Two weeks ago, when the Cardinals played the Broncos, the quarterback matchup was Colt McCoy and Brett Rypien. It ended up being Trace McSorley for the Cardinals when McCoy exited the game with a concussion early in the second half.
McSorley started against Tampa Bay on Christmas and McCoy was expected to be back for Sunday’s game against the Falcons. He cleared concussion protocol and practiced Wednesday and Thursday.
However, some symptoms returned after practice Thursday and McCoy won’t play. But instead of McSorley getting his second career start, it will be David Blough making his sixth. Rookie Desmond Ridder will be starting for 5-10 Atlanta. The Cardinals will have different starting quarterbacks in four consecutive games.
Blough was signed off Minnesota’s practice squad on Dec. 14 and will now likely be receiving a double-dose of Hard Knocks after he was featured while with the Lions this past summer.
His previous five starts were with Detroit in his rookie season of 2019 and the team was 0-5 in those final games of a 3-12-1 season. He completed only 54.0 percent of his passes for 984 yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 64.0.
His best outing was his first when he completed 22 of 38 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an 87.6 rating in a 24-20 loss to the Bears.
Blough began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Browns that year.
He acknowledged being shocked (like everyone else) when he got the word Friday morning and said, “I feel for Colt. Concussions are serious. Him having side effects is a big deal. But as a backup in this league, you have to prepare yourself as if you’re going to play, and then you go and do your job.”
Talking to ArizonaSports 98.7 Friday afternoon, interim co-general manager Adrian Wilson said of the decision, “We know what we have in Trace and we want to get a look at David and see what we have there.”
Wilson is the team’s director of pro personnel while the other co-GM, Quentin Harris, is director of player personnel.
Meanwhile, Blough credited the coaches and McSorley for doing “a good job at getting g me ready,” and added “Learning a new offense anywhere you go is the first goal of a quarterback. You come in and pride yourself on studying it and working it and I feel comfortable.
“To be standing here before you (media), I’m blessed. I’m thankful for everybody who have helped me stand where I’m standing right now with this opportunity this week. I hope they all know I’m just going to cut it loose and are proud. I’m just thankful.”
Blough said his goal with the playmakers the team has is to just “be the point guard and dish it out.”
That became more difficult Wednesday when wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was downgraded to out after leaving practice Friday with what was described by Kingsbury as “a little bit of a knee” problem.
Kingsbury said of Blough, “He’s a sharp kid, knows some of the base concepts, and the game-plan stuff he’s done a nice job picking up this week. We’ll make sure we tailor the script to stuff he feels good about and let him go try to play fast and execute at a high level.”
Asked how McSorley took the news, Kingsbury said, “He’s a competitor, but he also understands the situation we’re in and where we’re at. There is some evaluation that needs to be done at this point. He’s done a good job handling his business and being ready to go if he needs to.”
It surely won’t be a surprise if he plays at some point Sunday or in the season finale against the 49ers.
Defending the Falcons
While rookie linebacker Myjai Sanders hopes to get a sack Sunday of Ridder, his college teammate, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said the key will be stopping Atlanta’s run game.
First asked about Ridder, Joseph said, “Desmond is poised. Arthur (Falcons coach Arthur Smith) is doing a good job of creating plays for him. But it’s a run-first offense. They’re averaging 160 yards a game rushing (160.8). They have two backs that average 4.9 a carry. It’s going to be a run-first night for us so we gotta bring our big-boy pads, defend the run and make him throw as much as we can.”
The two backs are rookie Tyler Allgeier (817 yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson (635), who have combined for 1,452 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
As for the offensive line, Joseph said, “It’s a good unit. They have three first-round linemen up front. They’re all prototypes for this outside zone scheme. It’s going to be a tough outing to get the run game stopped.”
The linemen are tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary and guard Chris Lindstrom.
Rookie wide receiver Drake London has 61 receptions for 699 yards and four touchdowns and Joseph said, “He’s a big guy who makes contested catches. Not super fast, but a great blocker and after the catch he can break tackles.”
Along with Allgeier and Patterson, Joseph said, “That’s my biggest concern; getting those guys tackled.”
Joseph also referenced the one-score games the Falcons have played, noting, “Every game you watch, they’re in it.”
In fact, eight of their losses have been by one score and only one was by eight points. The other seven losses were by a total of 26 points and five were by a total of 14. Meanwhile, they have won four one-score games by a total of 13 points.
With safety Budda Baker on reserve/injured, Joseph said Isaiah Simmons and Chris Banjo will be the main replacements, while Josh Thomas was elevated from the practice squad.
Asked about how natural it is for Simmons to be at safety, Joseph said, “It’s been really natural because that’s what he’s been his whole life. He’s a 6-4 guy so when you look at him, you see more of a ‘backer, maybe a strong safety, but he’s been a space player his whole life so he’s really comfortable playing nickel and playing half safety and playing the third. That’s what he likes to do. And his range and his movement stuff can show. He has no problem playing those positions.”
It’s what he’s done a lot this year. Joseph concluded, “He’s played nickel for an entire season and hasn’t been exposed and that’s hard to do for a 6-4 guy, so it speaks to his special skill set.”
The perception was that there were contradictory things said on this week’s Hard Knocks.
Kingsbury credited the team’s effort, which defensive end J.J. Watt has also voiced. However, a clip of Joseph in a defensive meeting appeared to be questioning the effort while showing a clip of safety Budda Baker making a tackle.
On Thursday, Joseph was asked about his comments and whether issues with effort have been a season-long thing.
