This week, the Cardinals look to move to 3-0 in preseason play when they host the AFC's San Diego Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium.
WATCH THE GAME SATURDAY ONLY ON ABC15. COVERAGE STARTS AT 6:30 PM, AND THE GAME BEGINS AT 7 PM.
The Cardinals are coming off wins over Green Bay (17-0) and Dallas (12-7) behind a defense that's already recovered four fumbles and intercepted opposing quarterbacks four times.
While the defense is capitalizing on opponents mistakes, it's also given up a number of long drives in the first two games, one to Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers and a couple of lengthy drives to Cowboys' QB Tony Romo.
On offense, the Cardinals are averaging close to 80 yards more per game than the team's first two opponents.
New quarterback Carson Palmer is competing a pedestrian 52.4% of his passes, with a two game quarterback rating of 90.0. This past week, the first unit offense didn't score a single touchdown when inside the red zone, an issue that has Coach Bruce Arians concerned.
This week also marks the return of former Cardinals head coach, Ken Whisenhunt. After being fired after the final game of the 2012 season, Whisenhunt found a job as the Offensive Coordinator with the Chargers. In addition to Whisenhunt, former Cardinal coaches Kevin Spencer, Frank Reich and Chad Grimm will return to University of Phoenix Stadium for the first time since 2012.
Perhaps the biggest story line this week is the fact that the starters will play through halftime and into the third quarter. The expectation is to get the starting offense and defense, as well as the coaching staff, prepared to play in the first regular season game by going deeper into the game and experiencing halftime adjustments. The hope is to give the starters enough playing time to accomplish that while avoiding serious injuries.
Giving the starters more playing time in Week 3 also means that a number of players who are still fighting for a roster spot, won't get much playing time to prove their worth. In fact, once the starters leave the game, expect the second unit guys to get the lion's share of the remaining playing time.
On the Chargers sideline, there are a number of players to keep an eye on: quarterback Philip Rivers, Running back Ryan Matthews, Tight End Antonio Gates and Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd. On defense, a couple of names move to the top of the watch list: Outside Linebacker Dwight Freeney and Inside Linebacker Manti Te'o. If you're not familiar with Te'o, just spend a few minutes on the internet and you'll quickly see that he comes with a lot of strange and unique baggage, which should make the evening fun for Cardinals' fans. Who knows what signs we might see or chants we may hear when Te'o hits the field in Charger blue.
Back to the keys to Game 3 of the preseason: If you're interested at all in gauging the type of offense, defense and kicking game we can expect to see in 2013, this is the game to watch. All things equal and with players healthy, expect to see the starters on both teams battling it out for a considerable amount of time. Not that the Chargers are expected to be one of the top teams in the NFL this season, but they won't be a bottom dweller either. That should provide plenty to fireworks for fans to enjoy; at least for one half of the game and maybe into the early part of the third quarter.
It's also clear at this point in the preseason, which players are falling from grace and which players are beginning to shine. The Cardinals, along with the rest of the 32 clubs in the league, have to make a roster cut next Tuesday, August 27. At that point, rosters will have to be trimmed to 75, meaning as many as 15 players for each team will be playing in, or at least suiting up for, their final NFL game this season.
Less than a week later (on August 31), teams will be forced to cut the roster to 53. After the cut next Tuesday, 22 more players will lose a job in the NFL less than five days later.
Game three is critical to all 90 guys on the roster if they expect to be playing on September 8, or at least the ones who don't have a starting position etched into the depth chart. The fireworks won't just be exploding on the scoreboard this Saturday, expect tempers to be short and patience to be absent. This is the time for players to make their move!
This is the preseason game to watch!