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Maximizing A.J. Green, And Friday Before The Cowboys

The Cardinals have needed A.J. Green.

They signed him in the offseason to give Kyler Murray another outside threat besides DeAndre Hopkins, and to move Christian Kirk into the slot. There were a number of people who wondered how much the veteran receiver had left, but Steve Keim was sure he would help.

He has. And maybe he could've done more.

"He's been outstanding," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I still don't think we probably maximized him like we could have throughout the season."

Last week, Green was only targeted three times, with one catch – a key 33-yard reception to set up a field goal. It isn't that Green needs to have 10 targets a game, but with Hopkins down, perhaps he can be a key in elevating an offense that has struggled of late, especially in the red zone.

"I don't think I have to be 'The Guy,' " Green said. "We have a lot of weapons on this team that can make plays all over the field. Hop was a big loss for us, but we have a lot of great skills guys, great running backs, so I don't feel any weight on my shoulders to do any more than I've been doing."

Green has 47 receptions for 751 yards and three touchdowns. He already has his most receiving yards in a season since his last 1,000-yard campaign in 2017. His next reception will give him his most catches in a season since 2017. His yards per target is 9.8, tying his career-best.

He's also been healthy, missing just one game – and that was for Covid.

"I expect him to continue to be a heavy part of the offense," Kingsbury said.

-- One reason the Cardinals don't have to completely lean on Green? The emergence of tight end Zach Ertz, who has become the pass catcher everyone has long clamored for at the position for this team. Here's a mind-blowing stat: Ertz, who is only going to be playing in his 10th game for the Cardinals, needs just 51 yards to reach 500 since the trade – and he would become the first Cardinals tight end with at least 500 yards receiving in a season since Freddie Jones in 2003.

What's more, he needs just eight catches to become only the third tight end in franchise history to have 50 in a season – Jackie Smith had 56 in 1967, and Jones had 55 in that same 2003 season.

-- Murray downplayed his success at AT&T Stadium – he's 8-0 in his life, covering games in high school, college and the NFL – but it's hard to believe this game won't mean a lot to him. It would've anyway, but his team is in desperate need for a win. It was interesting last year – even though he won big and had a couple of long passes, he seemed a little over-amped (he completed just 9-of-24 that night). The Cardinals need a steady and on-point Murray to win this week.

-- On the bright side, Friday was the first day this week the Cardinals didn't add a player to the Covid list.

-- Markus Golden and Devon Kennard remain on the Covid list for now, making Dennis Gardeck a key figure Sunday. Gardeck is finally feeling like his old self after tearing his ACL late last season – "I feel twitchy again," he said – and perhaps he can cause some grief for Dak Prescott. Gardeck is still searching for his first sack, although he said he isn't approaching this game any different than others.

"I'd rather be ready for an opportunity that doesn't present itself than having an opportunity and not be ready for it," Gardeck said.

-- The other potential wild card at outside linebacker is rookie Zaven Collins. Like Golden earlier this week, Gardeck sounded optimistic Collins could help. Gardeck is himself a one-time inside linebacker-turned-outside linebacker.

"He's a freak athlete," Gardeck said. "He's got the size and the strength and everything I kind of wish I had. He's doing really well but it's kind of fun being able to give my input being in his spot three years (ago). … Being able to put it into language (for Collins) coming from an inside 'backer world or even special-teams standpoint has been a ton of fun."

-- Golden still has a chance to come off the Covid list for the game. It would have to be done Saturday for him to be eligible to play Sunday.

-- Every game will have a moment of silence for the late John Madden, who had such an impact on the league and everyone in it.

(And football or no, I'm also thinking a moment to remember the awesome Betty White, who passed away Friday just a few days short of her 100th birthday.)

-- The Cardinals, if they can avoid a turnover, would tie the NFL record for most road games in a season without a turnover (6).

-- The Cowboys can force turnovers. Cornerback Trevon Diggs has 11 interceptions, the most for an NFL player since fellow Cowboy Everson Walls did it all the way back in 1982. It's interesting, however, that Pro Football Focus has Diggs as the 45th best coverage corner in the league. The reasoning is all laid out here, but in a nutshell, Diggs will give up catches and yards, and big yards at that. It'll be interesting to see who he covers and what kind of passing game the Cardinals can create.

-- Sports Illustrated did an article of up-and-coming front office types who could make good GM candidates. Adrian Wilson, the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor member and current VP of Pro Personnel was among those on the list. (VP of Player Personnel Quentin Harris and Director of Player Personnel Dru Grigson were also mentioned in the Wilson blurb.)

-- The last word comes from Gardeck, talking about the walking-on-eggshells life of an NFL team when Covid could rob a key player every day.

"I think it can be exciting," Gardeck said. "It's that next-man-up mentality. There is kind of a heightened sense that everybody has to step up, everybody has to do their job. Given our veteran leadership, this can be a rallying point instead of something to be timid or tiptoe around."

-- Happy New Year everyone. Please be safe and don't drink and drive.

See you Sunday.

WR A.J. Green
WR A.J. Green

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