NFC West: Jaron Brown

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 
Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll recap the top storyline from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. – If Michael Floyd can’t play Sunday in Jacksonville, the Cardinals will be “a little bit slim” at wide receiver, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Floyd sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder in the first quarter of the Cardinals’ 27-24 win over the Houston Texans. On Monday, Arians said Floyd is day-to-day.

If Floyd can’t play, rookie Jaron Brown would take his place in the lineup, meaning the Cardinals would be sending out Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Brown and most likely Teddy Williams. Brittan Golden is still recovering from a hamstring injury.

Arians said Brown played “extremely well.” Roberts also stepped up with 72 yards, and Arians said the Cardinals “never really miss a beat when Andre’s in there.” But with Williams, who played cornerback last season in Indianapolis, the Cardinals have a project that’s not finished. They’re still teaching him how to play receiver, Arians added.

The Cardinals lost receiver Kerry Taylor last week when he was signed off the practice squad by Jacksonville.

A few other notes from Arians’ radio spot:
  • Arians is still surprised that recently signed tight end Jake Ballard played 22 snaps, but once the Cardinals started running the ball, they began using plays that were very similar, which helped Ballard adjust. “We believe if a guy can help us, we’ll find a role for him and don’t overload him,” Arians said. “Let him go out and let him play with his instincts while we’re teaching him on our techniques.”
  • Arians feels it helps the Cardinals’ preparations knowing that the Jaguars have won a game. When his team watches tape, Arians said they see a team that has a stout defense and a solid run game, and a squad that’s clearly capable of winning games. “I don’t think we’re full of ourselves to the point where we’re going to think we’re better than anybody unless we show up on Sunday,” Arians said with a chuckle. “Of course, I got to hammer them while [I] keep hitting them in the head about it.”

Tuesdays are always slow around Cardinals headquarters, but here are the top headlines:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It took just two plays Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals to find themselves facing a third down.

They lined up five wide at their own 27, hoping their first opportunity against the 49ers would jump-start their 30-percent third-down completion rate. Running back Andre Ellington was jammed for a second at the snap, then he broke into the left flat where quarterback Carson Palmer hit the rookie but Niners safety Donte Whitner wrapped up Ellington a yard short of the first down.

Arizona’s troubles on third down continued in San Francisco, where the Cardinals were 5-for-13. Their overall percentage barely improved from 30 to 31.5 but the Cards are still ranked 30th in third-down percentage. Part of the problem lies in the yard just in front of the first-down marker.

When Cardinals coach Bruce Arians dials up a third-down play for a rookie, that’s where they usually end up.

“When you’re the underneath guy running a flat route and it’s third-and-5, you expect to get five yards,” Arians said. “It’s not route depth. It’s not going out there and breaking out, then you would be concerned.

“When you’re the flare control to a deeper route, and you’re the option, we still anticipate you getting the first down.”

Ellington missed on the first down twice Sunday, the second time coming when, at first glance, he apparently go the first down. The play was challenged by San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and was overturned.

Ellington was credited for a 3-yard catch, one short of the first down. The Cardinals had to punt, down 15-14 and on the next drive the Niners extended their lead to eight. Ellington has nine receptions in 12 targets this season on third down, but he’s only converted three of them.

“It’s a little tough because in college you don’t practice that situation unless you’re the quarterback, really,” Ellington said. “Just being in the NFL, everything is so detailed and structured, you got to be on top of your game.”

And if they’re not, the rookies will hear it from Arians. Coming up just short on third down has been an issue for the Cardinals all season and making sure the receivers get past the sticks has become a point of emphasis in practice, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

He was saddled with a third-down situation in the third quarter. Fitzgerald ran his route a yard past the marker and came back to make the catch right at the 10-yard-line.

“Obviously, you got to get past the sticks,” Fitzgerald said. “You got to account for catching the ball and the defender tackling you. It’s something that we’ve definitely talked about. It’s been addressed in the meetings countless times so hopefully it doesn’t show up anymore.”

Arians turned to rookie receiver Jaron Brown late in the second quarter on third down. He ran his route from the outside slot two yards short of the first-down line. When he went to dive for the marker, he was already out-of-bounds.

Looking back on it, Brown said it was simply a lack of awareness for him.

“That’s a play that shouldn’t happen and one that we got to know where the sticks is,” Brown said.

The routes will remain the same for the rookies. Arians won’t adjust their depth or their timing. It’s up to the players -- rookies or not -- to make sure they get the first down any which way they can.

“We know we got to get to the sticks,” said rookie running back Stepfan Taylor, who converted an important third down late in the third quarter. “On third down you got to get the first down. Coach has the play designed perfect for us to execute, we just have to go out and make the play.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 6

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
3:22
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesAfter a rocky start, Carson Palmer found a nice rhythm Sunday.
There is an offense: All it took for the Cardinals offense to come to life were two interceptions by quarterback Carson Palmer in the game’s first six minutes. Then it was like a switch was flipped and Palmer was making passes we haven’t seen since the first couple weeks of the season. He was threading needles and lofting fades perfectly over defenders -- both types of passes that were picked off at various times this season. And Arizona coach Bruce Arians went to the run game early in the second half, which provided a much-needed balance and slowed the pass rush, giving Palmer more time in the pocket to make better passes. It’s all a domino effect.

