I hope …

That a certain continuity is present on the offensive line as the Cardinals prepare to play the 49ers talented front on Monday night.

The Cardinals are tied with the Rams for having the most different line starters in the league at 12. Overall, the Cardinals have had 76 different players appear in at least one game, which is also tops in the NFL.

Thankfully, there were no new O-line injuries Sunday (at least we don’t think there were), which means the group will likely be close to the same Monday, whether it’s D.J. Humphries or Josh Jones at left tackle, a healthy Cody Ford at left guard and rookie Lecitus Smith at right guard. Ford, coming back from a bout with COVID, shared snaps with Rashaad Coward against the Rams.

With tight end Zach Ertz surely out Monday, right tackle Kelvin Beachum will be the only offensive player to start all 11 games.

Beachum said Monday, “As a room, (line) Coach (Sean) Kugler talked about this all week was we just have to find a way to rise above it. Whoever’s number was called, had to find a way to perform. We knew the task at hand, we knew the defense that we were going up against, we knew the issues that we had as an offensive line, we knew we had to work together.

“And we knew we had to work together fast without a lot of time on task. There are some things that we still need to clean up. Leroy (don’t know why Beachum called Smith that) played like a rookie, but at the end of the day did a really good job against a very good pass rusher.”

When asked about Smith asking him questions, Beachum laughed heartily and said, “He asked a lot of questions. But it’s been good questions. I think it’s been productive for him to be in this particular environment. I’ve been in his shoes before, a late-round pick having an opportunity to go out there and start. And I told him this on Thursday night: ‘Man first impressions matter.’ He had an opportunity to make a great first impression in the National Football League and I think he did a good job.”

Beachum emphasized that the veteran pieces missing like center Rodney Hudson and left guard Justin Pugh are still helping whoever is playing.

“We talk on a daily basis,” he said. “We have a group chat so we’re always communicating. We see each other every single week. Me and Pugh are talking all the time. Rodney is in the building every single day so this is not a one-man show. This is a unit and we stick together, we work together, even when those guys are not in the lineup right now. They’re still giving tidbits to guys who are playing those positions.

“Rodney is on the sidelines every single game giving Billy (Price) any instances or any things that he’s seen or even giving (Kugler) some insight that we need to change in protection or slide the protection just based off of what we’re getting. So all those guys, even though they’re not playing, they’re still finding a way to contribute to our success right now.”

Asked what he contributes as that one constant this season, Beachum said, “I try to be the same person every single day. I try to come in and be an example as best I can. I really didn’t change up much to be honest with you. I said a couple things more than I would say during a normal week, but for the most part, the preparation stayed the same, the accountability stayed the same.

“We pushed each other, we held each other accountable. That’s a credit to the room, not so much one person, but a credit to the room.”

Finally, Beachum did acknowledge adjustments in the game plan that were in place during Sunday’s game with Colt McCoy at quarterback.

He said, “We dialed back the offense and just kind of went back to training camp honestly, going back to the base stuff that we do on a weekly basis. We just went out and executed some of the most basic things that we do on offense.”

We’ll see whether they are able to do it again Monday night.

I wonder …

As many do, what wide receiver A.J. Green’s role will be going forward. He probably also wonders. In the last four games, he didn’t play against New Orleans, participated in 47 percent of the snaps against Minnesota, had one snap against Seattle and then 44 percent Sunday against the Rams. He had only two catches on as many targets, but they were tough ones on a fourth-and-2 conversion and a 6-yard touchdown pass at the back corner of the end zone.

After the game, he said, “This game is more than X’s and O’s sometimes. Some things are out of my control. We all have to have that tough conversation sometime but to me, I’ve said I just want you to be honest with me. That’s what they did. They’ve been very honest with me, and I just put the work in and go out there and see what happens.

“I’ve been in this league a long time, seen a lot of stuff. For me, I’ve always been a guy who stayed level with whatever happened. I know I put the work in each and every day and I’m always satisfied with whatever the outcome is because I know the work I’ve put in.”

