or another unexpected injury, he should be the team’s best receiver once again this season. No disrespect to Larry Fitzgerald, but Floyd is the present of the receiving corps.
Whether he plays the entire first half with the rest of the offense remains to be seen, but this game is important for Floyd because he hasn’t had any in-game work with Palmer.
The longer he plays against the Bengals, the better, because he needs the workout.
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