Bruce Arians was asked this week what he wanted most out of Friday’s preseason opener in Green Bay. The short answer was “win.”
We all know how meaningless preseason games are when evaluating the potential of a team. We all know that players who impress in these exhibition affairs may vanish to the depths of the depth chart or waiver wire when the regular seasons begins. But when a new coaching staff arrives, there is something to be said for establishing a winning mentality right out of the gate — even if the wins don’t count.
So swallow the Cardinals’ 17-0 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field — and any ensuing analysis — with a healthy sprinkling of skepticism. But a win is still better than the alternative, and there were plenty of positives to take away.
“Whether it’s Pop Warner, high school or college,” Arians said afterward, “a shutout is a shutout.”
THINGS TO LIKE
— Tyrann Mathieu continued to make plays, separating the tight end from the ball for a pass breakup, getting sack and forcing a fumble out of the nickel package, and nearly busting a punt return late in the game with two shifty moves. Arians had wondered how Mathieu would respond to the bright lights of a game. So far, so good.
— Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins put on a nice battle for the fourth wide receiver spot Friday. Hawkins caught four balls for 92 yards; Brown had five catches for 46 yards and a TD. Injured receivers Kerry Taylor and Robert Gill aren’t out of the running yet –and it is still possible the Cards could fill this spot with a player who’s cut by another team when the rosters are trimmed — but the two guys who were on the field made it harder for two who were not (and for the ones who might be hoping to end up here).
— The Cardinals survived a scary situation with only two healthy running backs on Friday. Andre Ellington was held out after suffering a neck injury in practice last week, while Rashard Mendenhall (knee tendinitis) got no carries and Ryan Williams (right knee inflammation) was back in Arizona. The Cardinals managed 92 rushing yards. “Can’t say enough about Stepfan and Alfonso for stepping up and carrying the load,” Arians said.
— Arians wasn’t kidding when he said upon his arrival that the team wouldn’t leave any bullets in the gun. By our count, the Cards took five downfield shots in the first half alone with quarterback Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton.
— One of the keys to those downfield shots is protection, and the Cardinals were solid in that department, allowing just one sack — and that was a product of good coverage, not a protection breakdown. Left tackle Levi Brown played well against Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews in limited matchups. “The pass protection has been phenomenal,” said Palmer, who went 4 of 6 for 77 yards and a 38-yard TD pass to Andre Roberts. “They have some really good rushers in that first group, and our starters did a great job, especially when we were backed up coming out of the end zone.”
— The QB play was strong. When was the last time you said that after a Cardinals game — unless you were talking about the opponent, of course? Palmer and Stanton combined to go 9 for 16 for 147 yards, two TDs, no INTs, one sack and a 126.8 passer rating. That’s a good start.
— The Cards won the turnover battle, 2-0.
THINGS TO DISLIKE
— Dropped passes seem to miff Arians more than anything in his postgame media session with reporters. Roberts dropped what would’ve been a big gainer early, Jaron Brown dropped one and Arians felt tight end D.C. Jefferson (who suffered a hip pointer) dropped one in the end zone, although it appeared to be a difficult catch. “I give our receivers a C today,” Arians said.
— The Cardinals had some trouble on both sides of the ball getting into proper formations. Some of that can be explained by the fact that it’s early and there are more than 50 new faces in the lineup. Some of it can also be explained by the fact that both sides of the ball are learning new schemes with multiple looks. Still, as Arians noted, “Too many substitution errors. … They look like they haven’t done this before, and we do it every day.”
— The running game and run defense were unimpressive. Neither was bad, but the first two units of the Cards offensive line rarely opened up holes for the backs, and a defense that was one of the worst in the league against the run last season gave up more Friday than Arians would have liked.
John Abraham on getting a sack and forced fumble in his first game, only a couple weeks after joining the team: “It is more just cut and dry, get into shape and just play football, like I usually do. Doing that just helps the team out and helps them see that I have a little something left.”