Stick figures: Arians has shown a penchant for going to rookies on third down. He has done it with running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, and wide receiver Jaron Brown. But that might need to change. Arians -- like every other coach -- teaches his players to run third-down routes to the sticks, meaning the first-down marker. Each time Palmer went to one of the rookies Sunday on third down, they came up a yard short. Granted, the Niners were sitting back on defense, keeping their secondary on the first-down line, but the rookies couldn’t get the first down and drives faltered. They need to be taught to run their routes a yard or two past the sticks.

Long day on D: Try running into someone at full speed at the same level for three straight hours. Oh, you can’t? Neither can a defense. The Cardinals began to wear down in the third and fourth quarters because they were on the field so much. After a while they couldn’t do the simplest of tasks, such as run the assigned scheme. Even Arians said the defense was on the field for too long, a sign the offense couldn’t hold on to the ball enough. But don’t ask Arians if his defense ran out of gas. “You can’t run out of gas. There is no such thing as run out of gas. Just kick somebody’s ass and you’ll be all right and you’ll get off the field.”

Two points now or later? Arians has always been a creative mind, but he might have outsmarted himself Sunday. He went for two midway through the third quarter and used cornerback Patrick Peterson as the quarterback in a gadget play, the same one Peterson ran against Detroit. But Peterson held on to the ball a moment too long and missed an open Larry Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone. But Arians went for two a little early. Had he taken the extra point, the Cardinals would’ve been within one, then within eight. All manageable down the stretch.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians isn’t big on excuses, but he did offer a possible explanation for part of the Cardinals’ recent offensive woes.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Leading into the games against the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saint, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald barely practiced, if at all. To fill his void, the Cardinals rearranged their receivers, lining up Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Jaron Brown and then Kerry Taylor at positions they might not normally have played had Fitzgerald been healthy.

And on practice went, with Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer working with that foursome, learning their tendencies and movements from various routes -- only to have Fitzgerald play both Sundays. It wasn’t a conducive situation to a relatively new offense learning how to flow.

But this week could be different. Fitzgerald’s hamstring has apparently healed, and he practiced all week.

“We lost him on Wednesday (Sept. 11),” Arians said on national radio this week. “And then he played in the game. Well, in the meantime we shuffled guys around in case he wasn’t going to play. Carson saw those guys in those positions, and then Larry comes back and plays and everybody’s in a different spot. The same thing happened last week.

“He wasn’t able to practice until Friday (before New Orleans). You never know [if he is going] to make it. And then he was healthy Friday. We got everybody back in the other spots where they belonged and he got one day of practice. I think that’s an excuse, but it does have some validity. When you look at the tape, a little hesitation is all it takes for a quarterback.”

Fitzgerald had 33 yards in the Cardinals’ win against the Lions, a game that saw Taylor emerge as an unexpected contributor. He was promoted from the practice squad a day before the game, and finished with 40 yards on three catches.

Despite not practicing until Friday before the Saints game, Fitzgerald had 64 yards on five receptions in a 31-7 loss.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said it shouldn’t matter who is lined up, but it does.

“It’s tough when you’re not sure if you’re No. 1 guy is going to be able to play,” Palmer said. “And you don’t practice and you’re thinking you might play and you’re not sure, and you get to Sunday and everything’s great and you get to play and you lose out on those reps.

“It gets a little muddied I guess, when you lose your guy and all of a sudden he’s there on Sunday.”

Palmer won’t have to worry this week. Despite being listed as probable, Fitzgerald practiced all week.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
2:54
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions:

Third down is no-man’s land: One really is the loneliest number. For the second straight week, the Cardinals were hampered by third-down situations, converting just 1-of-11 against the Lions. And the one they get was on a fluke play in the fourth quarter. Rookie running back Andre Ellington fumbled after getting the first down and the Cardinals kept the ball only after challenging the ruling on the field. They failed on their first nine attempts, all of which were passes save a Carson Palmer sack.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington took advantage of his opportunities on Sunday against Detroit.
Why go for two? It’s a question that’s still being asked Monday. And the only rational explanation is, if converted, the two points would’ve given the Cardinals a 27-21 lead, meaning the Lions would’ve had to score a touchdown AND kick the extra point. Whereas since the Cards missed the conversion, a touchdown sans extra point would’ve won the game for Detroit. And with the way David Akers was kicking and the Cards’ special teams were playing, it was the right decision.