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “We’ve had some in-depth conversations about it and he knows where I stand on him as a player and a member of this team. We’re really lucky to have him. Like I’ve said all along: a tremendous teammate, tremendous player, the way he’s handled everything and his professionalism. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

As for adjusting to his current role, Kingsbury said, “I think people forget exactly how big the numbers were and the seven straight Pro Bowls to start his career. First guy to ever do that. It’s not easy, but he’s done a great job of really mentoring these young guys. He’s told us that’s what he wants to do is help mentor these young guys and show people, ‘Hey, it’s not always going to go your way, but you keep working hard, you keep doing the right things and good things will happen.’”

As for what that role might be with seven games remaining in the season, Kingsbury said, “He has not blinked through everything, all the adversity, all the things going on. He just continues to work hard and do his job and treat people the right way. So, I am a huge A.J. fan and hopefully we can get him more involved as the season goes on.”

I know …

That there shouldn’t even be a debate who the quarterback will be when Kyler Murray is healthy. Repeat after me: There is no controversy. It’s Murray.

Yes, McCoy has run the offense efficiently in three road wins over the other teams in the NFC West the last two seasons and completed 83-of-107 passes (77.6 percent) for 815 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating in the three games was 119.4, 112.9 and 96.5, but his average per completion was 9.8 yards.

Also, in a loss last season against Carolina, he was 11-for-20 (55.0 percent) for 107 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and lost fumble with a rating of 49.4.

It should also be noted that the Cardinals’ 298 yards Sunday were their third-lowest output of the season.

That’s certainly not to suggest that McCoy didn’t do what he had to do to help the Cardinals win Sunday. Most important was that the Cardinals had no turnovers and the defense’s two takeaways led to 10 points against a team that had 77 yards in the first half and 186 prior to a meaningless late touchdown drive.

A lot was made of the first 11 plays of the Cardinals’ first possession being passes, but they totaled a mere 59 yards (5.4 per play/7.4 per completion) and four were for five yards or less.

Kingsbury said, “When you have four of five starting offensive linemen from the beginning of the season down and you’re playing that D-line, you better have a quick trigger. Colt understood that going in. We wanted to get quick completions. It was going to be a catch-and-run game from the start. We tried to do stuff in space, and that’s where we came out throwing it. He did a good job of finding the guy pre-snap and getting it to him.”

It’s no surprise that McCoy understands his role. After all, in a possible 202 games since entering the NFL in 2010, he’s played 53 and started 34.

“As a backup, you just never know when your opportunity’s going to strike,” he said, which is partly why he missed only two snaps after being injured Sunday. “But in this situation, with linemen out, our backs against the wall, a division game on the road, I dug deep and was proud to go out there and play as hard as I can. There was just a lot of adversity coming into this game and I’m proud to be a part of a team that never quits and fights. Defense played great. They gave us some turnovers and this was a huge win for us.”

Even though it’s possible he will play Monday night and should if Murray isn’t himself, McCoy knows the score.

“I want K1 to be healthy,” he said. “He’s a phenomenal player.”

End of discussion.

I hope …

The Cardinals are making the right decision by remaining in town to prepare for Monday night’s game in Mexico City, which is 7,200 feet above sea level.

Conversely, the 49ers are traveling to Colorado Springs and will practice at the Air Force Academy before heading to Mexico on Sunday.

Asked Monday if something similar was considered, Kingsbury said several options were discussed, but that strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris “does a tremendous job with all those things. He did all sorts of research on it, and we felt like the program we could set up here for all the altitude training was really good and wouldn’t disrupt our routine, so they’ve been at it for the last two or three weeks.

“All of our guys have been on it trying to prep for that, but I know it’ll be a challenge either way whether you do that or not. We’ve just got to line up and try to play our best football.”

Cornerback Antonio Hamilton said bike rides with elevation has been part of the program, but said, “You can try to prepare for that, but you really can’t. It’s just all about, once we get there to be able to know that you got to stay focused, stay locked in and control the environment. Go out there and three plays in and get off the field and you don’t have to worry about the altitude. It’s just honing in on the game plan that we have and knowing that if we eliminate the things that they do, attitude won’t affect us.”

