A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Redskins game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
**Staying accountable as the season slips
The hard part about getting that “one win” the Cardinals have talked about for the past week is that opportunity slipping away also tends to wreak havoc on the mental side of the game – a side the Cards have struggled with anyway, with communication and other mental errors all season. There is a reason, for instance, the injury list often grows late in the season for a team struggling. Or why mistakes might happen in a game. That’s what the Cardinals are battling now, even with the knowledge a win against Washington changes the dynamic once again. Bruce Arians said he won’t know how his team will have responded to this week’s criticism until Sunday. His players will show it, one way or the other.
*Number one against surging Cousins *
Somewhat amazingly, the Cardinals, even after a rough day defensively in Atlanta, remain No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (yards allowed.) Last week the opponent was a Falcons team on pace to score more than 500 points this year. Sunday, the Cardinals see quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been flinging it all over the field and has a good chance to throw for more than 5,000 yards. When its brought up about guys not just doing their job trying too hard to make a play, that’s most often a defensive issue. If the Cards don’t get it buttoned down, it could be a long afternoon.
The O-line shuffle, Week 2
Arians is sticking with his new-look offensive line for a second game. D.J. Humphries actually held up OK at left tackle last week. It is the right side, with Ulrick John at right tackle and John Wetzel at right guard, that need to play much better. The duo got tired in the fourth quarter, Arians said, and their inexperience is something opponents will continue to try and exploit. Washington isn’t a great defensive team but they do have talent up front (Ryan Kerrigan, Chris Baker) and carving some room for David Johnson – helping keep the Cousins and crew off the field – wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
Where there’s not Smoke, perhaps tight end?
Jermaine Gresham has had a touchdown catch in each of the last two weeks, doubling his total from his first 24 games as a Card. More Gresham coming? More tight end use? It would make sense given the issues the wide receiver corps has had as a whole – especially if Smokey Brown can’t go this week because of his sickle-cell issues. Gresham has played pretty well in the passing game. Darren Fells is still an option, although he has had a disappointing season compared to the expectations coming into camp.
Branch and his role
The Cardinals, at some point, will activate Tyvon Branch back off of injured reserve. Branch was the pick instead of running back Chris Johnson. Johnson was a legitimate possibility, but realistically, with David Johnson getting so much work – and the fact Chris Johnson does not play special teams – the pick was probably more obvious than many think. Branch will definitely play special teams. Defensively, though, what will he do? D.J. Swearinger has earned the right to remain the starter. Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson aren’t going anywhere. Branch is going to have to work to get snaps on the defensive side of the ball.