NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They looked confused at times and frustrated throughout. Something was off all game.
Unlike the secondary that was running like a well-oiled machine until the third quarter last weekend, the Cardinals’ back-end didn’t play like itself in Sunday’s 37-34 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans. Three days of practice with a new rotation, implemented to replace rookie free safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose season ended last Sunday because of a knee injury, wasn’t enough.
Mathieu’s loss meant the Cardinals had to insert a new starter at free safety (Rashad Johnson), a new nickel slot back (Jerraud Powers) and a new nickel corner (Antone Cason). Johnson and Powers had experience playing together all season, even after Mathieu took over as the starting free safety in Week 4, but Cason was the wild card. He only saw sporadic action this year until he replaced Mathieu in nickel against the Rams.
The cohesion, however, wasn’t automatic. Coverages were busted all afternoon against the Titans, and receivers roamed free. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a career-high 402 yards against a defense that had not allowed more than 319 yards in a game this season -- and that was to Drew Brees.
But cornerback Patrick Peterson believes all the kinks got worked out Sunday.
“I think it takes a game,” he said. “I thought we did OK. I thought the quarterback made some good throws today, putting them in some tight spots. Just got to communicate better and overall, I thought we did play well just the communication part wasn’t there.
“Now that we got a feel for one another, it’s just time to go play.”
This week will be spent learning how to play with each other in new roles. Cason felt like the unit embraced him this week and that support helped him get two interceptions.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said there was no question the Cardinals would have liked to have Mathieu, but there’s no looking back. All eyes are on the players who can help the Cards.
And to do that, the communication must improve.
Peterson said the nickel corners need to improve their communication with the nickel backs. The safeties need to do a better job of relaying the audibles. The secondary, as a whole, needs to work on making sure the linebackers know where to be when receivers go under.
“I don’t want to say the game was moving fast,” Peterson said, “it’s just everybody wasn’t on the same page.”