Cardinals rebound with blowout win over Buccaneers

Rookies Brandon Williams and Cariel Brooks both struggled for stretches on Thursday against the Broncos, leaving the door open for Cooper to fight for playing time. Look for 2015 All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu to man the slot, with coach Bruce Arians saying that the uber-talented defender — returning from another ACL injury — will be “ready to roll” for Week 1.

“I thought Brandon got better, but he’s still got problems looking back at the quarterback when he’s playing man-to-man,” Arians said, per the team’s official website. “The guys who are going to play next Sunday night (against the Patriots), I have all the confidence in the world in them.”

After struggling throughout the preseason, rookie Brandon Williams was exposed as a coverage liability opposite Patrick Peterson in the season-opening loss to the New England Patriots.

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Simon is an intriguing flyer for Arizona. Although injuries and inconsistency have limited him to just five starts in three seasons, it was less than two months ago when All-Pro Richard Sherman reiterated a prediction that Simon will ultimately be viewed as the better player “by the time it’s all said and done.”

The absence of Doug Martin contributed heavily to Tampa Bay’s struggles on offense. The Bucs’ irreplacable running back left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Tampa was not able to establish any semblance of a running game following his exit, forcing Winston to attempt desperate passes to Evans and cheap jerseys and company. If the Bucs lose Martin for an extended period of time, that will spell trouble for a promising Tampa offense.

Patrick Peterson’s matchup with Bucs wideout Mike Evans bore some great plays on both sides of the ball. Arizona’s top cover man led off the pick parade of Winston with an end-zone interception on Tampa’s first drive. Evans followed with an impressive back-shoulder touchdown grab once the game was settled in the third, beating Pat P off the line of scrimmage. With all the talk about fellow corner Josh Norman following lesser opposing wideouts, Peterson reminded the league that he shouldn’t be overlooked as a top-three corner, and a fearless one at that.

Football Outsiders gives the Cardinals just a 15.3 percent chance of reaching the postseason. There’s reason to believe, however, that the season could take a turn for the better in the second half.

Point differential has always been a more accurate indicator of future won-loss record than current won-loss record. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently pointed out, the 13-3 Cardinals of 2015 were closer to an 11.9-win team while this year’s point differential suggests a 10.2-win squad.

Minnesota’s secondary bounced back in quite a way. Xavier Rhodes recorded two interceptions, including a 100-yard interception return for touchdown that wiped out a lengthy Arizona drive that had the Cardinals poised to retake the lead in the second. Trae Waynes, who was victimized repeatedly by various quarterback/receiver duos earlier in the season, blanketed whomever he covered. Sometimes it wasn’t enough — see Larry Fitzgerald’s incredible one-handed catch — but often, it forced Palmer to hold onto the ball longer and look elsewhere.

The Cardinals need to take a long look in the mirror and realize their strength, which lies in the backfield. Palmer still brings it from time to time, but he’s showing signs of his age (especially when under pressure) and it’s hampering Arizona’s offense. David Johnson broke 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, while also catching seven passes for 57 yards and another score, and Andre Ellington made a cameo on five carries for 21 yards, showing the bursts of speed that had Cardinals coaches and fans salivating just two seasons ago. That pairing can be lethal when turned to with volume. It’s hard to come back from a multiple-score deficit on the ground, but a slight shift to the run could have prevented Rhodes’ pick-six, caught on the goal line with Arizona deep in the red zone.

“Jaron always makes plays,” coach Bruce Arians raved in August. “He’s very physical for a wideout. Great special teams player. Put in the right system, he could be a solid ‘3’ or ‘2.’ We never hesitate throwing him the ball in a clutch situation.”

With Michael Floyd due to reach free agency and Larry Fitzgerald settling into the year-to-year portion of his Hall of Fame career, Brown offers insurance at the position for the 2017 season.