The Arizona Cardinals' offense, defense and special teams units all took to the field Sunday in Miami, but the franchise had a fourth unit that was on the field practically as much as the team's players: Its training staff.
Five different Cardinals' players suffered injuries in Sunday's 26-23 loss against Miami including cornerback Marcus Cooper, linebacker Deone Bucannon, safety Tony Jefferson, left tackle D.J. Humphries and right tackle Ulrick John.
Cooper, Bucannon, Humphries and John didn't return to the field after their injuries Sunday, as Jefferson was the only player to re-enter Sunday's game after exiting in pain.
For a team that has already placed 11 different players on injured reserve this season and was without two key defensive backs, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, due to injuries Sunday, the Cardinals misfortune continued in a devastating fashion in the team's loss against the Dolphins.
Arizona's injury issues became so problematic that when both Cooper and Jefferson were out of the game, the Cardinals were forced to play wide receiver Brittan Golden in the defensive backfield as a safety. While Golden has practiced with defensive backs to prepare for an emergency situation like the one the Cardinals faced Sunday, the fact the Cardinals actually had to rely on Golden shows just how depleted the team's depth has become.
A series after Golden appeared in the game at safety, the Cardinals' wide receiver caught his first career touchdown reception, a play that likely happened as a result of Arizona needing to limit the rep count of some of its other offensive weapons.
On Sunday, the Cardinals reached a place few other teams have been both in their defensive backfield and along their offensive line, where injuries to Humphries and John forced a makeshift line to reshuffle yet again.
Though John's injury came on the Cardinals' final offensive play, Humphries suffered a concussion in the first half that forced Arizona to bring reserve offensive guard John Wetzel into the game at tackle. With Wetzel, John and reserve right guard Earl Watford all in the lineup during the second half on Sunday, the Cardinals were left with just two starters, left guard Mike Iupati and center A.Q. Shipley, from the team's opening week lineup.
Had the Cardinals' offense been forced to come back on the field for an overtime period Sunday, it's quite possible Arizona would have been down to its ninth offensive lineman, at which point either Taylor Boggs or rookie Evan Boehm would have entered the rotation. In that scenario, Boggs or Boehm likely would have replaced Watford at right guard, who would have shifted to tackle to take over in John's spot.
Though the Cardinals didn't have to protect quarterback Carson Palmer with such a doomsday scenario lineup, the offensive line's struggles this season as a result of injuries have already been well documented.
Defensively, aside from needing Golden to take the field at one point, defensive backs Justin Bethel and rookie Brandon Williams both saw extensive action in the second half following Cooper's injury, which left the Cardinals without a full compliment of cornerbacks. In the game's closing moments, it was Bethel who was beat over the top in coverage by Miami wide receiver Kenny Stills on a play that helped set up a chip shot, game-winning field goal for the Dolphins.
At linebacker, with Bucannon out for most of the second half, reserves Zaviar Gooden and Sio Moore traded series to see who could provide an effective stopgap, and Moore actually provided Arizona with a handful of impressive plays.
Still, all of the injuries piled up Sunday in a troubling manner for an Arizona team that has been forced to make do with far too many alternative options this season. Though the Cardinals likely believe their opponents and fans never saw the team at its best this season, injuries have ravaged Arizona's depth to the point where it's hard to imagine the Cardinals aren't close to the worst version of themselves.null