Pharoh Cooper isn’t a name you’ve heard often. He came up when the Cards claimed him off waivers from the Rams in December, he was mentioned down the list as a potential wideout among the many Kliff Kingsbury was going to keep on this roster, he was one of a couple dozen that were released during final cuts.
But his return this week is fitting. Because it feels like all the storylines for the Cardinals and Bengals weave back to wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. Cooper is a Cardinal in the first place because Christian Kirk hurt his ankle and won’t play Sunday, with Damiere Byrd – the man who ostensibly beat out Cooper for a roster spot – is still out with a hamstring injury. Cooper’s knowledge of the offense was the big reason to bring him back (having been here all offseason/camp) and his availability may continue to keep rookie Andy Isabella’s snaps to a minimum. Oh, and Cooper also spent his non-Cardinals time of late with the Bengals – who had snapped up the former Ram because Bengals coach Zac Taylor, a former Rams assistant, knew Cooper and is trying to run an offense similar to the Rams in Cincinnati. (He’ll need better players.)
“It’s like I never left, to be honest,” a giddy Cooper said this week. “I was missing my guys. It’ll be a very easy transition coming back.”
Maybe Cooper makes an impact Sunday. Maybe not. But he’s definitely smack dab in the middle of the narrative.
-- The biggest storyline, of course, is which team will get its first victory. Playing a road game with a 10 a.m. Arizona start time and a laundry list of injured starters isn’t the way you’d draw up with optimism, but the Bengals aren’t dominating. Their defense can be stout inside but reports are the edges can be attacked as can the secondary, and that’d be a very nice development for what Kyler Murray might want to do.
-- That said, if the Bengals go the route of the Panthers and Seahawks and lighten the box so Murray can’t attack deep, then I say run the heck out of David Johnson and Chase Edmonds. If teams want to force the run, then take it.
-- We could be seeing a big role for Cassius Marsh if Terrell Suggs can’t go because of a balky back. Given Suggs’ age, I’d think the Cardinals would play it cautious with T-Sizzle. Marsh is high energy and a guy who I’d think could eat up a bunch of extra snaps with little issue. The one problem – with all the injuries, the Cards are already missing key special teamers (linebacker Dennis Gardeck, safety Charles Washington) – is whether more defensive work would steal Marsh’s use on special teams.
-- If Suggs can’t go, Chandler Jones becomes priority one as pass rusher. (Former Cardinal Andre Smith, a right tackle most of his career including his brief time in Arizona, is playing left tackle for the Bengals right now and he’s talked this week about how he has to deal with Jones this week.) Maybe that means Jones would drop into coverage less, but when Suggs is on the field, Jones definitely has had his pass coverage downs.
“It’s not his strong suit but he’s not complaining about it, and someone has to drop in the 3-4,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
Jones, not surprisingly, said he just wants to do whatever helps the team. Dropping into coverage is part of all that. But, Jones was asked, was that something you had to improve upon?
“Of course,” Jones said with a smile. “I’m a pass rusher. My job is to rush the quarterback. But it’s part of the job of being an outside linebacker compared to a defensive end. So you do it.”
-- Joseph said the Cardinals missed 15 tackles last week and it was apparent, especially on Seahawks running back Chris Carson. “We have to focus on getting more hats to the ball,” Joseph said. “Everyone misses tackles, but when you miss, your teammates are there to clean it up for you.”
-- Larry Fitzgerald is going to play Sunday, but stud Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who hurt his ankle in the preseason, is out. Nevertheless, Fitz has been a life role model for Green, relayed in a good story from The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr.
“I always looked at Larry and his situation and how he handled things and wanted to model my game like his,” Green said. “Never in the media, always in the media for positive things. That’s the biggest thing for me is just watching him. I watch from a distance and how he carries himself on the field. I try to model my name like that.”
-- Earlier this week I wrote about the interception drought the Cardinals have been in of late. There is no question they need a turnover or two. But in truth, interceptions are way down across the league. Only 2.3 percent of passes are picked off these days, so much less than the NFL once upon a time.
-- There is a 40 percent chance of rain in Cincy, which would be Murray's first chance in inclement weather.
-- It just feels like Murray will find a way to make a few big plays Sunday. The Cardinals really hope so. Getting that first win is kinda important.
See you Sunday.