Cardinals downplay offensive performance in preseason games

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) As has been repeated many times by now, the Arizona Cardinals still have every player on offense who gained a yard or scored a point for the prolific team last season.

So the first unit's showing in preseason games doesn't seem to mean much to them.

Coach Bruce Arians said he expects quarterback Carson Palmer to play less than a half when the Cardinals play at Houston on Sunday night. How much the rest of the starters play will depend on how they perform, but don't expect it to be more than a half.

''I honestly don't think about the game,'' Palmer said before practice Wednesday. ''I'm focused on the practices and the walk-throughs and the meetings. You're never going to show your hand in the preseason.''

Palmer returns from the best season he's had in his 14 years in the NFL. He set franchise records in yards passing (4,671), touchdown passes (35) and passer rating (104.6) while leading the team to a 13-3 record. But the season ended badly when he and just about everyone else on the team played poorly in a blowout loss to Carolina in the NFC championship game, a performance that has served as motivation.

The Cardinals expect this year's offense to be even better. Larry Fitzgerald, whose 109 catches last season broke the franchise record he set a decade earlier, listed some of the reasons.

''Out of the gate (running back) David (Johnson) is going to be starting for us,'' he said. ''He came on strong for us later in the season. If David would have started (all season) there's no telling, he might have had 20 touchdowns (he had 13) last year. He's just that talented. Our tight end group has gotten much better. Our receivers group is pretty much the same and guys in that group are getting better. ... We've got guys that can play.''

Injuries have depleted that deep receiving corps in training camp. John Brown has been out with a concussion, J.J. Nelson has been slowed by a groin injury and Fitzgerald missed last Friday's loss at San Diego with a sore knee. Fitzgerald practiced Sunday but took Monday and Wednesday off.

That opened the way for Jaron Brown, who Arians described at one point as ''the best receiver we have.''

The Cardinals have depth at the skill positions: Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington at running back, Nelson and Jaron Brown behind starters Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown at wide receiver and Darren Fells, Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas at tight end. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Niklas, a second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2014, has had a big camp and is pushing for a starting job.

The first unit drove the length of the field before settling for a field goal in its only series in the preseason opener against Oakland and failed to score in three series at San Diego. Palmer had an interception returned for a touchdown against the Chargers.

But he is not concerned.

''We've had 15 reps in preseason games,'' Palmer said. ''We've had thousands of reps thus far in training camp. We've had tens of thousands of reps together as a unit. There's enough data looking back at all the plays - last year's team and so far this training camp. That's where you get your confidence and you see what you're made of, looking at so many reps that we've put together as a group, not three series as an offense in preseason games.''

Arizona, one of the top scoring teams in the league all season, has been outscored 50-13 in its two preseason losses.

Again, the players say that's no big deal.

''The older you get, I hate to say, that preseason is drudgery,'' Fitzgerald said. ''Obviously you have to go out there and play but it doesn't mean anything in the standings. The Detroit Lions, when they went 0-16, they were 4-0 in preseason.''

Of course, the Cardinals would like to have a good showing against the Texans. They're even preparing a bit of a game plan, mostly for the exercise of doing it, Palmer said.

''The pride in our group and our guys is we want to play well,'' Palmer said, ''but the focus is more around here each day and handling that day and that task at hand.''

Most importantly, Arians, Palmer and Fitzgerald all emphasized, come out of the game healthy.


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