“It’s these changes in ‘altitudes,’ changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane“
OK, I took a bit of literary license changing the word latitudes to altitudes in one of Jimmy Buffett’s iconic songs. Somehow, it just seemed apropos.
The Cardinals departed for Mexico City and it’s 7,200-feet altitude Saturday, one day earlier than normal for a road game.
Meanwhile, the 49ers were in Colorado Springs during the week practicing at the Air Force Academy, but they had to deal with colder than usual temperatures (29 degrees on Thursday) and then ended up working inside Friday because of snow.
The Cardinals were on a program the last few weeks that included bike-riding at elevation that they hope will have the players prepared as possible for what they will experience Monday night.
For defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, it’s all about mindset or attitude if you will. Joseph played his college career at the University of Colorado, was a graduate assistant there for three years, an assistant coach for two and then was the Denver Broncos head coach for two years in 2017 and 2018.
Joseph said this week, “I think you figure it out as you go. I played half of my football years in Colorado, and the bottom line is this: If you’re playing good, you win. If you don’t play good, you probably won’t win. No one ever talked about it in Colorado at all, and it was never a big deal in Denver. It was kind of a thing that we used for us to push forward in the fourth quarter where we trained.”
He then noted the obvious by saying, “But I didn’t win much as the head coach there, so it didn’t matter much in Denver. Guys, it’s honestly a mindset. It’s like going from the west to the east coast. Some teams go Friday, some teams go Saturday, but you show up and play good you win. That’s the bottom line. Obviously, if guys are getting tired on Monday night, you’re gonna have guys sub out, but that’s for the big guys especially. But most of it’s mindset.”
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters, “When this came on our schedule a while ago, I always get suggestions from people and all our guys were suggesting this and I talked to a few coaches who had done this in the past. I know New England has and I know (running backs/assistant head coach) Anthony Lynn did with the Chargers, so that was the main reason.”
Surely, Shanahan wasn’t expecting the cold where the usual temperature is around 50. He said, “The cold’s kind of a pain and I don’t like being cold.”
Tackle Trent Williams and defensive end Nick Bosa had rest days Thursday, so after the pre-practice walkthrough they sought shelter in a heated bus. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel noticed a bathroom under the stands and was able to watch through a slightly cracked door until he was needed for team drills.
Former Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk told the media catching the ball was difficult. “It’s rough,” he said. “The ball’s heavy, hands are cold, frozen.”
The question is whether the cold weather cancelled out any pluses gained by spending more time in the high altitude, especially when most experts say it takes more time than several days to get acclimated to the altitude.
Both teams will be playing at high intensity Monday night, which naturally leads back to Joseph’s contention: “Play good, you win.”
As cornerback Antonio Hamilton said after the win over the Rams, “Vitamin W is always good. It makes it easier to go to work. It makes it easy to deal with nicks, bruises and pains. And so we needed that.”
When tackle Kelvin Beachum was asked Monday about what Hamilton said, he wondered, “What’s Vitamin W?”
He laughed heartily after being told it’s a win, and then responded, “I said to my wife as I pulled into the parking lot this morning, ‘It’s always great coming into the building with a win.’ It’s easier to squat on a Monday and it’s easy to go and run after a game when you won, but we need to have a little bit more of those as we finish the season off.”
As Hamilton concluded, “We still have a great opportunity at hand. We don’t know how the rest of the season will shake out. We don’t know if this was the turn of the tide. Last year, we started out 7-0 and then we dropped off tremendously. So maybe this is where the tide has shifted, where we started off rough and maybe this is where we hit our streak and climb. You know, the Super Bowl is in Arizona, so we’re fighting.
“At this place and point in time, we have nothing to lose. So we’re going out there and just laying it all out. And I think we’re playing better ball. Coach Kliff did a great job with letting us know, let’s not be uptight, man, let’s go play ball. And whatever happens, happens. So let’s roll the dice.”
With a little attitude adjustment, altitude be damned.
The Cardinals have dealt with consistent adversity all year and added to it this week with the loss of tight end Zach Ertz, who underwent knee surgery Friday and is done for the season.
Entering the weekend, quarterback Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy are on the injury report with McCoy practicing full Friday after being limited Thursday and Murray being limited both days. It’s important to note that the limited and full designations are determined by the usual participation for each individual player.
Thus, not too much can be read into it for McCoy and Murray because McCoy is believed to normally have limited reps in practice compared to Murray.
Of Murray, coach Kliff Kingsbury said Friday, “He’s progressing. Come a long way, so we’ll see. Got a few more days. I think playing on Monday night will help (with) the extra day, so we’ll see how he feels in the next couple days.”
Kingsbury reiterated that Murray’s availability hinges on him feeling “comfortable being full throttle where he sees he can take off and run and go full speed and not protecting himself. That’s no way to play the position they he plays, especially against this front.”
At wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins was limited Friday with a hamstring issue after not practicing Thursday, while a decision to activate Hollywood Brown from reserve/injured must be made by 2 p.m. Arizona time Monday.
Asked if there is extra concern with Hopkins considering he missed time with a hamstring injury last season, Kingsbury said, “I don’t see that type of worry. It’s a maintenance deal I think and we’re going to be cautious and make sure he feels 100 percent before the game, but I don’t think it’s close to what it was (in 2021).”
As for left tackle D.J. Humphries, the coach said, “He won’t play this week, it doesn’t look like. And then we’ll evaluate it from there; see where it goes.”
Josh Jones will start again at left tackle and the only other question is at left guard where Rashaad started Sunday against the Rams and shared snaps with Cody Ford, who was affected by COVID earlier that week.
With Ertz expected to be placed on reserve/injured Monday, it appears that Maxx Williams will either be elevated from the practice squad for the game or signed to the active roster. Williams suffered a torn ACL last season, coincidentally in Week 5 against the 49ers.
In the first three games of the season, he played a total of 31 snaps (13.2 percent) and then played 23 snaps (30 percent) in Week 4. It was after that game that Williams was released and signed to the practice squad to be more capable of contributing down the road.
He said, “After everything I went through last year, it almost worked out better because it gave me that time that I didn’t have in camp being on the PUP (physically unable to perform) early, not knowing (when I’d be activated) and it gave myself a chance to get my body more used to the style I have to play now with everything that’s happened.
“I’m ready to go. I feel great. I’m excited to play football again.”
Kingsbury said, “We felt like it was the right move to make at the time. We talked through it with him and said we know we’re going to use you at some point. He knows the system inside out. He’s a great mentor, a great teammate to all those guys. So it was a win-win for everybody. He’s definitely feeling more and more comfortable trying to execute what he’s asked to do with that injury.”
As for being on the roster Monday night, Kingsbury said Friday, “I think so. He’s done a good job. We have a couple decisions to make roster-wise over the next couple of days, but he’s trending that way.”