There was an inordinate amount of shuffling on the Cardinals offensive line Sunday, but despite two backup guards playing the entire second half, the offense totaled 252 yards in the final two quarters, while quarterback Kyler Murray passed for 209 and wasn’t sacked for the entire game.
It all began with right tackle Kelvin Beachum being declared inactive because of fractured ribs suffered on the second play of the third quarter in the season opener against Tennessee. He started in Week 2 against Minnesota, but gave way in the second half to Justin Murray, who also replaced him in the game against the Titans.
However, rather than keep Josh Jones at right guard and start Murray at right tackle, the Cardinals flipped them to start the game.
Then, Murray suffered a back injury in the second quarter and was replaced by Max Garcia for the final three plays of the half. Meanwhile, left guard Justin Pugh injured his back on the 109-yard field-goal return by Jamal Agnew that ended the first half and he was replaced by Sean Harlow, who was signed to the active roster Saturday in conjunction with the release of Brian Winters. Harlow, who had played one offensive snap in his career after being selected by the Falcons in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, played the entire second half.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday, “It was late in the week; we could tell (Beachum) wouldn't be able to go. Josh Jones slid in there with about a day of work at right tackle. He'd been playing guard extensively throughout camp, throughout the first couple of weeks and slid over there and I thought he performed well, which is a big plus to just continue to give us more depth there at that tackle position.
“We'll see where Beach is at this week. We'd love to get him back, obviously, but we want to make sure when he comes back, he's 100% healthy.”
As for Pugh and Murray, Kingsbury said, ”We'll see on those two guys that went out, Justin and Justin both with some back issues and it'll be day to day this week and see how it progresses. But I couldn't be more pleased with what I saw from Harlow and Max. Both came in, competed their tails off (and) we really got the offense rolling in the second half and they were a big part of that so thought they both were very good on assignment and technique and stepped right in.
“We didn't skip a beat. You hate to lose starters like we did, but it's a credit to those guys being mentally and physically prepared to come in and help (us) score 17 offensive points in the second half. Really, really impressed by that. Then Josh’s first game starting as a tackle in the NFL; to play like he played against a really good pass rusher (Josh Allen), I was really impressed.”
Kingsbury said dealing with injuries that happen is simply life in the NFL.
“I think every team deals with it,” he said. “The injuries, particularly that position, it’s such a physical position, and they're engaging each and every snap. So things are gonna happen, but I think we came out of this week as clean as we could hope for. I don't think the back issues will be really long term. It may not be this week, but I think we will keep the depth that we have for the most part moving forward.”
Now, the Cardinals face the reality of visiting the Rams next Sunday with what could be a compromised offensive line if Beachum, Pugh and Murray aren’t available.
Stating the obvious, Kingsbury said of their defense, especially the line, “They're really good. You’ve all watched them play the first three weeks and Aaron Donald's as good a football player as I've ever seen in my life. He's really been dominant in previous games that we've had with him. We got to find a way to try and slow him down. You're not going to stop him, but you try to slow him down as best you can.
“They have a host of others that are playing at a really high level. I think they've done a great job with (defensive coordinator) Raheem (Morris) coming in and building off what they started last year with the new scheme. It's a real challenge.”
That’s an understatement. The Cardinals currently have six healthy linemen including tackle/guard Koda Martin, who played four special-teams snaps Sunday. He was signed to the roster Saturday from the practice squad along with Harlow. Tackle Josh Miles was placed on reserve/injured Saturday. The only lineman currently on the practice squad is tackle/guard Eric Smith, who was signed Sept. 7.
Other offensive linemen that were in training camp were Shaq Calhoun, Michal Menet, Marcus Henry and Brandon Bowen.
The release of Winters has some mystery considering he was added to the injury report Friday with a personal issue. Kingsbury said after Sunday’s game, “The Brian Winters situation was just one of those deals that didn't work out.”
Whether the team would consider re-signing him or if he is even interested in returning is a question. Winters played 13 offensive snaps in Week 1 and only three in Week 2.
Kingsbury also said there is no chance that safety/special-teams standout Charles Washington will play against the Rams. He suffered a hamstring injury against the Jaguars after playing only seven snaps Sunday.