With the opener on a Monday night, a special Saturday edition of the Friday Five. A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-Chargers game at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Ellington or not, a running game
Bruce Arians has said many times his running game expectations aren't about stats as much as what it means on the field, and the opener may test that theory. Andre Ellington is dealing with foot issues, which leaves a big question mark in who will help the Cards in the run game against the Chargers and what it will produce. Jonathan Dwyer has been solid as the No. 2 but there is no one on the roster that can equal Ellington's explosive potential.
Start your way back to No. 1
The Cardinals finished last season as the top-ranked rush defense in the NFL. That remains a focus, and for all the losses the defense has suffered in terms of personnel, it is the rush defense that has the potential to match what it did a year ago. The depth has been improved on the defensive line even with the loss of Darnell Dockett, and having Matt Shaughnessy back at linebacker and now Deone Bucannon to help in the secondary makes a difference. Slowing Ryan Mathews and company for the Chargers remains the top priority, even with Philip Rivers' renaissance as a passer.
Getting tight on the tight end
Jared Cook went off on the Cardinals in last season's opener and it set the tone for how tight ends made life difficult for the defense all season. There has been an offseason to adjust personnel and tweak the scheme. Now we will see what that means. The secondary has been upgraded. The first test will be against Antonio Gates and LaDarius Green. They aren't Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but how the Cards deal with both will set the tone, much like the Cook game seemed to set the course for 2013.
See what Brown can do for you
There is little question the Cardinals' offense is in a better place in its second year. One of those 'x' factors is rookie John Brown. Brown has had an impressive training camp and preseason. He is expected to be a big part of what the Cards do in the passing game. But now is where we see for sure. In the games that count, will Carson Palmer find his new locker room neighbor?
The Cardinals have had a solid home-field advantage since moving into University of Phoenix Stadium. But when the expectations are high – as they are this year – and the stage is a big one like "Monday Night Football" – like it will be against San Diego – the energy moves to a new level. Certainly, the Cards have taken some body blows on the roster in terms of players that won't play Monday, but some of those missing intangibles could and should be helped with a crowd behind them.