In his rookie season, cornerback Patrick Peterson returned an interception for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in the preseason. The Chargers visit Arizona in a preseason game Saturday.
Now it gets real.
After two preseason games on restricted play counts, the Cardinals' starters will follow a game day script for at least a half Saturday against the San Diego Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Coach Bruce Arians wants his starters to play the entire the first half and one series of offense and defense in the second, allowing them to work on a two-minute drill, halftime adjustments and restarting their engines in the third quarter.
"It's about as close as it's going to get" to a real game, tight end Rob Housler said. "You go in there at halftime, bounce back out and start the third quarter. Kind of getting ready for that game rhythm and being able to start fast and not just in the first half but in the second half, as well."
The third game has traditionally been the last tune-up for the starters and second-unit players, leaving the final preseason game to be
the last evaluation of the bottom of the roster.
But this weekend's game won't just help the coaching staff install final check downs and tighten formations. It'll also give the players a perspective on where they've come since the start of camp.
"I think overall we can get a good feel of what kind of team we're going to be, what kind of team we want to be," safety Jonathan Amaya said. "We can learn on what we still need to improve on. It's really going to show us our positives and our negatives.
"It's really a showcase of what we have as far as starters and playing time and things like that."
With more plays, the Cardinals can get a better feel of how their true offense will run.
During the first two games, they were limited to 15 and 20 plays, respectively, and quarterback Carson Palmer felt he was looking more for the big play and a score than just letting the offense run itself.
"You don't feel that need to press," Palmer said of playing an entire half and then some. "When you come into games and you know you're only getting 'X' amount of snaps, you wanted to make them perfect and you press a little bit and try a little too hard, as opposed to just letting the game come to you.
"It's just nice to know you can kind of let the run game develop and let things happen in the passing game as opposed to trying to make a big play every chance you have."
Housler is looking forward to Saturday being as realistic as possible. Like any game, there will be highs and lows, and the tight end wants to see how the offense and defense responds when things aren't going their way, something that wasn't able to happen with a limited number of snaps.
"If you get yourself in a hole, if you start slow maybe, you can go out and there and respond to it," Housler said. "That's good. You want to start fast but not every game is like that. It's good to have the time to build on something if you do good or bounce back if you start slow."
For the past week, the Cardinals have been practicing at a regular season pace. On Saturday, they'll be able to play at one.