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For Cardinals, The Playoffs Are Here

Team needs to clean up tackling, turnover ratio to have chance against Panthers

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Linebacker Glenn Carson tries to bring down 49ers running back Frank Gore in Sunday's regular-season finale.

Bruce Arians sat down at his day-after press conference, and smiled.

"Welcome to the playoffs," he said, and after so many years – and so many postseasons – as an assistant coach, it was the first time Arians had a chance to utter such words as a head coach.

His first shot at leading a team in the playoffs comes Saturday in Carolina, with kickoff coming at 2:35 p.m. Arizona time.

The Cardinals, who went 11-5, face, at least in terms of record, the weakest team in the postseason. The Panthers finished 7-8-1. Carolina did have to win their final four games in a row just to make it into the postseason, although it wasn't exactly a murderer's row

of opponents: The Saints, Buccaneers, Browns and Falcons, none of which had a winning record.

Then again, the Cards lost four of their final six and last two in a row, and will need to play markedly better to make sure their season doesn't end so soon after the calendar turns to 2015.

"We did limp into the playoffs," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Now everybody is 0-0. It's a fresh season and a fresh start. We couldn't wait to get out of the regular season and start this postseason."

There were times when the Cardinals played like it, especially on defense. The unit that was so strong and upon which the Cardinals built their 9-1 record has struggled to slow the running games of the Seahawks and 49ers and their scrambling quarterbacks.

The Panthers' Cam Newton doesn't scramble in the same way that Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick do, but as Arians pointed out, Carolina will use more designed run plays for the 6-foot-6, 260-pound QB. For a team that's had so many issues tackling of late, that is a red flag.

"It wasn't a problem up until now," Arians said. "Getting in the right gap and making a tackle should be pretty easy."

Arians said the Cardinals will go to a padded practice on Wednesday, and while the Cards never actually tackle on practice, they will lower the pad level and "bump people up," Arians said.

The Cardinals will also be helped by the return of inside linebacker Larry Foote, who missed his first game of the season with a knee

injury.

But there is also the factor of playing "with more of an attitude," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. General Manager Steve Keim talked on his weekly radio show of tackling being a matter of "want-to" and if the playoffs don't provide such a motivation, nothing will.

"For us not to be a one-and-done team, we have to play better on defense," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "We can't continue to give up big plays. We have to be able to tackle better to get our swagger back."

They also have to tackle better (and force turnovers) to help the offense and help the quarterback – who right now looks like will be Ryan Lindley. Arians said there is still hope Drew Stanton can return from his knee injury and practice "later in the week" but Arians also said there are "fingers crossed" for that to happen.

Instead, it looks like Lindley is the more realistic choice to lead the Cardinals at quarterback. Throwing three interceptions, as he did in the finale, would likely torpedo the Cardinals. But Lindley also was more accurate and more effective in San Francisco Sunday than he has ever been.

"You can't turn it over," Arians said. "(And) we need some short fields to score more points. … Anytime you get 26 first downs and close to 400 yards, you had a pretty decent day."

Lindley finished 23-for-39 for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"I'm a guy who doesn't like to have false confidence as a leader," Lindley said. "I think that's something as a quarterback you need to earn it. I felt like, to go out there and make a couple of plays, it made me feel more comfortable being able to be more vocal in the huddle."

EXTRA POINTS

Keim said Monday morning that he expects defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to be in demand as a head coaching candidate. Arians said during his press conference that he was not aware of any formal requests to interview Bowles yet, and Bowles cannot interview with teams until after the Carolina game. But various reports during the day say that the 49ers and Falcons are at least considering interviewing Bowles for their coaching vacancies. …

Arians said guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist) remains day-to-day. Up until this point, Cooper has not been able to use the injured wrist/hand when blocking. …

Safety Tyrann Mathieu has been "very average" trying to play with a casted hand, Arians said. 

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