Cardinals release starters Smith, Benwikere after blowout

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              Los Angeles Chargers' Melvin Gordon (28) runs for a touchdown past Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Josh Bynes (57) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo )
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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — In the wake of another embarrassing loss, the beleaguered Arizona Cardinals have released two starters — right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Bene Benwikere.

Coach Steve Wilks also said Monday that linebacker Josh Bynes (thumb) and kicker Phil Dawson (hip) were placed on injured reserve.

Wilks cited inconsistent play on the part of Smith and Benwikere. Smith, a former starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, was in the first year of a two-year contract and played 46 of a possible 47 snaps in Sunday’s 45-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Benwikere played 35 snaps and had one tackle.

“I’m not really in the business of trying to send messages or trying to be subliminal in any way,” Wilks said. “I’m very direct in my approach and the things that I say. And if you’re not doing it our way, if you’re not giving us the best opportunity to win football games, No. 1 you won’t be on the field, and if it gets to that point we’ll move on and that’s what I did.”

Smith, signed in the offseason as an important part of the rebuilt Arizona offensive line, had struggled throughout the season holding back the pass rush to protect rookie Josh Rosen.

“You saw the inconsistency there,” Wilks said “One of the things we have to do is do a great job of protecting the quarterback, so that was one of the moves.”

Rookie Korey Cunningham, a seventh-round pick out of Cincinnati, will move in at right tackle for Sunday’s game at Green Bay. Cunningham started the last two games at left tackle in place of injured D.J. Humphries. Wilks said he expects Humphries back this Sunday.

“Corey’s playing well and we want to be able to give him the opportunity there to play on the right side,” Wilks said.

Benwikere is the second starter opposite Patrick Peterson to be released this season. Jamar Taylor, who started the first three games, was released last week. The job will apparently go to David Amerson, signed by Arizona earlier this month, released, then re-signed.

The 43-year-old Dawson has appeared in 305 games. His 441 field goals rank eighth all-time. But he may have made his final kick for the Cardinals, if not in his career.

His job will go to Zane Gonzalez, the former Arizona State kicker who was cut by Cleveland early in this, his second, season.

But there’s much more than some personnel shuffling needed for the Cardinals, who at 2-9 are tied with San Francisco and Oakland. The Cardinals need to win two of their remaining games to avoid matching the worst record since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988. Arizona was 3-13 in 2000. Vince Tobin was fired seven games into that season, replaced by Dave McGinnis. The Cardinals’ worst record since moving into State Farm Stadium was 5-11 in 2006.

Arizona gave up 45 unanswered points to the Chargers on Sunday after taking a 10-0 lead. They ran three plays in the third quarter. Philip Rivers set NFL records by completing his first 25 passes and completing 28 of 29 overall.

“A lot of his completions were to the back, check-downs, quick throws,” Wilks said, “doing a great job of coverage and then he’s checking the ball underneath. That’s where a lot of those came from.”

It’s something Rosen could learn from, he said.

Wilks said he saw no sign of the team quitting.

“I’m not an effort coach,” he said. “If we’re coaching effort we’re in trouble. The question yesterday wasn’t those guys’ effort, watching the tape, you could see those guy still working hard, still trying to finish, still trying to do the things we asked them to do. So I’m not concerned about the effort.”