Cardinals RB Adrian Peterson will aim to make life easier on QB Blaine Gabbert with a strong performance Sunday.
HOUSTON – The Cardinals and Texans will be adversaries on Sunday, each needing a win to keep alive their postseason hopes.
But there is one thing they can commiserate on: both are engaged in a similar battle of attrition.
A game that looked competitive on paper a few months ago remains that way, but that's because each side has been hit hard by injuries in 2017. The Texans (3-6) drafted a potential a star in quarterback Deshaun Watson, but lost him to a torn ACL two weeks ago. He joined defensive end J.J. Watt on injured reserve, taking away Houston's two most important players.
The Cardinals know the feeling, with quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson among seven starters on injured reserve, including last week's additions of safety Tyvon Branch and left tackle D.J. Humphries. Drew Stanton isn't out long-term, but the Cardinals' second-string quarterback won't start because of a knee sprain, handing the reins to Blaine Gabbert.
While the personnel hits keep coming, the show must go on. The Cardinals (4-5) have managed to stay near .500 throughout the season and can get back to it with a road win. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said there's no use in dwelling on the personnel losses.
"There's nothing you can do about it," Fitzgerald said. "I learned a long time ago, there are a lot of things in life you have no control over. The weather, traffic, things like that, you have no control over. … All we can do is play with the guys we can play with, and all they can do is play with the guys they play with. Roll the ball out there and see who the better team is on Sunday."
The Cardinals will become the first team in the NFL to start a third different quarterback this season. Stanton performed well in his two starts in relief of Palmer, but was injured on a hit by Seahawks defensive end Sheldon Richardson last Thursday and will be the backup if he's healthy enough to be active.
Even though the Cardinals are down to their third-stringer, Gabbert brings intrigue. He had an impressive training camp and preseason, flashing the tools that made him a former first-round pick of the Jaguars. Now he must do it against a Houston defense which figures to blitz him regularly.
"I've always been a fan of Blaine," said safety Antoine Bethea, who was also his teammate with the 49ers. "He can make all the throws. He's mobile. … I'm anxious to see how he goes out there and performs. I texted him earlier this week, 'You get this shot, man, do something with it.' I'm happy for him."
Gabbert is only 9-31 in his career as a starter, but has rarely had above average personnel around him. The Cardinals don't have Johnson, but Fitzgerald, Adrian Peterson, John Brown, J.J. Nelson and others can help make his job easier.
"There are so many playmakers, so many guys that, if they get a crease, they can go 80 (yards)," Gabbert said. "When you look at this team, that's how it's built, on explosive plays. As a quarterback, it's your job to deliver the ball to the guys so they can make those explosive plays happen."
The Texans are hoping to get a better performance out of their backup quarterback, Tom Savage. He began the season as the starter before getting quickly usurped by Watson. Savage, who is 0-3 this year, has thrown for 502 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 62.2 quarterback rating.
Houston wants Savage to sustain drives, but more than anything, needs him to take care of the football. The Texans have turned the ball over eight times in their past three contests.
"We have to stop that, because there's no bigger stat, I don't think, in this league than the turnover-takeaway margin," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said.
The Cardinals are in survival mode at this point, looking to scratch out a win in any way possible. More injuries have taken their toll, but the Texans are in the same boat, as each side tries desperately to stay above water.
"It's just the business," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "Guys are going to get hurt every year – key guys, at that. Young guys have to step up, and we have to do a good job of complementing each other in all three phases of the game."
Images of some top players for this week's opponent, the Houston Texans