TEMPE, Ariz. — In a sense, Bradley Sowell owes his workplace promotion to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn.
If it hadn’t been for Quinn’s performance against the Cardinals in Week 1, Sowell still might a backup.
Quinn’s three sacks, two forced fumbles and four hits on Carson Palmer in a 27-24 Rams win spelled the beginning of the end for former Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown. Brown was traded just four weeks into the season, handing the job to Sowell, an unproven (and probably unprepared) second-year pro who was undrafted out of Mississippi in 2012.
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“I never thought I’d be a starter here,” Sowell said Wednesday. “It’s crazy how it all works out.”
It’s been a difficult season for Sowell, who rarely grades out well the last nine weeks. According profootballfocus.com, Sowell is rated the second worst tackle in the NFL (ahead of Chicago’s Jordan Mills) and the lowest rated left tackle.
The Cardinals have given him more help lately, leaving a running back in to chip on the left edge, and that had helped the passing game find a rhythm until last week in Philadelphia. Against the Eagles, Sowell gave up two sacks, a QB hit and at least three hurries. The first sack led to a Carson Palmer fumble and an eventual Eagles touchdown.
Now comes Quinn, the left-tackle wrecker. Quinn enters the game second in the NFL in sacks with 13 and has recorded seven of those against NFC West opponents. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called Quinn a major challenge for Sowell.
“Probably the biggest one he’s had; even bigger than (the Cots’) Robert Mathis because (Quinn) is a young Robert Mathis,” Arians said. “It’s a challenge for us as coaches to give him some help, somehow, some way without (limiting the offense).
“There’s times he’s going to have to block him; there are times when we’re going to have to help him.”
The Rams took Quinn with the 14th pick in the 2011 draft. The Cards took Patrick Peterson fifth so it’s hard to argue with that selection. In fact, when you examine the players taken ahead of Quinn and factor in teams’ positional needs, it’s hard to argue with any pick other than Buffalo’s selection of Marcell Dareus, who has yet to become an elite defensive end and certainly hasn’t played as well as Quinn.
“His pressures, his hurries, his hits, his sack numbers are there, but I’m just very impressed with how he’s handling the run,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Quinn. “He’s not just a designated pass rusher by any means. He’s a good defensive end.”
When asked if he had had enough time to evaluate Sowell as a long-term solution for the Cardinals at what is considered one of the offense’s two most important positions, Arians somewhat dodged the question by saying “I think he’s a work in progress. He’s still so young.”
But it is clear the Cardinals need to upgrade the left tackle position in the offseason. At best, that means Sowell goes back to a backup role. At worst, he could be searching for another team.
COOPER ON THE MEND
Cardinals left guard and 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper on Wednesday was walking without the aid of a scooter or a boot and said he has turned up his rehab a bit.
Cooper broke his leg in the team’s third preseason game against San Diego and went on injured reserve. He said he is weaning himself off the scooter for about a week and only uses a boot if he’s doing a lot of walking or standing up.
“It’s been very difficult,” he said of the lengthy road back to health. “Of course you’d like to be a part of all this, especially with how well we’re doing, but you kind of learn to deal with it on the front end and just try to do the best you can.”
PRO BOWL BADGER?
Tyrann Mathieu is climbing the Pro Bowl voting at free safety. Mathieu, who wasn’t on the ballot the first few weeks of voting, is sixth with 42,359 votes.
Mathieu is one of five Cardinals among the top 10 at his position in the new format of “unconferenced” teams in the Pro Bowl. Fan balloting accounts for one-third of the final voting, with coaches and players counting for the other two-thirds. Once players make it, the teams will be “drafted” by former players who are serving as captains.
CB Patrick Peterson is third (253,688) at his position, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is ninth (99,561) and linebacker Karlos Dansby is ninth (79,050), while special teams ace Justin Bethel is eighth (35,775).
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
The Cardinals will wear their all-red uniforms Sunday. It’s the second time this season they’ve done so. The Cards are 13-3 in those duds and 10-1 since 2009.
On the official injury report, WR Michael Floyd (ankle) and RB Andre Ellington (knee) did not practice while QB Carson Palmer (right elbow), TE Jim Dray (back), TE Rob Housler (ankle), S Rashad Johnson (ribs), LB Kevin Minter (knee), P Dave Zastudil (ankle) and LB Marcus Benard (shoulder) were limited.
Arians said Floyd tweaked his ankle in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss in Philadelphia.
“He’ll be fine,” Arians said. “Cause he knows if he doesn’t practice (Thursday) he’s not playing.”
Arians also said he wants to be cautious with Ellington, but Ellington said he is good to play on Sunday.
For the Rams, LT Jake Long (concussion), LB Darren Bates (concussion), CB Brandon McGee (foot) and C Scott Wells (broken fibula) did not practice while DE Eugene Sims (neck was limited.
Already playing without starting QB Sam Bradford (out for the season), the Rams lost Wells, their starting center, for the season in Sunday’s loss to San Francisco while Long is still being observed under the league’s concussion protocols, creating some potential issues on the offensive line.
“There may be some new faces up there,” Fisher said of the Cardinals defense. “But I’m not concerned.”