The Cardinals need to keep quarterback Carson Palmer upright against the Dolphins.
MIAMI – No need to rehash the claims of Biggie and Tupac. For the 2016 Cardinals, the West Coast has been the best coast.
The team is 5-2-1 on its side of the country and will be back for the final three games of the season. But in order for those to have significance, the Cardinals must find a way to persevere one time out East.
A win last week over Washington has kept the Cardinals (5-6-1) in the playoff hunt, but it's all on the line again Sunday against the Dolphins. The Cardinals have gone winless in three East Coast games this season, losing by a combined 44 points to the Bills, Panthers and Falcons.
Poor starts doomed the Cardinals against Buffalo and Carolina, and they can't afford to let history repeat itself in another early game far from home.
"The majority of it is mental," coach Bruce Arians said. "We practice at that time every day for a reason, so it's never a problem. It shouldn't be a problem as far as your body waking up and playing at that time of the day. We're in meetings at that time in the morning, so we do it for a reason. It hasn't been a problem until this year. I think it's the play of our team more than (anything). The start of those games – the start in Buffalo, the non-call in Carolina -- those things are hard to overcome on the road."
The Cardinals trail the Buccaneers by a game-and-a-half for the second wild card spot with four to play. They need Tampa Bay or Atlanta to lose at least two down the stretch and also must surpass three other teams – currently the Redskins, Packers and Vikings -- in the wild card standings.
The Cardinals' odds of making the playoffs are good if they win out – a New York Times postseason simulator pegs it at just under 90 percent – but doing so is a monumental task. The first test was passed against Washington, and next up is Miami.
Arians won't say his team has found a groove until it can string two wins together, but quarterback Carson Palmer believes getting the first one last week was a breath of fresh air.
"Monday is so much better after a win," Palmer said. "Tuesday. Wednesday's practice is better. Just everything. I wouldn't say all of a sudden we have a ton of confidence that we didn't have before, but we can get a bunch more confidence than we've had in the past if we can take care of this week and then next week and get on a good roll. Winning cures all and makes everything better, especially after a two-game skid."
The Cardinals' offensive line has not held up well in its past three road affairs, and the Dolphins roll out a formidable front, led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He has 29 tackles and five sacks this season, and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was quick to fire up tape of Suh dominating blockers this week, stressing the important of combatting his power rush.
"This is what happens when you don't," Goodwin told his linemen in the meeting room. "It's like one of those educational videos for not wearing your seat belt."
Miami is weak against the run, which star running back David Johnson will aim to exploit. The Cardinals would do well to establish the ground game to avoid too many third-and-long situations. The Dolphins' offense has been hot and cold. It is averaging 27.3 points per game in seven wins and only 12.8 points per game in five losses.
The Cardinals are statistically superior to the Dolphins on both sides of the ball and have the talent to win this game. But in order to do so, they need to channel last year's team, which went 7-1 on the road and had no issue traveling east.
"I think everybody makes a big deal about it," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Football is football. It doesn't matter where you play or what time. You've got to go out there, and you've got to execute. The plays are the same. You've got to come out with energy and passion. That's all it is. Football is about want-to."
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Miami Dolphins