Starters like Tyrann Mathieu (32) will play a much longer stint into Sunday night's third preseason game.
OAKLAND -- When the Cardinals take the field for Sunday Night Football against the Raiders, the starters will see more action than in any other game this preseason.
Most will play the entire first half, with some expected to dip into the third quarter. After spending the majority of the past month practicing against each other in training camp, it's a welcome outlet.
"The one series and the quarter is kind of annoying," said safety Tony Jefferson of the limited time in the first two preseason contests. "You want to keep playing."
While the players are jazzed to see the field, as a pair of high-profile injuries from last week prove, having them out there is a risk. The Packers'
top receiver, Jordy Nelson, won't play this season after tearing his ACL last week against the Steelers. Later in the same game, Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey injured his left ankle and will also miss a big chunk of the year.
Since then, questions have resurfaced about the length and value of the preseason. Some coaches have kept their stars on the sidelines – the Cardinals didn't see Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers last week – but coach Bruce Arians believes the games are important for continuity and conditioning, even with the injury risk. All of his big names have played this preseason.
"When you look around the league, the non-contact injuries are usually the most severe," Arians said. "It could happen at any point in time training. So cutting back practice times or cutting back games – I know if you have a rookie quarterback you want four preseason games. If you've got a 10-year vet you'd probably be happy with two. But, no, it's just part of the game."
The Cardinals' biggest injury blow thus far came on Aug. 19 when nose tackle Corey Peters was lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Arians said it happened without another player touching him, a situation that is impossible to avoid.
The Cardinals attempts to mitigate the risk in practice. The players are told to avoid big collisions, and anyone who disobeys gets Arians' ire.
"You definitely don't want wide receivers coming over the middle and safeties giving them cheap shots," defensive end Cory Redding said. "Anytime you see somebody on the ground, you always see (Arians) giving someone an earful. Whether it was intentional or not, you're still going
to hear from him. It's an emphasis. We're trying to keep everybody healthy as much as possible."
In the games there is no holding back, as the players are fighting for jobs and facing off against opponents who aren't as concerned about their well-being. Quarterback Carson Palmer will likely see the field into the second quarter on Sunday, but it would be a surprise for him to play the third. For Arians, it's a delicate calculation of cost-benefit analysis.
"I don't feel that Carson needs that (extra game action) at this time in his career," Arians said. "So we'll gauge each individual guy. Some guys might play longer. Some guys might play shorter."
The players don't have a say, and oftentimes the threat of injury doesn't cross their mind until one happens – even for a veteran signal-caller less than 10 months removed from a torn ACL.
"You just can't fear that," Palmer said. "You can't think about that. You can't worry about that. There's so much on your plate from a quarterback standpoint and every other position on the field that that's the last thing you're thinking about."
In all likelihood, the Cardinals will leave the Raiders game with at least a player or two new to the injury list. The hope is that nothing serious comes about.
"It's unfortunate what happened to those guys last week, but we all know injuries in the NFL is 100 percent," Redding said. "It's not if you're going to get hurt, it's when you get hurt. You've just got to be smart when you're out there. Go as fast as you can and then get off the field with your health."
The top images from the now-completed training camp