Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu takes down Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for a sack last weekend.
Tyrann Mathieu is finding that his 2016 season has slipped into a year very much like his 2014 season.
The all-pro safety spent that whole year in a state of excellence limbo, unable to fully reach his abilities as he came off a 2013 ACL tear. A late-year broken thumb torpedoed a chance at a late rally. This season, Mathieu has spent a good chunk of his season trying to get back to the lofty heights he was playing at before a 2015 ACL tear – and now, a shoulder injury is undercutting a chance at a late rally.
"There is still a lot of time left, but for him personally, yeah," coach Bruce Arians said of Mathieu's shrinking chances at a full comeback.
Mathieu, who played last week in Atlanta after missing two games with the shoulder, came up sore this week. He did
not practice Thursday and Friday, and coach Bruce Arians listed him as doubtful for Sunday against Washington.
To help replace Mathieu, the Cardinals benefit from the return of safety Tyvon Branch from injured reserve. Branch was officially returned to the active roster Friday.
Branch's role might be bigger than anticipated given Mathieu's injury, although Branch shrugged off needing to play a lot of snaps coming off a two-month absence. Arians said he didn't want to play Branch for 60 plays if it could be avoided.
"There's no such thing as too much, man, when you're healthy enough to get back on the field," Branch said. "Whatever is thrown your way, you've got to run with it. That's part of playing football. Ask the other guys, I've probably got the freshest legs out of everybody right now."
Mathieu had a pass breakup and a sack against the Falcons, but he acknowledged Wednesday he still felt hesitant at times. Arians said Mathieu didn't look as aggressive as he normally has been, predicting that the pass breakup would have been an interception had Mathieu been his 2015 self.
"I couldn't really get off blocks in some situations," Mathieu said. "That's things I've got to work on. Even with me, I've got to play better as well. I haven't been making the plays I've been accustomed to making. Excuses in circumstances, that's not really an excuse for why you didn't make the plays you're supposed to make."
SMOKEY BROWN A GAME-DAY DECISION, REED WILL SIT FOR WASHINGTON
Wide receiver John "Smokey" Brown got in about 12 or 15 plays in Friday's practice and didn't have any reoccurrence
of his hamstring soreness from his sickle-cell issue, and will be listed as questionable for Sunday.
"We'll keep our fingers crossed for him," Arians said.
Washington will be missing a key player with tight end Jordan Reed unable to go because of a bad shoulder. Defensive end Anthony Lanier II will also miss the game with a shin injury.
The Redskins have a lot of players who are questionable: Cornerback Brashaud Breeland (ankle), linebacker Terence Garvin (shoulder), defensive end Ricky Jean Francois (knee), linebacker Trent Murphy (ankle), tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle), guard Brandon Scherff (ankle), long snapper Nick Sundberg (back) and running back Chris Thompson (illness) are all questionable.
CARDS LOOK TO AVOID THREE STRAIGHT LOSSES
Arians has said many times that good teams don't lose two in a row, and for the most part, his tenure has reflected that. His team needs to win Sunday to avoid its first three-game losing streak in Arians' tenure as coach.
"That's always been the leadership in the locker room," Arians said. "Very seldom have we lost two in a row because of that."
The Cardinals have now lost two in a row twice this season, after back-to-back defeats to the Bills and Rams earlier this season. In 2014, they lost two in a row twice, and in 2013, they lost two in a row once.
Images of key players for the Cardinals' Week 13 opponent