Protecting Palmer proving more difficult as injuries mount for Arizona

The Arizona Cardinals are preparing to give offensive lineman Taylor Boggs the first start of his NFL career at right guard Sunday against New Orleans.

In the past two months, the Arizona Cardinals have claimed just two victories, falling out of playoff contention in the NFC in a season the franchise believed was its best opportunity yet to claim a Super Bowl.

The season has hardly gone according to expectations for Arizona, and much of that has had to do with a sputtering offense that returned all of its key contributors from a season ago yet hasn't found a way to re-capture the same magic the Cardinals had during a 13-3 regular season campaign last year.

As offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said Thursday, Arizona has played well in spurts, but for the better part of the season, turnovers have crushed the Cardinals' offensive rhythm. In Sunday's 26-23 loss to Miami, Arizona turned the ball over four times in the first half and didn't recover in time to take down the Dolphins.

"Need to get a win, a much-needed win, didn't play that well last week, played well in spurts," Goodwin said. "The turnovers killed us last week, but got to do a better job this week of taking care of the football and keeping our head down and keep grinding, keep getting better every day, so hopefully we can go out and get a win."

Much like most struggling NFL teams, the Cardinals are hampered by a shortage of depth on the team's offensive line, where Arizona will start at least two players this week who began the season either as reserves or off of the roster entirely. 

After placing right tackle Ulrick John on injured reserve earlier this week, the Cardinals are hoping left tackle D.J. Humphries is able to clear concussion protocol and return for Sunday's game. If he's unable to do so, reserve offensive tackles John Wetzel and Earl Watford will start on the exterior of the offensive line, and Arizona will likely start reserve guard Taylor Boggs at right guard.

Boggs has played in eight games during a brief NFL career, and the 29-year old spent the preseason with Arizona in fall camp, but injury circumstances have now forced the Cardinals into giving yet another lineman his first career start.

"Technician, smart, tries to play physical, it's an opportunity for him (Boggs) if that's the way we go," Goodwin said. "I tried to petition the league and see if I could get out there, so we'll either have to go with him or (Evan) Boehm, but right now, it's looking like Boggs."

When pressed on the struggles Arizona has had with injuries up front, Goodwin answered in a rather matter of fact manner that injuries are simply part of the game, and as long as the Cardinals have five healthy linemen, the offense will take the field as it does every week. 

"If we've got five guys, we're going to play ball so that's where it's at. Injuries happen all the time, it is what it is, we're not the only team with injuries in the National Football League, so I'll have five guys out there when the clock strikes the hour we've got to play and we'll be ready to go," Goodwin said. "Those guys are professional, they get paid for a reason, so they've got to play well."

Both Goodwin and quarterback Carson Palmer have expressed confidence in the Cardinals' offensive line over the past few weeks, despite the unit's inability to keep the pocket clean for Palmer. Even though the Cardinals have somewhat limited the number of sacks Palmer has taken in recent weeks, the number of hits the team's signal-caller has incurred has spiked during the second half of the season.

Goodwin said even though the Cardinals are short-handed up front, Arizona hasn't done much to alter its game plans, so the empty backfields and compromised protections the team calls when its regular starters are in the lineup are still very much of the Cardinals' weekly plan. 

"In protection, he's going to get hit. It's impossible to go through a game and not get him hit. You guys know we do a lot of empty protections so sometimes he's going to have to take a hit and sometimes we're going to get beat one on one. We just have to make sure we keep our leverage, stay inside out on guys and put our hands on them."

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