TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals had a significant absence as they returned to work this week looking to revive what began as a promising season but has descended into the misery of a five-game losing streak.
Defensive end Calais Campbell sat out Wednesday’s practice because of a calf injury, and his status for Sunday’s game at Atlanta is uncertain.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt promised a detailed evaluation of his personnel during the bye week and was vague about the outcome.
“There are a couple of things we are going to do,” he said, “but obviously from a strategy standpoint I don’t think it behooves me to say anything about it. That will all play itself out.”
The only personnel change Whisenhunt has confirmed is inserting rookie Jake Potter, a seventh-round draft choice from Boise State, to replace D’Anthony Batiste at left tackle on the beleaguered offensive line. That leaves Arizona with rookies at both tackle positions. Fourth-round pick Bobby Massie starts on the right side.
Quarterback John Skelton said he had full confidence in Potter.
“I think he’ll do fine,” Skelton said. “I could see it in Green Bay. He had the jitters a little bit, but the first play we asked him to block Clay Matthews. He did a great job, and we got the ball down field to Andre (Roberts), and I think he’ll only do better from here on out.”
Skelton said he saw plenty of room for improvement as he examined his play and the rest of the team’s.
“People call the 4-0 start a fluke,” he said, “and rightfully so, because we’ve lost the last five.”
Skelton hinted that different players were taking more reps in practice this week.
“A lot of it is more subtle things,” he said, “giving guys more reps than they’ve been getting in the past. But I think major overhaul changes, I haven’t seen any of that. I think this week will tell us a lot about those types of moves.”
Skelton returned as quarterback when Kevin Kolb went down with rib cartilage damage late in the overtime loss to Buffalo three games ago. With the running game virtually nil, Skelton has completed 80 of 134 passes for 858 yards and two touchdowns, with three interceptions, in consecutive losses to San Francisco, Minnesota and Green Bay.
“I looked back at some of the film from these last few games,” he said, “I think across the board we’ve got to play better. Obviously, our record speaks to that.”
Skelton cited “ball security” as his biggest need for improvement.
“We’ve had turnovers that have led to points for the opponent,” he said. “We’ve had turnovers that have stopped drives. Just across the board, if we can hold on to the ball and convert on third down, those will be big factors for us.”
Skelton said the offense needs to sustain drives.
“We’ve had plays out there that can get us a first down or can get us into the red zone,” he said, “and we just haven’t been capitalizing on those. If we want to get the ship right, if we want to get moving in the right direction, we’ve got to start making those types of plays.”
Against Green Bay, dropped passes were a big problem.
“It really comes down in this league, and watching Atlanta is a good example of that, to making those plays.” Whisenhunt said. “They make a lot of catches in tight coverage, and the quarterback throws it in there. If the Green Bay game is any judge of that, we drop balls when we’re wide open. We can’t do that. We miss tackles in the open field. You can’t do that. We’ve got to do some things better on special teams.”
In other words, there is much work to be done everywhere.
Help is on the way for the running game, the worst statistically of all 32 NFL teams. Running back Beanie Wells is back practicing with the team after being sidelined with a severe turf toe injury. But he can’t return until the home game against St. Louis on Nov. 25. For now, 5-foot-7 LaRod Stephens-Howling and 5-9 William Powell are the running backs.
“Well, getting Beanie back will help,” Skelton said. “No offense to LaRod or William or anything, but those guys are not pound it down the middle type backs like Beanie is. Beanie is a big body to bring down.”
The Cardinals needed a break mentally more than anything, linebacker Sam Acho said.
“We did feel refreshed and ready to go,” he said. “You can sense it with everybody out on the field.”
Acho said it’s up to each player to examine himself and determine what needs to be done.
“The first thing we can do is look in the mirror,” he said. “Coach can look at us and say, ‘You need to do this better; you need to do that better.’ The first thing we can as players is look in the mirror and figure out what we can do to win games. Ultimately it’s not how many sacks you get or how many interceptions or touchdowns you throw, it’s about winning games.”