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By The Bye, What The Cardinals Have Learned

With the Cardinals 3-4 and having the weekend off, a look at what the season has shown

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The wrist injury to running back David Johnson was the first in a string of injuries in the first part of the season.


The Cardinals made sure to have their bye week fall after their trip to London, which means a little more than half the season – nine games – remains on the schedule. At 3-4, there is work to be done to salvage a playoff race.

When the Cards exited training camp, the hope was that they could get off to a fast start. They were healthy. And then everything changed quickly. Who are the Cardinals now? A look at some of the things the team has learned about itself over seven games:

INJURIES TO THE BEST PLAYERS MATTER

It seems clear that there would have been warts on this team anyway. But the season-opening loss to the Lions in Detroit sure seemed trending toward a win had running back David Johnson not been hurt. The Cardinals were already up eight and driving when Johnson fumbled away the ball on what currently was his final touch of the season. Losing Johnson – and also left tackle D.J. Humphries in that game – turned everything sideways. Since then, the losses of linebacker Markus Golden, guard Mike Iupati and now quarterback Carson Palmer have made and will make the climb that much more steep. That doesn't include the time missed by important pieces like wide receiver John Brown and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche.

CHANDLER JONES IS WORTH THE MONEY

Chandler Jones came in a trade last year with one year left on his contract. He played well, with 11 sacks, but there were still some wondering if he'd be worth the giant long-term contract he later signed in the offseason. The answer has been yes. On a defense where the overall results have been less than desired, Jones has been fantastic. He has eight sacks in seven games, has been solid against the run and if the team was better, Jones might be getting more national attention. The Cardinals losing Golden didn't help, but Jones has continued to be a menace for opposing quarterbacks even with Golden's injury.

THE KICKING CHANGE HAS NOT HAD THE DESIRED EFFECT

The whole point of moving on from kicker Chandler Catanzaro and adding veteran Phil Dawson was to try and eliminate missed field goals that were undercutting the Cardinals. But Dawson – save for an impressive 4-for-4 performance against San Francisco – has struggled. He's missed five field goals in seven games, two more than he did all of last season. More vexing, they have not been long. Three of the misses have been from inside 40 yards, and another was from 42. None of the misses have cost games, like Catanzaro's misses did a year ago – the miss in Indianapolis could have been a problem, but the Cards won in overtime – but it's not what the Cards had planned on.

DEFENSIVELY, THERE HAS BEEN A STEP BACK

The Cardinals lost a handful of key defensive players in free agency, but expected the current group to hold up and even flourish from the unit that finished second in overall defense a season ago. Unlike the offense, the defense has been fairly healthy, save for the loss of Golden. But even before that injury, there was the late collapse in Detroit and a similar late hiccup against Dallas. The offense was bad in road games against the Eagles and Rams, but the defense couldn't hold up itself. The most concerning thing is that, with Palmer out with a broken arm, a struggling offense has an even lower ceiling. The Cardinals need the defense to get better, to improve on the points allowed (27.3, 31st in the league) and on third-downs (allowing 48 percent conversions, 30th in the league).

PATRICK PETERSON IS EVEN MORE STINGY

Teams are going to have fewer and fewer reasons to throw in Patrick Peterson's direction. In seven games, Peterson has allowed only seven catches, and none the past two games. He's playing as well as he ever has, and even without an interception this season, should garner all-pro votes. His play allows the rest of the secondary more freedom. Unfortunately, that hasn't translated into enough overall defensive production.

ADRIAN PETERSON STILL NEEDS HOLES

The Cardinals still believe they got a trade find when they dealt for Adrian Peterson after five games. He was fantastic in his debut, gaining 134 yards in a win as the Cardinals' floundering rush offense got a jolt. Against the Rams in London, Peterson gained only 21 yards on 11 carries. The offensive line took a step back despite remaining the same for a second straight week. That in itself was unusual for the first half of the season, and this group going forward – left tackle Humphries, left guard Alex Boone, center A.Q. Shipley, right guard Earl Watford and right tackle Jared Veldheer – hopefully can stay together and trend upward. Maybe then Peterson – and David Johnson, if/when he returns, will have more games like the first one.

FITZ STILL HAS IT

The questions about Larry Fitzgerald's future will only heat up when we get to December, but he's followed up his excellent 2015 and 2016 seasons with another good year. How much his numbers take a hit with the loss of Palmer remains to be seen, but for now, Fitzgerald is again on pace to top 100 catches and 1,000 yards as a slot receiver. At least he has held up his plan that, whenever he does leave, he is still playing at a high level.



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