TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals are pulling away from the competition in the NFC.
At 9-1, they have a three-game lead over Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West and are at least two games up on everyone else in the conference.
Of the four 7-3 teams in the NFC, Arizona has beaten three.
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The road gets a lot rougher now, though. The Cardinals play four of their final six regular-season games on the road, starting next Sunday at Seattle, where Arizona handed Russell Wilson his first home loss as a pro.
With that memory still stinging, and fighting for their playoff lives, the Seahawks will be highly motivated, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
”We’re going to get their best shot for sure,” he said.
Larry Fitzgerald injured his left knee in Sunday’s 14-6 win over Detroit. He left the game, then returned and caught a crucial final pass from Drew Stanton to clinch the Cardinals’ sixth straight victory.
Arians said on Monday that Fitzgerald has a ”grade two MCL sprain and should be able to play this week.”
There is plenty of skepticism nationally over just how far these Cardinals can go, especially now that quarterback Carson Palmer is out for the season. His replacement, Stanton, threw two early touchdown passes to Michael Floyd on Sunday but had a pair of interceptions later.
”I thought he played extremely well,” Arians said. ”He came out focused and ready to play.”
Arians said that on one interception, Stanton stared down the intended receiver, and the linebacker read his eyes.
”The second one was a good play by Cassius (Vaughn),” the coach said. ”It was man coverage and he dumped his guy. Drew assumed he was going to cover his guy. You never assume anything.”
Arizona has four games remaining against NFC West foes, two against Seattle and one each against San Francisco and St Louis. Three are on the road.
The Cardinals also play at Atlanta and are home against Kansas City. They finish the regular season at home against the Seahawks.
Arians was asked to evaluate that remaining schedule.
”Hard as hell,” he said. ”Everybody’s in it. … Everybody that we play now is do or die. It’s extremely difficult.”
Arians is not concerned about the Cardinals getting carried away with themselves.
”We have great leadership in the locker room, and they know it’s a daily process,” he said. ”There’s nothing that’s won yet. You still have to come to work Wednesday or it’s all going to be gone. The only thing it does is it ratchets it up even more because each game’s bigger now.”
The Cardinals defense had one of its best days on Sunday.
The Lions failed to score a touchdown in a game for the first time since 2009. They had 262 net yards. Their 11 first downs were the fewest of the season for both the Detroit offense and Arizona defense.
The Cardinals sacked Matthew Stafford four times. Stanton was not sacked.
Asked to evaluate the offensive line, Arians said, ”They did a very good job in pass protection, not so in the running game.”
”I thought it was one of our best pass protection games,” he said, ”but we still had way too many mental errors in the running game, negative plays that killed drives.”
Andre Ellington gained 42 yards in 19 carries, an average of just 2.2 yards per attempt. The previous week against St. Louis, he gained 23 yards in 18 carries.
”It’s not far away,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. ”There’s just little things here and there that we’ve got to figure out and take care of. Once we do that, I think that will be a very dynamic aspect of our game. And it’s frustrating right now because you can see that, but it’s not happening.”
Ellington has played all season with a foot injury that prevents him from practicing on Wednesdays and limits him on Thursdays. That’s part of the problem, but Arians laid some of the blame on the running back.
”He’s gutting it up on Sundays, but he needs to perform better, too,” Arians said. ”Right now, he’s as healthy as he’s been and we need more out of him.”
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