Tony Jefferson will get more work at safety now that Tyrann Mathieu had thumb surgery.
When Tyrann Mathieu tore two knee ligaments toward the end of last season, there was the question of how well undrafted rookie safety Tony Jefferson would handle an increased role in his stead. There are no such concerns this year.
Mathieu had surgery on his broken thumb Wednesday and is expected to miss at least the next two games. Jefferson will take over as the starter, but he's no longer unproven or inexperienced. Jefferson was the primary strong safety for the first four games this year as Mathieu rehabilitated and is fourth on the team with 58 tackles.
While Mathieu is a better cover guy, Jefferson excels at stopping the run and his presence has made this loss less of a concern
than some of the other recent injuries. The safety position may be the deepest on the roster.
"We've already done it this year (filling in for Mathieu), and I wouldn't consider Deone (Bucannon) a rookie anymore, for sure," coach Bruce Arians said. "Tony's played extremely well. Jerraud (Powers) has safety capability, so yeah, that part of it shouldn't be missed this week."
Jefferson's playing time has been sporadic since Mathieu's return to health. He's played in base formations, seeing the field consistently against tight end- or running back-heavy offensive personnel and less so when teams spread it out. Kansas City is a team Jefferson likely would have played against a fair amount, but now there's no need to wonder.
Although Arians didn't rule out playing Bucannon at safety in certain packages – instead of his current dime linebacker spot – Jefferson figures to get most of the work.
"I'm excited to get back out there and have more opportunities to make plays, help the defense out," Jefferson said. "More importantly, I just want to be able get some more wins in the column and change how we've kind of been playing these past two weeks."
CARDS SET TO TAKE ON THE RUN
There's been a clear thread to the three most successful offensive performances against the Cardinals this year. The Broncos, Eagles and Falcons are in the top-six in the NFL in passing yards per game and each of those air-it-out teams hit 500 yards of total offense against the Cards.
Denver's Peyton Manning was 31-of-47 for 479 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Philadelphia's Nick Foles was 36-
of-62 for 411 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Last week, Atlanta's Matt Ryan finished 30-of-41 for 361 yards with two scores and one interception.
When the Cardinals' defense has faced run-heavy outfits, it's done well. DeMarco Murray was held to 19 carries for 79 yards and the Cowboys stalled offensively. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch had 39 yards on 15 carries, and while quarterback Russell Wilson made plays on scrambles, the Cardinals repeatedly held tough despite unfavorable field position. The 49ers only got 23 combined yards out of Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore.
In these last four games – against the Chiefs, Rams, Seahawks and 49ers -- the Cardinals will not see an elite passing attack. Again much will come down to how well they stop the run. Atlanta's Steven Jackson became the first running back to reach the 100-yard mark against the Cardinals this season last week and the defense hopes to get back on track against Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs.
"We've got to try to keep him contained," nose tackle Dan Williams said. "(Charles) makes a lot of plays for those guys. Once again it comes down to it like every other week: trying to be gap-sound, gap-disciplined. Make sure you're where you're supposed to be, because if you're not that guy will find a crease and it will cost you seven points."
BUSH READY FOR CARDS' RUN GAME
Running back Andre Ellington walked gingerly to a stationary bike on Wednesday, sitting out practice with the hip pointer he suffered against the Falcons. His status for the Chiefs game is in doubt, which could increase the workload for Marion Grice, Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes.
Another option would be veteran Michael Bush, who was inactive in Atlanta in his first game with the team but has the most decorated career in the group. Bush must get up to speed quickly to have an impact, but Ellington's injury and a struggling running game opens up the possibility.
Arians was noncommittal on the subject, wanting to see how Bush performs in practice. The eight-year veteran is doing what he can to be ready.
"I'm going over the same plays as everyone else is in the room, it's just how well I grasp the concept of picking up the blitzes and stuff like that," Bush said. "I count myself in, but like last week, coach said, 'You're down,' so it's up to him."
FITZGERALD BACK AT PRACTICE
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, and is on track to return to the field against the Chiefs after a two-game absence. While there are plenty of offensive issues to go around, it didn't help to have Fitzgerald on the sidelines during the recent skid.
"The passion and energy, and an All-Pro player, that's hard to replace," Arians said.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle), guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) joined Ellington as the players who did not practice. Linebacker Kenny Demens (hamstring) and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee) were limited.
For the Chiefs, linebacker Tamba Hali (knee), tight end Anthony Fasano (knee) and wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) were limited in practice. Defensive end Allen Bailey (concussion), wide receiver Junior Hemingway (concussion) and guard Mike McGlynn (quad) did not participate. Charles has a sore knee but practiced fully.
TOY DRIVE SET FOR SUNDAY
The Cardinals will partner with The RoomStore for a toy drive to benefit "Arizonans for Children" before the Chiefs game. Volunteers from the RoomStore will join Cardinals Cheerleaders to collect unwrapped toys and donations for underprivileged children outside of each entrance at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Fans can also drop off toys at any RoomStore in the Valley before Sunday's game.