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Another Backup Quarterback Awaits Cardinals

Posted Sep 14, 2017

Team struggled against Steelers, Patriots when they were missing star signal-callers

The Cardinals will see either Scott Tolzien (pictured) or Jacoby Brissett on Sunday.

Scott Tolzien looked the part of a backup quarterback on Sunday against the Rams.

The Colts’ emergency signal-caller completed 9-of-18 passes for 128 yards and a pair of pick-sixes before getting benched, and without Andrew Luck – who is still sidelined due to offseason shoulder surgery -- Indianapolis was rudderless in a 46-9 loss.

The Cardinals travel to Indianapolis for Week 2 with myriad questions on offense, but will be favored because of the Colts’ quandary at quarterback.

Tolzien might start because he has a stronger grasp of the playbook. Then again, his poor play in the opener may make coach Chuck Pagano turn to recent trade acquisition Jacoby Brissett. Either way, it’s a suboptimal dilemma.

The Cardinals’ defense could understandably be licking its chops at the situation, but there has been no outward show of overconfidence this week, with a clear reason why.

“The two times we’ve played backup quarterbacks, we lost,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.

In 2015, the Cardinals raced to 13 regular season wins, but the lone road defeat came at the hands of the Steelers. That’s generally forgivable, but this one came sans Ben Roethlisberger. It was third-stringer Landry Jones who led the second-half rally after backup Michael Vick struggled.

Last year, the Cardinals were handed a gift when Tom Brady was suspended for the season opener, but Jimmy Garoppolo played well in the Patriots’ 23-21 upset win. So whether it’s Brissett or Tolzien, the defense doesn’t plan on taking the Colts offense lightly.

“We understand the (gravity) of this game, facing a backup quarterback,” Peterson said. “We want to make sure that we’re going in there preparing as if Andrew Luck is playing. We want to make sure we prepare to give this quarterback our best shot, because at the end of the day, he’s an NFL quarterback. He’s still able to make those throws.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians did not rehash the Pittsburgh and New England losses with his team this week. He thinks there has been too much turnover in personnel for it to have any bearing.

“We’ve got about 22 guys who weren’t in any of those games, so I don’t think they would remember it,” Arians said. “Respect the guys you’re playing. These guys are professionals.”

Tolzien has a career quarterback rating of 61.6 with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. Brissett has more upside and would normally be the easy choice, but he was acquired for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett just 12 days ago.

Brissett was 2-of-3 for 51 yards after replacing Tolzien against Los Angeles, but the game had long been decided, and it remains to be seen if he can learn enough of the playbook to start on Sunday.

“He has only been here a short period of time,” Pagano said. “Again, he had a small package for the opener in case he had to go in.”

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher doesn’t think overconfidence played a role in the previous struggles against backup quarterbacks. He said those games came down to missed chances in critical situations, something that again bit the defense in last week’s season-opening loss to the Lions. That must change in Indianapolis.

“It’s going to be a handful of plays where we need to win the downs,” Bettcher said. “Whether it’s tough downs, tough calls, whether it’s just communication and proper alignment, or it’s just beating your man.”

Arians isn’t caught up in which quarterback the Cardinals will face. He said they will both run the same offense and get the ball to the same skill guys.

“They’re not, all of a sudden, going to run and shoot or anything,” Arians said. “They’re throwing it to T.Y. (Hilton). They’re throwing it to (Jack) Doyle, and they’re handing it to Frank Gore. Stop them.”

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