Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) and quarterback Carson Palmer chat during a practice earlier this week.
ATLANTA – After a while, Carson Palmer said, it gets monotonous to look across the line of scrimmage and see Patrick Peterson or Tyrann Mathieu guarding your receivers.
That's what most of the preseason is, despite sprinkling in exhibition games. For the Cardinals, there is little that has to do with any other team except the Cardinals.
The clichéd "dress rehearsal" game – for every other team, the third preseason game, for the Cards because of their Hall of Fame game appearance, the fourth – changes that. As the Cardinals went through the final days of their extended training camp this week, practices were about the Falcons – the team they face Saturday night.
"The way we prepare for this game is different," Palmer said. "Every other week (of the preseason) you go against your own defense. This week we went against looks that are Falcon looks, watching film on them. It's not a complete game plan week, but it's as close as you can get to a game plan week."
The starters' work could stretch all the way through the first half, although coach Bruce Arians would prefer that both sides of the ball be so efficient he can choose to pull them out sooner. Playing against the defending NFC champions may make that difficult.
The Falcons have a high-powered offense that will test whatever progress has been made by cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. They have a fast defense that will push the work-in-progress Cardinals offensive line. Not all starters will play the same. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson will only get a few snaps to begin the game.
"It will be a good starting point," defensive tackle Josh Mauro said. "Obviously (starters) will play more this week. It has more of a regular-season feel to it, but this has been a pretty good, physical training camp."
Because the game is the first event held in brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Palmer acknowledged it will likely have a "regular-season feel."
One thing Arians emphasizes, however, is that he puts little stock in how his units on either side of the ball do in most preseason games because the work isn't designed that way.
"Training camp and preseason are about evaluating players," Arians said. "Not where your offense is, where your defense is, because they're not out there (playing enough) unless you watch practice every day, and even then, there are days designed for younger guys, days designed for older guys.
"This game is the most fluid you'll get in the preseason just because they play a little longer."
However the starters perform, this is their last tune-up. There will be only two practices next week before a preseason finale in Denver that will look like the Hall of Fame game in terms of starters sitting out.
After that, the regular season starts Sept. 10 in Detroit.
"(This week) is similar to a work week in terms of the way we are preparing but it still feels like preseason to me, personally," Fitzgerald said. "But I understand we need to have a better showing this week."
Images of the Cardinals' training camp standouts from the past several weeks