Said Beachum, “The elevation is going to be high. We know that the smog is real there. We know that it will be difficult to breathe, but at the same time, we’re taking the approach that we’re going to leave like this is an East Coast trip and we’re going to leave a day early, going to take care of business, get on the plane and come home.”

Of course, the 49ers don’t agree.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said they talked to other teams that have dealt with it and that led by Ben Peterson, the director of player health and performance, they “researched the science of it and gave us the recommendation of what they thought helped the most. And they thought getting there earlier, getting acclimated to it earlier would help us on Monday night, so that’s why we made that decision.”

Shanahan said players will be watched closely so that “if guys are struggling, it’s practice, so you stop and take a break or you take that guy out and have him not go, but you want to practice in that altitude because the more days you spend in it, the more your body gets used to it. So hopefully it’ll make it easier for us Monday night.”

I wonder …

Why the Cardinals failed to declare kicker Matt Prater out for Sunday’s game against the Rams.

Prater, who missed three games earlier in the season because of an injury to his right hip, had remained on the injury report with the hip issue, but kicked in the previous two games. However, he had illness added to the report last Friday and remained listed as questionable.

League rules mandate that teams announce on Saturday for Sunday games if a player’s status changes and/or he doesn’t travel with the team for a road game.

The previous week, punter Andy Lee was added to the injury report on Saturday before the home game against Seattle with an illness and was said to be questionable. The Cardinals signed punter Nolan Cooney to the practice squad and elevated him as security, but Lee was able to punt so Cooney was inactive.

This past Saturday, the Cardinals announced that Prater wasn’t traveling with the team, but still remained questionable. They signed kicker Tristan Vizcaino, but there was the assumption Prater might be healthy enough to kick and could travel on his own to Los Angeles. He didn’t and Vizcaino made two field goals and three extra points in the victory.

However, when Kingsbury was asked Monday whether Prater was close to being able to get to Los Angeles and kick, the head coach said, “No. He was in bad shape the last couple of days. He didn’t feel up to it.”

Kingsbury essentially admitted they knew he wouldn’t play, which means by league rule, Prater should have been declared out on Saturday.

I know …

That defensive end J.J. Watt wasn’t pleased with the work of referee Clete Blakeman in Sunday’s game.

It began when Blakeman blew a play dead when linebacker Myjai Sanders hit Rams quarterback John Wolford as he was trying to pass and the ball bounced loose.

Watt recovered at the 30-yard line with no one around him and could have walked into the end zone for a touchdown, However, Blakeman did an official’s no-no on close plays and whistled the play dead as an incomplete pass.

Normally, officials let those play out because if it’s ruled a fumble on the field, replay can change it to an incomplete pass. However, in this case, while replay clearly showed it was a fumbler, the ball could not be advanced.

Then, in the third quarter, with the Rams on the 14-yard line and facing third-and-goal, another close play occurred on a Wolford pass. The ball bounced again to Watt, who believed it should have again been a fumble, but it was ruled an incomplete pass with no review.

Watt ran toward Blakeman showing him the ball, but after getting nowhere, he spiked the ball, drawing a delay-of-game penalty.

After the game, Watt said of Blakeman, “He just said he screwed up. He apologized and there’s nothing you can do except say sorry.”

On the later play, he admitted to being “just frustrated with the whole situation. There were a few holding calls he wasn’t calling. I like Clete. He’s a good referee. But today was a frustrating one for me.”

Did Blakeman assess Watt with the delay penalty rather than unsportsmanline conduct as a makeup for the earlier faux pas? Kingsbury believes so.

When asked Monday if there’s anything the team can do, he said, “No, it’s done. I think Watt got to say what he wanted to say on the field. You’ve got to be careful there, but Clete took care of him on that and only gave him delay of game and not the big one, so it kind of worked both ways.”

The quotebook

Beachum, on what went through his mind when McCoy was injured on a screen pass in which the quarterback was called for intentional grounding: “You have to ask Kliff the look that he got from me when that happened to Colt.”

Kingsbury on the look: “He wants to run the ball every single play, so he gave me the death stare after Colt went down. He just took off his helmet and stared at me for the entire time that he was down. But we have that relationship. Non-verbal.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com


Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.