LOS ANGELES -- The Cardinals have six games remaining and aren't going to make the playoffs, so some would characterize this final stretch as playing out the string.
To Steve Wilks, it's much more important than that. The Cardinals' first-year coach is still hard at work looking for ways to improve the team, an idea planted so firmly in his head that it pervades his thoughts even during time away from the facility.
"I don't think you ever get away from the game, really," Wilks said. "I know I always tell the guys, 'Be where your feet are,' and it's the same thing at home. You want to be a father and a husband, but you're always thinking about ways to get better."
The Cardinals (2-8) made a flurry of moves this week, including the release of one-time starting cornerback Jamar Taylor and the promotion of undrafted rookie receiver Jalen Tolliver to the active roster. Wilks is looking for any advantage he can find as the Cardinals prepare for Sunday's matchup against the Chargers.
"We're going to continue to try to turn the back end of the roster," Wilks said. "We're looking to evolve as we move forward and try to finish the season strong."
Be it familiar mugs or new ones leading the way, the Cardinals need to get back on track, as their encouraging two-game stretch against the 49ers and Chiefs hit a full stop in last week's last-second home loss to the Raiders.
Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen was up and down, throwing for a career-high three touchdowns but with two picks and a 45 percent completion rate. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is encouraged by his progress even if the numbers don't scream it.
"He's getting so much better," Leftwich said. "I'm telling you, this kid is getting better every week. Sometimes it doesn't show, because he's not in a position to make it show and everyone sees it, but we're getting better every week. As long as we keep doing that we'll be fine."
The Cardinals have at least unlocked David Johnson, who has returned to the form that previously made him one of the NFL's most dangerous running backs. In three games under Leftwich, Johnson is averaging 145.7 total yards per game, which is more than double what he averaged in the first seven under former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
"He has that ability, and you can see right now, the last couple of games you're starting to see what he can do in all phases," Wilks said.
The Cardinals' defense has been steady the past three weeks but has not forced a turnover. This seems like the type of game in which a couple will be needed, because Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers continues to play at a high level.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson said Rivers will let the defense know it if he gets the upper hand. Peterson would much rather the gloating come from his own team's quarterback.
"As far as talking trash, talking smack, Philip is definitely on top of the list, hands down," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "I think Josh will be a close No. 2 once he continues to get his feet wet."
Rivers has more room to talk, as he has a distinguished career while Rosen's is still forming. Rosen acknowledged he will continue to take lumps throughout his rookie year, but pushed back on the idea that the payoff won't come until down the road.
"I'm going to take every game as if it's my first and last," Rosen said. "That's (the media's) job to think about all that stuff. I'm just trying to win."
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Los Angeles Chargers