Winning games hasn’t been easy this season for first-year head coaches and rookie quarterbacks throughout the National Football League, and it’s been doubly difficult for the Arizona Cardinals.
They haven’t had much to celebrate, with a 3-9 won-loss record under first-year head coach Steve Wilks and rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
This week is one of their rare – and welcome – exceptions. They started the week with a Victory Monday. It was a reward for Sunday’s 20-17 road victory over the Green Bay Packers that ranks as one of the biggest upsets of the year.
As much as the Cardinals enjoyed having a day off to recover from the grueling grind of the season, they also were looking for an emotional lift to carry over to Sunday’s home game against the Detroit Lions.
“Everybody’s excited ... a Victory Monday coming up,” Rosen said before departing the visiting team’s locker room at Lambeau. “It’s a fun feeling.”
There was an unlikely hero in the unlikely win.
Zane Gonzalez, playing his first game with the Cardinals in place of injured 20-year veteran Phil Dawson, kicked a pair of 44-yard field goals without a miss on a windy, chilly day. He hit the game-winner with 1:41 left, then watched Mason Crosby’s 49-yard attempt that would have tied the game sail wide right.
“It was kind of brutal,” Gonzalez, who played at Arizona State, said after the game. “The kick went in. That’s all that mattered.”
The Lions have issues of their own, as their 4-8 record indicates, but are facing a Cardinals offense that is far less potent than what they faced in last week’s loss to the Rams.
The Rams rank second in the NFL in yards (439.9) and points (34.9) per game. The Cardinals are last in yards (239.3) and points (14.6) per game. They have scored 20 or more points in only three games, one of them being the 20-17 win over the Packers.
The Cardinals hit their season high in points in a 28-18 win over the 49ers in Week 5.
Here are some issues and factors the Cardinals have dealt with that made an impact on their performance:
Meet the Opponent: Arizona Cardinals
Meet this weeks opponents, the Arizona Cardinals.
Offensive line/injuries: Rookie center Mason Cole is the only opening-game starter on Arizona’s offensive line who is still active. Three other starters – D.J. Humphries, Mike Iupati and Justin Pugh are on injured reserve, and Andre Smith was released.
The Cardinals’ depth chart now lists four rookies as starters on offense. In addition to Rosen, three are offensive linemen – left guard Colby Gossett, right tackle Korey Cunningham and Cole.
Cole was a third-round pick, Cunningham a seventh-rounder and Gossett an undrafted free agent. Zack Golditch, another undrafted rookie, is listed as Cunningham’s backup.
Iupati and No. 2 receiver Christian Kirk went on injured reserve with injuries sustained against Green Bay, as did backup defensive tackle Olsen Pierre.
Rosen mentioned after Sunday’s game the number of rookies he has worked with in practice, and what it means for the future. The group also includes fourth-round draft pick Chase Edmonds, the No. 2 running back behind David Johnson.
“At one point in practice, we had like eight or nine rookies in the huddle,” he said. “I think we’re starting five or six and playing seven or eight. It’s a good sign for the future.”
Defense: The Cardinals continue to get good production out of edge rusher Chandler Jones as the leader of a pass-rush unit that ranks among the league’s best against the pass in key categories.
The Cardinals are fourth in passing yards allowed per game (224), tied for sixth in passing touchdowns allowed (17), tied for third in sacks (38) and 22nd in passer rating through 12 games (96.8).
Jones has been one of the league’s elite pass rushers since being acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots in the 2016 offseason.
Jones is a 50-50 player – 50 sacks in 50 games since joining the Cardinals. He led the NFL with 17 last year and is having another good season with 12 through the first 12 games.
Jones isn’t the only member of Arizona’s defense who gets to the quarterback. He just does it more often. Ten other Cardinals have at least two sacks.
Change: It’s been a season of change in the NFL, and the Cardinals have not stood pat at quarterback or with their coaching staff.
Veteran quarterback Sam Bradford was benched after three starts, an 0-3 record and 20 points produced, and replaced by Rosen.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired after seven games and replaced by quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich. The Cardinals were 1-6 when the change was made and had scored 64 points in the six losses.