The Arizona Cardinals were without quarterback Carson Palmer for the team's 33-21 win over San Francisco on Thursday night, and though they'll get Palmer back for a Monday night showdown with the New York Jets, injuries continue to mount for the organization.
On Saturday, Arizona placed offseason free agent acquisition and starting right guard Evan Mathis on the team's injured reserve list, effectively ending his season after he suffered an ankle injury against the 49ers.
The Cardinals are also dealing with an ankle injury incurred by starting left guard Mike Iupati, and while the team has been close-lipped about Iupati's injury, reports suggest Iupati will miss between two-to-four weeks.
"Mike's been here a couple of years, he really knows the system," Palmer said. "Evan came in and it seemed like he'd been here a couple of years even though it was only the start of one so it's tough to replace the experience, the size, those are two of the bigger guys in the NFL, but that's the NFL and you've got to step up, you've got to play."
On Wednesday, Palmer reflected on the Cardinals' injury situation along the offensive front, commending reserve tackle John Wetzel for his play against the 49ers as Wetzel relieved an injured Iupati during the second half of Thursday's contest.
When Mathis went down, reserve guard Earl Watford became his replacement, but that left the Cardinals without another guard on the team's 46-man game day roster. With rookie Cole Toner inactive and fellow rookie Evan Boehm limited to his role as the team's reserve center, head coach Bruce Arians called upon Wetzel, a tackle by trade, to fill the void left by Iupati.
"I have no idea how hard that is, but I can only relate it to like, asking me to go play tailback maybe which would not be pretty," Palmer said. "But I can't imagine really, you're in one stance for so long and then you're in a different stance and then you're in a different position entirely. Everyone thinks it's offensive line, but no it's not offensive line, there's three different specific positions along the offensive front and you know, everybody has watched him throughout just this year so far, and man that guy can play."
Wetzel more than held his own against the 49ers, protecting backup quarterback Drew Stanton who started in place of a concussed Palmer. Holding down the interior of the Cardinals' offensive line, Wetzel helped pave the way for running back David Johnson to a 27-carry, 157-yard performance that netted him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Palmer said the Cardinals obviously don't want to be in a position where they need their eighth and ninth offensive linemen to stand in and play extended minutes, but that's exactly what Arizona is up against right now. While Wetzel's regular season experience in the NFL is extremely limited, he was far from a liability against the 49ers.
The tests will become greater for the Cardinals though, especially if Watford and Wetzel stand in as Arizona's starting guards as expected on Monday evening. The New York Jets own the second best rushing defense in the NFL through five weeks, and unlike San Francisco which plays a lot of odd fronts and leaves guards uncovered, the Jets will align linemen head up over guards to disrupt the Cardinals' zone rushing scheme.
"You don't want to lose Evan, you don't want to lose Mike, you sure don't want to lose both of them and unfortunately we did," Palmer said. "Everybody was like, Wetzel will be fine, we've watched him play in practice, with the scout team and just looking at him physically, he's got size, he's got a great athlete, so you don't want to be in a position where he has to play but it's very comforting knowing he's coming in to play."
Coming off a game in which he was sacked five times by a strong Los Angeles front and exited in the fourth quarter with a concussion, Palmer expressed great respect for a New York Jets' defensive unit that possesses plenty of firepower. Aside from owning one of the league's best run defenses, Palmer said New York can rush the quarterback, and an inexperienced Cardinals' front must be wary of their opposition.
"Great front, they play the run extremely well, they play the run as well as anybody in the league is playing right now," Palmer said. "They rush the passer. For a big, physical team, they look like a run-stopping group, there's a lot of pass rushers in that group too. Very, very good players."