When Max Garcia arrived at State Farm Stadium in July for training camp, the offensive lineman was the backup to center Rodney Hudson – a three-time Pro Bowler acquired via trade from Oakland – on the depth chart.
Garcia never worried about starting. His focus was digesting the playbook and preparing in case his number would be called. Now, weeks into the second half of the season, Garcia is starting at right guard and producing for one of the NFL's best offensive lines this season.
"I'm not a guy that's worries about starting," Garcia said. "I'm just trying to do my job and earn the trust of my coaches and teammates around me. I try to play the level of execution and intensity the guys around me play at. We have a strong unit, and I didn't want to be a weak link on the line.
"We've had so many different units, but we always go out there and battle. That's something you can attest to our team culture – guys filling in and stepping up. It's the next-man-up mentality."
Garcia has been among players to step up when a starter goes down. Garcia has allowed just one sack in 437 playing snaps this season, going from reserve to supplanting Josh Jones in the lineup.
Heading into Week 14, the Cardinals as a unit has allowed just 27 sacks this season. According to ESPN, the Cardinals have a 63 percent Team Pass Block Win Rate, the ninth-best in the NFL. The offensive unit was excellent in Sunday's victory over the Bears, allowing just five pressures and zero losses in pass protection.
Kliff Kingsbury credited his coaching staff, general manager Steve Keim, and the players' execution – especially with the number of injuries within the front line –for such production.
"I think the coaches do a tremendous job developing that group, " the head coach said." We brought in some pieces that have obviously helped but having the number of different starting lineups we've had and still produce as they have is a real credit to that entire room – coaches and players. They always take a lot of pride in what they do; it's always the next-man-up attitude."
Their next test, however, will be a challenge. Through 13 games, the Rams have 32 sacks, the fifth-most in the NFL. The Rams also have the best team pass rush-win rate in the NFL.
Garcia said he expects to see the Rams' best shot on Monday, especially since the Cardinals' offensive line won the battle in Week 4 when the teams played. Garcia also said Aaron Donald and former teammate Von Miller are elite pass rushers they must account for throughout the game.
"I've been fortunate enough to play with Von," Garcia said. "I was with Von for four years. "I got to see him every day at practice, so I know exactly the type of player he is. We're going to have to get some help on the edges – we're still working on the game plan – but I'm sure we're going to have something for him.
"Obviously, with Donald as well. You've got to scheme those guys up. You always have to account for them wherever they are on the field. You have to know where they are. I'm sure we'll have a good game plan against them."
BUDDA BAKER GETS CARDINALS' SPORTSMANSHIP NOMINATION
Safety Budda Baker was announced on Thursday as the Cardinals' 2021 nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.
Each NFL team selects a player for the award, which recognizes the players' on-the-field sportsmanship, including respect for the game and integrity in competition.
If Baker ends up the 2021 winner, he will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to gift towards any charity of his choice.
PUGH BACK AT PRACTICE
In the open part of practice on Thursday, guard Justin Pugh returned to work limited after missing the last two weeks with a calf injury. Kingsbury sounded 50-50 regarding his chances of playing Monday against the Rams.
"We'll see," Kingsbury said. "I'm not sure how that is going to go. We're going to try and get him back out there and get him rolling. But I don't have a thought either way really until we get him out there tomorrow."
Running back Chase Edmonds, Long Snapper Aaron Brewer, and Safety Charles Washington also returned to practice after being designated from injured reserve on Thursday. Kingsbury said within a couple of weeks would be a realistic target for them to return.
Joining Pugh as limited were tight end Zach Ertz (shoulder), cornerback Byron Murphy (foot), and running back Jonathan Ward (illness). Defensive tackle Zach Kerr (ribs) didn't practice, while offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Rodney Hudson had rest days.
For the Rams, offensive lineman Brian Allen (knee), linebacker Terrell Lewis (back), and cornerback Robert Rochell (chest) didn't practice. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp (toe), running back Darrell Henderson (thigh), and offensive lineman David Edwards (foot) were limited.