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Playoff Spot In Hand, Cardinals Desperate To Improve

Kingsbury doesn't want 'bad habits' creeping back this late in season

Tight end Zach Ertz can't quite bring in a catch against the Colts last weekend.
Tight end Zach Ertz can't quite bring in a catch against the Colts last weekend.

Kliff Kingsbury believes making the playoffs is noteworthy, especially for an organization that has not been since 2015.

But the Cardinals have bigger goals this season and understand their dreams won't come to fruition without performing better as a team. That's top of Kingsbury's mind with the team struggling.

"I don't think (qualifying) was ever on the forefront of our minds," Kingsbury said Monday, two days after a 22-16 loss to Indianapolis. "We've just been trying to improve and play better. That's been the focus. To be in the playoffs with two games left is an accomplishment, and we understand that.

"But we know we've got to improve a lot and play better football and stop hurting ourselves in these games before we even think about taking the next step."

One issue is penalties. In Saturday's loss to the Colts, the Cardinals committed 11 penalties for 85 yards, both season-highs. Five were pre-snap penalties, three on offense, two on defense.

In four games since the bye, the Cardinals have been penalized 33 times. After the game, quarterback Kyler Murray said the Cardinals couldn't continue to hurt themselves with unnecessary penalties, adding that good teams don't do that.

Kingsbury echoed the signal-caller when asked about the issues leading to their struggles.

"I think we're hurting ourselves," Kingsbury said. "We're hurting ourselves in critical situations. Through this rough patch, the same things continue to show up: mental errors, tough penalties in critical situations, and we got to clean that stuff up."

It doesn't help that the Cardinals have injuries piling up, either. Cornerback Marco Wilson, who left Saturday's game with a shoulder injury, is still being evaluated, although the fact the Cardinals are looking at signing cornerbacks likely does not bode well for his availability. Linebacker Markus Golden went on the Covid list Monday.

The week will determine the status of running back James Conner, wide receiver Rondale Moore, and defensive lineman Jordan Phillips, as well as Andy Lee's stint on the Covid list. The Cards did get center Rodney Hudson off the Covid list.

Kingsbury knows everyone in the league goes through a tough stretch eventually during the season. He looks at Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams -- teams that struggled earlier in the season and now both riding winning streaks heading into postseason time.

Kingsbury wants the players to start treating practices like a Sunday matchup.

"As of late, we haven't played as well as we would have liked," Kingsbury said. "We just talked about treating each practice rep like a game rep. Don't let things slide, don't say, 'Hey coach, I would've got it right on Sunday.'

"We are way too far in this deal to be falling back into any bad habits like that. So that's what we have to do. It starts on the practice fields, and it has to carry over to game day. We have a lot of work to do this week."

The best photos from the Cardinals' 22-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season

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