The Cardinals have done a nice job against Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins in two prior meetings.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Cardinals defense is better than you think.
A strong stretch was punctuated by a shutdown performance of the Titans on Sunday, which elevated the group to the No. 5 ranking in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders' methodology. It is a promising sign moving forward, because many of the Cardinals' key defenders are young and under team control.
But there has been an issue this season.
While the Cardinals have feasted on average and below average quarterbacks, established ones have had the upper hand. Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff and Russell Wilson have combined for a quarterback rating of 108.6 against the Cardinals this season. The rest have totaled a rating of 66.2.
The Cardinals (6-7) are in the nation's capital for a meeting with a reeling Washington team on Sunday afternoon. The Redskins were eliminated from playoff contention last week and are dealing with myriad injuries, so this is a winnable game.
But for all of Washington's woes, it still has a solid quarterback. To beat the Redskins, the Cardinals must corral Kirk Cousins.
"We know we have our hands full," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "In my opinion, he's one of those upper echelon quarterbacks. He's a guy that trusts his players. We all know when he has talent around him, he's a gunslinger. He can put the ball wherever it needs to go and put points on the board. He can come from behind. He can do it all."
While Cousins has impressive quarterback ratings of 101.6, 97.2 and 97.7 in his three seasons since becoming a full-time starter, he hasn't fared particularly well against the Cardinals.
In 2014, Cousins went 24-of-38 for 354 yards with two touchdowns but three interceptions in a 30-20 loss. Last year, he was 21-of-37 for 271 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 31-23 loss. The Cardinals' defense has eight takeaways in its past four games, and getting a couple more in this one would be a big boost.
"They've got a lot of weapons, but it's going to be a good matchup, because we've got a lot of guys to match up with them," money linebacker Deone Bucannon said. "We've got respect for whoever we play, but at the end of the day, every matchup we go into, we strongly believe we're going to win, because we've got that type of talent on this team."
Both of these teams had playoff aspirations heading into the season, but injuries have derailed them. The Cardinals placed running back Adrian Peterson and left tackle Jared Veldheer on injured reserve this week, the latest additions to an ever-growing list of impact players on the shelf.
Cousins has been sacked 37 times this season, in part because of all the injury woes to the offensive line. Many of his skill player weapons have been holstered, as running back Chris Thompson, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and tight end Jordan Reed have landed on injured reserve.
"It's been insane," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "It's not so much the guys on IR, which has been crazy. It's been the guys that have had the one, two, three week injuries that you have to have inactive. We had a couple games where we had to dress 45, 44 guys. So, it's taking a toll."
Arians was asked this week if he felt sorry for Gruden.
"No," Arians said. "I don't know if anybody has more injuries than we do on IR, starters-wise. Maybe the Colts."
Washington has cornerback Josh Norman and ex-Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger patrolling the secondary, but its defense has been subpar overall. It remains to be seen if the Cardinals can capitalize, again playing with a backup quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, a backup running back in Kerwynn Williams, and now, fifth-round pick Will Holden at left tackle and Evan Boehm at right guard.
And so, it likely circles back to the defense, the unit that led the way in recent upsets over the Jaguars and the Titans. If the excellence travels, the Cardinals will have back-to-back wins for the first time this season and get back to .500 – a show of resilience that shouldn't be discounted based on the degree of difficulty the injuries have presented.
"We've got a great locker room, and Steve (Keim) has got us a good roster," Arians said. "They show up and play every week. Do we play perfect every week? No. But we play hard."
GRESHAM DOWNGRADED; HOLMES PROMOTED
Tight end Jermaine Gresham (illness) was downgraded to out Saturday, forcing the Cardinals to make a roster move. They promoted tight end Gabe Holmes from the practice squad, and released running back Bronson Hill.
Images of key players for the Cardinals' Week 15 opponent