Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald goes up to snare a 37-yard pass in front of Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick Monday night.
Just for a moment or two, Larry Fitzgerald looked like the receiver that used to high point deep balls, much to a secondary's chagrin.
Since Bruce Arians arrived as coach, the Pro Bowl wide receiver has moved inside much of the time, running much shorter routes than he did the first nine years of his career. Throwing Fitzgerald the ball down the field hasn't been much of a thing, at least up until Monday night.
Fitzgerald caught an impressive 37-yard jump ball to jump-start a struggling offense and set up his
own touchdown catch two plays later. He also made an amazing 24-yard catch on a third-and-18 later in the game.
"There are shot plays he can get, just like other receivers we have," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "You saw that the other night."
Fitzgerald shrugged off the idea he might start getting more deep balls, saying whatever role Arians has for him, he'll do the best he can within it.
From 2013 (Arians' first season) through 2016, Fitzgerald played in 58 games, and was targeted at least 20 yards down the field only 49 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Fitzgerald caught 16 of those those passes – or about one every four games – for 518 yards and five touchdowns, while four times the ball was intercepted. Fitzgerald had an NFL-leading 107 catches in 2016, but also a career-low 9.6 yards per catch.
The Cardinals are 3-for-6 this season on passes of at least 20 yards to Fitzgerald. All three – including a 15-yard TD catch that was more than five yards deep in the end zone – came against the Cowboys.
With deep threats J.J. Nelson (limited with a hamstring) and John Brown (out with a quad injury) non-factors, Fitzgerald's deep work was necessary. It also may be increasingly necessary as the Cardinals deal with the ongoing absence of running back David Johnson.
"I know with David being down, everybody has got to step up," Fitzgerald said. "Everyone has to step up and fill in for that productivity. Jaron (Brown) had a big touchdown catch last week, some other guys stepped up, but it wasn't enough."
NO "MAGIC PILL" FOR OFFENSIVE LINE; VELDHEER STAYING PUT
Goodwin, who is also the offensive line coach, reiterated what Arians said earlier in the week, that the blockers need to win more one-on-one battles.
"It's no magic pill," Goodwin said, adding that everyone knows the offensive line has struggled.
"Everybody is probably licking their chops to get to our offensive line right now," Goodwin said.
"We've got to coach better and we've got to play better."
Goodwin also shut down any thought to right tackle Jared Veldheer potentially moving back to the left side.
"Why?" Goodwin said. "Is the pass rush different on the left than the right?
"I don't buy into the excuses of left or right. At the end of the day, to be honest with you, it's me and you in the parking lot in one-on-one pass rush situations. Who is going to kick whose ass? Period. Technique is involved, but at a certain point, I'm going to drop and I am going to kick your butt. He's doing his best, but he's got to do better."
Goodwin said he and Veldheer "just talked" Wednesday. There was a little bit of film watching, as Goodwin showed Veldheer that some of the issues the tackle is concerned is an offshoot of his move to the right side were also a problem for Veldheer last year on the left side.
"He'll be fine," Goodwin said.
NKEMDICHE ADDED TO INJURY REPORT
Just when the Cardinals were getting healthier, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche popped back up on the injury report Thursday after he apparently re-aggravated the calf injury that had kept him out of the season opener.
Joining Nkemdiche as limited were all the same Cardinals from Wednesday: wide receiver John Brown (quad), tight end Jermaine Gresham (ribs), tackle D.J. Humphries (knee), guard Mike Iupati (triceps), linebacker Chandler Jones (chest), wide receiver J.J. Nelson (hamstring) and tackle John Wetzel (biceps).
Guard Alex Boone (chest) was the only Cardinal to sit out practice.
For the 49ers, linebacker Reuben Foster (ankle), safety Eric Reid (knee) and linebacker Pita Taumoepenu (ankle) did not practice. Linebacker Brock Coyle (concussion), running back Carlos Hyde (hip), fullback Kyle Juszcysk (concussion) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (concussion) were limited.