Scouting the Cardinals

One of the shortest documents produced in the NFL this season has been the Cardinals' injury report. After losing several key players in the preseason, the Cardinals have been remarkably healthy during the regular season. They've entered the past two games with a full complement of players, and it's given them an advantage over Miami and the New York Giants, both of which have lost several key players during the year. Will the trend continue vs. the Panthers?

INSIDE SLANT

One of the shortest documents produced in the NFL this season has been the Cardinals' injury report.

After losing several key players in the preseason, the Cardinals have been remarkably healthy during the regular season. They've entered the past two games with a full complement of players, and it's given them an advantage over Miami and the New York Giants, both of which have lost several key players during the year.

"I think luck is always a part of it," coach Dennis Green said. "You want to be as close to your original group as you can get. We lost (players) early, and we adapted to it. If you lose them during the season, it's more difficult to adapt to."

The Cardinals had a disastrous preseason when it came to injuries. They lost running back Marcel Shipp, fullback James Hodgins and defensive linemen Kenny King and Fred Wakefield for the season.

But at least they had time to recover from the injuries and compensate for the players' lost. With Wakefield and King out, they needed help on the defensive line, so they traded for end Peppi Zellner.

With Shipp out, they needed a backup running back, so they obtained Troy Hambrick.

Green credits the strength program, headed by Steve Wetzel, and the training staff for the team's good fortune on the injury front. But he also knows that it's mostly luck.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The contract extensions of defensive end Peppi Zellner and running back Troy Hambrick were voided by the NFL's management council. Both have one-year contracts that were not eligible to be extended. The Cardinals thought they could extend the deals because they had obtained the players in a trade with Oakland. The team is hopeful of re-signing those two at season's end.

--RB Emmitt Smith gained 67 yards Sunday, giving him 18,050 for his career. He was the first NFL player to gain 17,000 yards, too. "It feels like I hit 17,000 last week," he said. "And to have 18,000 is ... what can I say?"

--QB Josh McCown had a sore neck and shoulder Monday after taking a vicious hit from Giants safety Gibril Wilson. McCown scrambled for a first down on the play, which kept alive a drive that resulted in a touchdown. After taking the hit, which snapped his head back, McCown got up and signaled first down. He realized quickly that was a mistake. "My head starting ringing pretty bad after that," he said. McCown hasn't run much lately, but he didn't regret that decision. "You have to do whatever it takes when the time is crucial," he said.

--The Cardinals continue to rotate players along the offensive line. Only center Alex Stepanovich and left tackle Leonard Davis have played every snap. Last week, reserve guard Cameron Spikes played both the left and right sides in the second half, and Anthony Clement replaced right tackle L.J. Shelton for a few series. The substitution plan is the idea of line coach Everett Lindsay, who was elevated to the position two weeks ago when head coach Dennis Green fired Bob Wylie. "He (Lindsay) thinks it gives guys a chance to get in and play," Green said. "It's OK. There are a lot of things people do in the NFL because that's the way people have done it. We don't mind thinking outside the box."

--CB Renaldo Hill suffered a bruised shoulder but is expected to play Sunday at Carolina.

--TE Freddie Jones' role in the passing game is diminishing weekly. He had just one reception Sunday and is spending more time as a blocker.

--RB Emmitt Smith suffered a sprained ankle but is expected to play Sunday at Carolina. He has eight rushing touchdowns this season. That's the most he's had since 1999, when he had nine.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald caught just one pass Sunday, but he should have had more of an impact. Fitzgerald was open several times, but quarterback Josh McCown was unable to get the ball to him. McCown overthrew him on one potentially big play.

--DE Bertrand Berry has nine sacks this season. That's already the most by a Cardinal since 1998, when Simeon Rice had 16 1/2.

--K Neil Rackers has missed just two kicks all year, a 58-yarder and a 64-yarder. He's made 11 field goals.

--RB Josh Scobey resumed his role as the team's third-down back after missing four games because of a knee injury. Emmitt Smith is excellent at picking up the blitz and catches the ball well, but coaches see third-down situations as a way to rest the 35-year-old Smith.

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