Young guns for hire: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t just talk a big game. He’s showing he backs it up. Last year, as the interim coach in Indianapolis, Arians proved he wasn’t against playing young players, but he had to then because of necessity. He doesn’t need to -- instead he wants to -- in Arizona. Arians gave significant minutes to rookies Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jaron Brown, and relied on Kerry Taylor, who’s spent most of his three seasons on practice squads, to replace the injured Larry Fitzgerald. It worked. Ellington scored a 36-yard touchdown on a wheel route and Taylor had 40 yards receiving on three catches.

Fitzgerald’s health a question mark: Fitzgerald didn't want to abandon his teammates in a big game, and it was admirable of him to recognize his inability to play at a high level and remove himself from the game. Fitzgerald’s health heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans could be an issue. Fitzgerald played 46 of 71 snaps against the Lions. He finished with 33 yards on two catches, despite being targeted five times by Palmer. But a hamstring is a tricky injury, as Fitzgerald had reaffirmed during pregame warm-ups. The adrenaline kicked in and Fitzgerald looked and felt fine, but he realized late in the third quarter he wasn’t. Hamstring injuries can linger and usually heal with rest and treatment. The former may be difficult to come by since the Cardinals start practicing Wednesday, but Fitzgerald will have Monday and Tuesday to recoup. Hopefully it’s long enough.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The last game Larry Fitzgerald missed was Dec. 2, 2007 against the Cleveland Browns.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
He’s close to missing a game for the first time since then. Fitzgerald was officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions.

“He’s OK,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s doing fine.

“We’ll see more [Saturday].”

Fitzgerald tweaked his hamstring during Wednesday’s practice and was limited the rest of the week.

He only participated in a handful of reps during the open part of Friday’s practice. Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd ran routes with the first-team offense while Fitzgerald watched.

If Fitzgerald's snaps are limited or if he doesn't play, look for Roberts to assume a larger role and take most of the throws that were intended for Fitzgerald. Roberts is more capable of running short, precise routes than Floyd, although Floyd will likely be out wide and used to stretch the field. Rookie Jaron Brown will also be more involved than the two passes thrown his way last week.

Tight end Rob Housler was ruled out Sunday as he continues to rehab his right ankle.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (biceps) was also listed as questionable.

Linebacker John Abraham (shoulder), defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder), Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) and Roberts (quad) were listed as probable.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' final exhibition game of the 2013 preseason, a 32-24 road victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday night:

1. Williams' performance. The stats for running back Ryan Williams -- nine carries for 25 yards and a touchdown -- will not make a compelling case for him earning a spot on the initial 53-man roster. The third-year running back looked good, though. His per-carry average took several hits, including on a 1-yard scoring run. Williams showed quickness in outrunning defenders around the corner for an 8-yard gain. He spun away from trouble and accelerated on another run. The blocking generally wasn't there for him, notably when he lost 6 yards on a carry. There are no guarantees Williams has done enough to stick around. Future injury risk could lead the Cardinals in another direction. Rashard Mendenhall is clearly established as the starter. Rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor figure into the team's plans as well.

2. Speed at wide receiver. Jaron Brown, a rookie free agent with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, got deep to catch a 55-yard scoring pass from Ryan Lindley. Mike Thomas, signed recently after Detroit released him, is another receiver with the speed coach Bruce Arians is seeking to stretch defenses. Thomas had a 13-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter. A couple completed passes in the fourth preseason game aren't going to provide definitive answers, but these were positive signs.

3. Third QB. Lindley had only one scoring pass to show for 280 career pass attempts in preseason and regular-season games over his two NFL seasons. He fared better in this one. Lindley completed 17 of 29 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. Lindley also completed a two-point conversion throw to take a 25-24 lead with 5:28 remaining. He took one sack, threw no interceptions and finished the game with a 104.7 passer rating. Will the Cardinals keep him around as the third quarterback?
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener, which they led 17-0 when I filed this late in the fourth quarter:

1. Palmer's debut: New quarterback Carson Palmer completed four of six passes for 77 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a 149.3 passer rating. He certainly looked like the upgrade Arizona sought from its previous quarterbacks. Both incomplete passes were deeper attempts on third down. Palmer found Andre Roberts for a 38-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers' starting defense (Arizona was tied for last in the NFL with three passes of 38-plus yards last season). Palmer also found Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard gain and Michael Floyd for an 18-yard gain. When backup Drew Stanton threw a touchdown pass to Jaron Brown, the Cardinals had as many scoring passes as the 2012 team managed through two-plus preseason games. Nearly 12 minutes remained in the second quarter.

2. Mathieu and the DBs: The Cardinals are building their secondary around young defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both made impact plays in this game. Peterson, the fifth player selected in the 2011 draft, picked off Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Mathieu, a third-round choice this year, broke up a pass with a hard hit early in the game. He later collected a 12-yard sack on a blitz from the slot. Mathieu also provided a 23-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. He and Peterson could be good together for a long time.

3. Running back picture: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington did not play. Alfonso Smith carried 10 times for 21 yards and didn't appear to have much room for running. Rookie Stepfan Taylor looked good picking up 14 yards on one of his carries. However, the Cardinals did not run the ball well in this game. They did not find out much about their running backs.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD