“With the Arizona Cardinals, offensively, it starts with Beanie Wells and the running game. It’s a similar situation to last week (at St. Louis) with Steven Jackson. They’re bigger men who run very well downhill, with good speed. He’s a good cutter and has the speed to go the distance. We’ve got to do a great job of playing gap-sound and tackling. At quarterback, whether it’s (John) Skelton or (Kevin) Kolb, I don’t know that we’ll know, but I don’t think the offense will change very much. Larry Fitzgerald is such a fine player on the outside. They’ll use the other receivers – they are all bigger, physical players. They make a lot of big-time contested catches. They’re good blockers and fit well into what they do offensively.
“Defensively, they’ve hit a good stride. They’ve come around from earlier in the year, when they gave up some big, explosive plays. I know they gave up the one on the scramble last week against Cleveland, but they’ve limited those throughout the last part and through their winning streak. They’ve really settled down into what they are defensively. You’ll see similarities to 3-4 and fire-zone schemes – there are a lot of similarities between them and the Steelers.
“On special teams, they’ve done a lot of special things. They’ve blocked four field goals this year, they’ve returned four punts for touchdowns, so there are some explosive guys we need to take care of. We need to go win that phase of the game, that’s the important thing.”
With Arizona’s style of play, is this almost like a seventh division game?
“Yeah. Or eighth, if you count the Texans. Or the 49ers. We’ve played a lot this year. Jacksonville is very similar. They’re (Arizona) built the same way. It’ll be a good mental and physical challenge. It’s important for our guys to have good preparation today and continue through the week. As the week goes on it’ll be just like Sunday, on Saturday.”
Will you rest
“He’ll do some work today. He’ll probably be listed as – well, I don’t know what Paul (head athletic trainer Paul Sparling) will list him as, as far as practice goes, but he’s doing fine.”
Is that an enthusiastic ‘we’ll see?’
“It’s a good ‘we’ll see.’ ”
How would you assess the play of
“He wasn’t at the point of attack very often. Obviously he had the nice catch for a first down on a third-down conversion. But he went out there, and he does what we expect him to do.”
How disconcerting are the penalties on the offense at this time of the season? That seems like a problem you would expect to have at the beginning of the year, not this late in the season:
“The penalties come from different cadences. We’re going to continue to change the cadence. We’ve got to focus in and do a better job of knowing what the particular cadence sequence is on that particular play. There’s no reason for us to put those numbers up there, but that officiating crew has led the NFL in penalties this year. We knew that going into the game, and we have to be conscious of that. But again, the pre-snap penalties hurt us. We have to do a good job of focusing in on that, whether it be a player (not involved in the exchange), whether it be the snapper, whether it be the quarterback. We’ve had error in all three areas, and we’ve got to do a better job at that.”
You had your share of errors against the Rams, but was it encouraging to you that your team didn’t lose its poise during the third and fourth quarter, when the Rams seemed to be losing theirs?
“Yeah. We’ve had our moments where we’ve lost our composure a little bit. But I think we’ve maintained it on the field. We may lose it on the boundary, but we’re able to maintain it on the field. I think that’s important. We’re also playing a team this week that has come from behind and won a lot of games. That’s going to be important that we stay composed throughout the football game and see clearly and make plays when we need to make plays. Obviously, when you get into a close football game, every play becomes that much more important.”
What impresses you most about Larry Fitzgerald as a receiver?
“When you watch Larry, you see that he’s a man who has great hands. He goes and gets the football. You think you’re in pretty good shape in coverage and he can physically go make a play – over you, above you. He continually works at it. They do a lot of things to move him around and try to create openings for him to get the football.”
As you did your pre-draft evaluation, and even now, how much of Larry Fitzgerald do you see in A.J. Green?
“They’re similar kinds of players, but I wasn’t involved in that side of it when Larry came out, so I can’t really compare it that way.”
As you watch the film, how has Patrick Peterson developed as a cover cornerback?
“He’s got a lot of skills and he’s not afraid. If you play that position, you can’t be very good at it if you’re scared, and he’s not scared. He’ll go out there and play and compete, and he’ll play the ball in the air. He does a nice job of that. He really looks like the player we felt like he’d be.”
He figures to be a tough matchup with A.J. Green with some of the passes that are up for grabs:
“It will be a competitive situation.”
