TEMPE, Ariz. – There’s no formula for lineup changes in the NFL. Injuries, aging veterans, not-quite-ready rookies and under-performers can all play a role in game-day alterations — and all of those factors exist with the Cardinals.
Regardless of why, Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has made it clear that change is occurring for the most important reason of all: Losing.
“What is there to say other than it’s not good enough?” said Whisenhunt, whose club has dropped five in a row after a 4-0 start. “We started off and made enough plays to win games and then, over the last five, we haven’t done that.”
When that happens on a consistent basis, coaching staffs will look at different personnel. In the Cardinals case, the defensive changes that will take place this week are largely a product of injuries to defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield.
But the Cards may try some tweaking at other positions as well, even if defensive coordinator Ray Horton insists the changes won’t force alterations in the game plan.
“I won’t change a call,” Horton said. “We’ll be aggressive. I’ve been harping all year about the depth of our team and this is where it plays in.”
The offense also will undergo change that is largely a product of poor performance by veterans. The replacements have shown enough consistency in practice to warrant the opportunity, but in some cases, it’s more a question of the Cardinals believing they have nothing to lose by looking behind door No. 2, thanks to what they’ve seen from the incumbents.
Here’s a look at some players who will get more snaps on Sunday in Atlanta — and no, quarterback Ryan Lindley is not among them. Barring an injury to John Skelton, Lindley likely won’t see the field until the Cards are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
WR Michael Floyd: The Cardinals’ 2012 first-round draft choice hasn’t made much of an impact with just 18 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown, but that was to be expected while playing behind Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Early Doucet.
Floyd was probably going to get more reps as the season progressed – especially because he’s done what has been asked of him in practice – but Doucet’s series of drops in Green Bay on Nov. 4 may have opened Floyd’s window of opportunity a little wider.
LT Nate Potter: Potter will make his first start on Sunday after playing well in relief in Green Bay while charged with corralling Clay Matthews. It’s a tough assignment for a rookie seventh-round pick. The Georgia Dome is loud, and Falcons DE John Abraham has seven sacks this season.
But what choice did the Cards have? Levi Brown (triceps) is out for the year, they released Jeremy Bridges, and D’Anthony Batiste has played poorly. The injury-riddled NFL’s mantra has always been next man up, but in the Cardinals’ case, Potter is also the last option.
OLB Quentin Groves: With O’Brien Schofield out for the year, Groves will have the chance to prove if he can consistently do what he’s done in spot duty this year. Groves was an important offseason addition because he gave the Cards needed depth at this position. Now we’ll see if the depth also has enough skill to prevent a drop-off in production.
DE/NT David Carter: Carter hasn’t impacted the game as much this season as he did last year. There are two reasons for that. First, Carter was learning to play the defensive end position, which he hadn’t played since his freshman year at UCLA. Second, the Cards mostly have been satisfied with the play of their defensive line starters: Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Dan Williams.
But with Campbell likely out this Sunday, Carter will get his chance to show off the speed and deceiving strength that made him on of last season’s most pleasant surprises. CB Jamell Fleming: Horton gives Fleming an “incomplete” grade for this season, noting that injuries have kept Fleming from progressing more quickly. But the 2012 third-round pick has no shortage of confidence (a must for an NFL corner), he’s a willing tackler, and he has displayed some ball-hawking ability in coverage.
The Cards’ cornerback play has been spotty over this five-game slide, so Fleming has a chance to get some looks ahead of veterans William Gay and Greg Toler.
S Rashad Johnson: The whispers about Adrian Wilson’s age (33) are starting again – the product of some missed tackles in recent weeks. Johnson has been an adequate fill-in, but he hasn’t shown that he can be a playmaker in the NFL. He may get some more snaps to show he can be, or just to keep Wilson, a 12-year veteran, from wearing down over the course of games.