He quickly responded, “It has not, it has not.”
He then explained, “What you want to do as a coach is when you’re not having success and you got three or four more weeks (in the season), you get ahead of your problems, right? You’re basically warning the players: We can’t have this and you can’t have that. That’s what good coaches do. You don’t let it happen first and then address it. You’re like a parent almost. You gotta see it coming. And you kinda of feel it.
“It’s been a tough, long season. Players have certain feelings. They have outsiders talking to them about certain things. So that was a friendly reminder that let’s not ever put it on tape where you’re not hustling or out of leverage and those things. Do it right. It’s your resume’ and the tape never goes away. If you’re a free agent, you’re a guy that wants to be in the league next year and some scout’s watching the tape, he has no idea we’re 4-10 or whatever and the score’s 35-14. He doesn’t care. He’s watching you. So it’s a reminder more than an issue that we’ve had all year. Our guys have played hard all year, so I have no problem with our group.”
As for the Baker clip, Joseph said, “The example wasn’t just Budda. It was play 68 in the game. The game was pretty much over. But Budda never is not going to finish a game. Most veterans, when you’re down two scores with two minutes to go and the game’s done, most veterans want off the field. Budda wants on the field, so that was the message there. It wasn’t about just Budda. That’s the way he plays all the time. And that’s the message for our young kids. But everyone on the tape was going and it was physical until the end.”
Saving Budda from Budda
We know that Baker was placed on reserve/injured this week after suffering a fractured shoulder against the Bucs in the second half, but he still played every snap in the game.
Joseph acknowledged that the team “probably” made the move so Baker couldn’t lobby to play in the final two games.
“This guy is amazing as far as his pain threshold,” Joseph said.
He said he recalls several instances over the years where Baker would be injured in practice Wednesday and “I thought there was no way he would play Sunday and he played. His pain threshold is different. How he plays is different. I don’t think you can teach that. You kind a boil up that kind of toughness and want-to and will; that’s him. He’s never been a prototype as far as for what you look like from size (5-foot-10, 195) and all those things. He’s just so tough, so smart and a great teammate.”
Kingsbury laughed and said Friday he wouldn’t have been surprised to see Baker jog on the field in pads, and concluded, “Just to watch those clips of the tackles he made post-fracture was insane.”
With Hopkins declared out Saturday, the numbers are again depleted at wide receiver. Andre Baccellia was signed to the roster from the practice squad and he will join Marquise Brown, Greg Dortch, A.J. Green and Robbie Anderson on the game-day active list. Pharoh Brown is also expected to be active, but his role will be a kick returner.
This will be the seventh game Hopkins has missed this season and he had his snaps reduced in two games because of a hamstring injury. Brown has missed five and this will be the eighth game with Rondale Moore, on reserve/injured, not playing. Moore essentially missed one other game when he was injured after playing only two snaps against the 49ers in Mexico City.
Antoine Wesley suffered a season-ending injury when he was designated for return in early October. Including Wesley, receivers expected to contribute will have missed 36 games after Sunday.
Cornerback attrition: Antonio Hamilton is out because of a hip injury, Marco Wilson is questionable after having a recurrence of his neck/stinger issue last week and Byron Murphy Jr. is on reserve/injured. Even practice-squad cornerback Nate Hairston, who was elevated to the roster for the game against Tampa Bay, was injured and is now on the practice-squad injured list.
Josh Jackson was claimed on waivers this week and the Cardinals also signed Jordan Miller and Chris Wilcox to the practice squad. The only healthy corners on the active roster are rookie Christian Matthew and Jace Whittaker. Jackson was added to the injury report Friday with a hamstring issue, but he practiced in full and did not have a status listed for the game.
Running back James Conner, who missed Wednesday and Thursday because of an illness, had full participation Friday. John David Crow (1959-60) held the franchise record of scoring a touchdown in seven consecutive games until Conner equaled it last year. After missing three games and leaving two with injuries earlier in the season, Conner now has scored in six straight games and can reach seven again on Sunday.
Center Billy Price, who has his right knee in a brace because of a MCL sprain, practiced full Friday after being limited Wednesday and Thursday. … Right tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee/ankle) is questionable again, but played every snap against Tampa Bay. Kingsbury said it was “incredible” what Beachum fought through and added, “He could barely get down in his stance, but he battled all night and gave us a chance to win. He’s another guy; 11-year vet and he’s going to be a free agent. He could have cashed it in, but he wants to play and finish what he started with his teammates. It says a lot about him.”
Kingsbury on if he is at the point where he wonders what else can go wrong: “I was there about eight weeks ago. We’re past that point.”
Kingsbury on whether more young players will play in the final two games: “With all the injuries, some of those evaluations have happened organically. I don’t even know who else we could evaluate at this point.”
Kingsbury on trying to end the season on a high note: “With J.J.’s announcement, we want to play at a high level and win these last two games. Everybody’s highly motivated to try and send him out the right way.”
Joseph, who was on the Texans staff when Watt was drafted in 2011, on his retirement: “It’s very rare to be there at the start and the finish. … His wife wants to play pro sports again so he wants to be Mr. Mom for a couple years. … His life story, his playing career is obviously bar none.”
Watt needs a half-sack to reach 10, which would be his sixth double-digit sack season and first since 2018 when he had 16.0. Since 2016, he has played only 69 of a possible 112 regular-season games. In four of those seasons, he played 23 of a possible 65 games and played all 16 in 2018 and 2020. He has missed one game this season.
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