How optimistic are you about getting some of your other injured players back?
“I think we’ll be in good shape. I think it’ll be a good week. We’ve got good numbers (players who are healthy) and – knock on wood- it’s been a great season that way. We’ve lost some guys, as we know, but for the most part our bumps and bruises have been limited in what they are, and we haven’t lost a lot of game time for guys. When we have, we’ve had another guy step up and go. It’s been great. We had to fill in at tight end for a little bit, we filled in last week at fullback, we fill in at receiver or whatever it may be. The situations we’ve had, we’ve been able to do it. I think Anthony (Collins) has done a nice job when he’s filled in for Andre (Smith). We’ve got to keep that up and keep that going. (Dan) Skuta did a great job filling in for (Rey) Maualuga. We’ve had a lot of guys step up and play, and that’s why we are where we are.”
“When you gain a guy who hasn’t had training camp with you and hasn’t had a lot of that experience with you, it takes a little bit more time. But I think Kelly is becoming more and more comfortable in what he is being asked to do with different techniques by scheme and situation and formation. That’s been good.”
“He had some error. He had some good things and some bad things. But that’s water under the bridge now.”
Do you feel like the team’s passing game has hit a bit of a lull?
“No. If we wanted to go out and throw it 40 times, we’d throw it 40 times and feel pretty good about it. But the goal is to win the football game, and if we don’t have to throw it 40 times, we’re better served to run it 40 times in order to win the football game.”
Have you been happy about the playcalling balance between the run and pass? Has it been what you had hoped for?
“It is, and I feel good about the things we’re doing. We’ve matched the run and the pass, the screens, the (end) arounds, the gadgets. Everything fits together, and that’s what you want to do. You want to put pressure on the defense that way, so that they all group together and they all look the same. We’ve got to keep that up. We keep creating new formations and new groupings, and that’s good. We’re making the defense find the shell in the shell game a little bit, and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”
As far other teams in the playoff picture, things broke about as well as possible for you last Sunday: you won and the teams you needed to lose lost. Do you feel like you’re in better control of your situation this week?
“I told our guys this: ‘Don’t even answer the question. The only thing we need to worry about is us and winning this football game. Don’t even waste our energy or time, it doesn’t matter. The only thing we need to worry about is us, and let’s see what happens.’ ”
So your eye doesn’t wander at times to the standings?
“No. I can’t control those standings. I can only control one, so let’s make sure we’re crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘I.’ We’re in a good spot. When I hear coaches talking about fundamentals in the meetings and that we’ve ‘got to get better at this,’ and it’s something we’ve been doing and we need to get better at, but that’s a great point to be at. You don’t want to stray too far from what makes you successful, and that’s still the fundamentals of what we do.
“That’s the easiest thing for us to improve on. If we want to improve upon the running game, we improve on the fundamentals of what we’re doing. If we want to improve upon the passing game, we improve on the fundamentals, and it’s the same thing defensively. If we want to get tighter in coverage or run defend, let’s improve on those fundamentals that sometimes they get lost in schematics. To be able to take a step back like we were able to do yesterday after this last game and look at that and come in here with the players today and hear both sides of the football talk about the same things, we’re in a good spot. That means you’re doing it with the same guys and you’re able to hold their feet to the fire a little bit. For whatever reason, this has wavered a little bit from where it should be.”
Some of the players mentioned a need to improve technique in short-yardage situations. Is that an emphasis?
“Short yardage was about a breakdown with one guy, and we can fix that. We can fix a one-guy error very simply. But we want to fix that. We want to fix the four-minute (offense) at the end of these last two ball games. Those are things that, early in the football season we took those balls with two minutes to go, two-thirty, and we ended up sitting on the ball and running out the clock and not giving it back and not having to punt it back. Those are things that we would still like to improve on, and that comes down to those same things. We know there are going to be eight, nine guys up there, and it comes down to those fundamentals and making sure we’re doing them the right way.
“Like you said: low pads. We’ve got to play with the energy of our legs. This is a team that has a lot of energy. We’ve got to make sure it’s transferring into what we’re doing.”
You mentioned the errors made in short yardage situations were ‘one-guy errors.’ Was that one player, or different players on different plays?
“That was a new guy. A really, really new guy, so that was good. It wasn’t a bad thing. It’s all fixable. I think that’s the thing you’ve got to feel best about.”
