Steve Wilks knows the Saints, and perhaps that will help the Cardinals get the kind of measuring stick they really need this week. He’s seen Drew Brees and company twice a year for the last few years, and playing in New Orleans is never easy anyway. Yes, the result doesn’t matter (even though Wilks insists that it does to him) but the pieces of a preseason game can matter.
The Cards got a win last week, but an offense that is 0-for-11 on third downs can’t happen. (Actually, to have only 11 third downs in an entire game in the first place speaks to an offense that is either super efficient or super inefficient.) The first-unit offense was fine. It’s the depth, and that seems to be the prevailing storyline that is growing with this team – the starters look like they can do the job. But if there are a couple of injuries, the Cards are still seeking confirmation of what they might have.
-- Straddling the line of depth and backups and starters is rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. The plan going in is to have Rosen play some with the starting unit. Who are the starters exactly, in that context? I mean, the offensive line would be a given. But does Wilks keep David Johnson out there a little longer for Rosen? Larry Fitzgerald? Certainly, everyone wants to see Rosen when he is getting shotgun snaps back to him cleanly, which didn’t happen last week.
-- Wilks is still waiting for receivers not named Fitzgerald to separate themselves. Brice Butler hurt his foot in practice and is expected to miss the game Friday. Wilks said Chad Williams had a rough practice Wednesday with multiple drops, but said he expects Williams to bounce back. Greg Little continues to get work up the depth chart. Is J.J. Nelson in the mix? Rookie Trent Sherfield? The position remains in serious flux.
-- Brees didn’t play last week, but Wilks said with a smile he expects Brees to get his time this week. That’ll be a nice test for the starting defense and specifically, the revamped secondary playing the new coverage that features more zone than the past. Brees is the kind of QB that’s hard to pressure given how quickly he gets rid of it.
But the Saints aren’t the pass-first-and-always team anymore, and their run game also means something in terms of the Cards’ defense. Can they steadily stop the run? Corey Peters is having – yet again – a very good camp and he played well against the Chargers. So did Olsen Pierre. Perhaps it bears watching on the edges, especially across from Chandler Jones. Like that No. 2 receiver spot, the Cards are still searching for sure for that defensive end who will start in place of Markus Golden.
-- ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted out this appreciation of Larry Fitzgerald, including the notion that Fitz is the best blocking wide receiver in the league. This last point is something I believe and have said often (including in this last Cardinals Underground podcast) and is just another reason he’s headed straight to Canton even if it’s not a reason people immediately think of with him. His brief appearance in the preseason opener included a solid shield-type block to open one of those giant holes for David Johnson.
-- Other things/players I will be watching from my spot on the sideline (another game for radio for me):
-- How does backup center Daniel Munyer bounce back, and will Evan Boehm get the chance to play center at all? In the end, if Boehm and/or Munyer are on the 53-man roster, both will have to be able to play both guard and center.
-- Can Bené Benwikere follow up his good first game with another at cornerback, perhaps solidifying himself as the third corner? Brandon Williams struggled in the first game, so he needs a good outing.
-- Josh Bynes and Deone Bucannon figure to miss another game with their respective (neck, knee) injuries. That means a lot of potential playing time for guys trying for roster spots – Scooby Wright, Edmond Robinson, and now, Gerald Hodges.
Given how much playing time starters usually get in the third preseason game, this one is one of the last chances for end of the roster guys to make an impact.