This is a quick-turnaround week for you guys. Have you been able to take a good look yet at Arizona?
“Yeah, I came in yesterday and watched some (film).They’re a good defense. They play really tough. On the back end, there’s a lot of one-on-ones out there. They have a lot of confidence in their guys. They do a good job.”
When you see a team like Arizona who is willing to match up one-on-one, is that something you look forward to, considering the players you have on this offense?
“Yeah. We try to find our matchups that we like. We feel like we have the talent here to take those one-on-one shots.”
Is this Arizona defense comparable to Pittsburgh in what they do?
“There’s a lot of similarities. There’s a lot of the same stuff that you see that Pittsburgh did. There’s some tips that we’ve already had before.”
It looked like the Rams were playing a lot of soft coverage, but this week the Cardinals will probably be the exact opposite. Do you have a preference one way or the other or do you just attack them all the same?
“No, you definitely have to attack them differently. The Rams were playing a lot of two-high stuff (coverages), whereas the Cardinals play a lot of single-high, where they’re getting their guys in the box. You’ve got to go after them in different ways.”
Patrick Peterson vs. A.J. Green figures to be a great matchup. It seems that the Cardinals lately have been playing Peterson on the opposing team’s best receiver. Is that what you see?
“Yeah, he’s played well. He’s got great ball skills. You see him making a lot of plays, not only on defense, but in the return game too. He’s definitely a big playmaker for them.”
The nature of the Cardinals style of defense is that the big play is available. Is that sometime you’ll look for?
“We'll have our chances to take our shots. We have to know when to take them.”
The Cardinals have a good front seven. Are they similar to the Steelers front seven?
“It's similar. Obviously with him (Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt) working for the Steelers for a while, there's a lot of similarities. They've got a lot of speed and they run really well.”
“They've been playing well. They're just trying to get better each week and eliminate some of the mental mistakes. That goes for all of us.”
Ryan Whalen saw his first major playing time last Sunday. Has he been practicing at high level?
“Yeah he's done a great job. I think that's why he's able to get in the game. He's shown that he can play and he's reliable. He's always going to be in the right spot. So there's that confidence factor with him knowing what's going on.”
With the playoffs on the line, do these feel like bigger games now?
“Yeah, these games mean a lot. We've got to go out and get a win this week for us to even have a chance for the playoffs. That's the ultimate goal, but our goal right now is to win this one.”
Before you were drafted and before the season, did you set personal goals for yourself?
“It's something that I definitely wanted to do. I wanted to come in and start right away and was able to achieve that one. Now I'm just trying to get better each week. Obviously we're not satisfied with where we are. We've got to keep going and try to find a way to win these next two.”
What do you personally have to improve upon?
“I've got to be more consistent out there, got to know when to check the ball down and things like that. I think I've got a good understanding, I've just got to work myself and push myself to do the little things.”
Like making faster decisions?
“Yeah, with decisions and knowing when to get off a read and check it down.”
It seems like the offense has hit a lull. What do you think that is?
“We've just got to be more consistent. We can't have the mental mistakes and we've got to execute better.”
It would seem you would have had more mistakes earlier in the season. Why are they coming now, as opposed to at the beginning of the year?
“Obviously there are different game plans, different things we're doing each week. So making sure that we're all on the same page.”
After watching the film, what was the reason for your interception against the Rams?
“First off, I should have never thrown it out there. Cover 2, can't make that throw. There are some other things we could have done where it couldn't have happened, but it's all on me. I shouldn't have thrown the ball.”
Is that one of those instances where you should have just checked down to another receiver?
“Yeah. I've got to know there's a corner sitting out there. Either throw the ball a little more inside or find another place to throw it.”
It looked like you were mad at yourself in the first half on the third down incompletion by the goal line. Why was that?
“I was just mad that we didn't score.”
It looked like maybe you saw something there that you could have done to score:
“No, you've just got to get touchdowns when you get down there.”
For a quarterback, is checking down quickly the toughest adjustment to make, especially coming from college to the pros?
“I think so. When you get back there and you're holding the ball … I know in college I was fortunate to a have a really good offensive line, so I was able to sit back there for a long time. Where now – and I'm not saying anything against our offensive line – it's just that with the speed of the game, everything's quicker. So if you get greedy and want to hold it for half a second, things break down and you might not even get a chance to throw the ball.”