For a night, Steve Wilks could live with some of the mistakes. That doesn’t mean he liked some of the missteps and miscommunication he saw from some of his players during the Cardinals’ 24-17 preseason victory over the Chargers on Saturday night. He just wasn’t in any hurry to throw anyone under the bus after a home win in his NFL debut as a head coach at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Especially after being handed a game ball by team President Michael Bidwill to mark the occasion.
“I tell the guys if we’re out in the dirt and we’re playing marbles, I want to win,” Wilks said. “I’m not going to apologize for a preseason win, as inconsistent and as sloppy as it may have been. It’s a win and it’s a win at home, which we take pride in.”
The critiques and the criticisms will come Monday morning when Wilks huddles his team together and breaks down video of the game in a group setting. That’s where things might get just a little loud and cantankerous. Even though the first-team units played rather well in the short time they were on the field, there was plenty for Wilks and his staff to grumble about the rest of the way.
Take Arizona’s third-down conversion percentage, for starters. The Cardinals were 0 for 11, which never makes a head coach happy.
“No.1, I would say that definitely is unacceptable so we have to find a way to correct it,” Wilks said. “Moving forward, we’ve got to be able to move the chains and keep the drive going. We’re going to go in and watch the tape and make the proper corrections.”
The Cardinals were also besieged by penalty flags, getting called 11 times for 110 yards. The offenses were wide-ranging, but three times they were whistled for lowering the head and making illegal contact with the helmet, the league’s new no-tolerance rule for player safety reasons.
Wilks clearly wasn’t pleased with all the flags, but he and his staff will have to re-emphasize the spirit and details of the helmet rule to the players before the penalties get out of hand. That’s as important as anything this week leading up to the team’s second preseason game this Friday night at New Orleans.
“I put the ownership back on us as coaches,” he said. “We have to do a good job and we have to continue to do a good job of trying to coach it. We’re going to continue to try and get clarity as well form the league and what they expect. But I understand what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to really protect the guys and have safety in the game. It’s an aggressive game – collisions happen – but we want to make sure we’re doing it the right way.”
While the rest of the team studies the rulebook, expect second-string center Daniel Munyer to spend some extra time this week working on his snaps to the quarterback in shotgun situations. Most of his attempts to rookie Josh Rosen looked like ground balls hit to a shortstop. That won’t fly if he hopes to nail down the backup job rookie starter Mason Cole.
The low snaps had a negative effect on Rosen, forcing him to take his eyes off the defense and not giving him any time to check through his read progressions. The first-round pick refused to blame Munyer for any of his lack of production with the second-team offense, however.
“A lot of stuff happens in football,” said Rosen, who was 6 of 13 for 41 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. “I think what makes you a good quarterback is the resolve to not let the little things phase you like that. It was no big deal.”
Rosen took a sack, a delay of game penalty and nearly throw a pick-six, but he didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates, either. Wilks promised that Rosen will get a chance to play with the starting offense at some point in a preseason game, at which point everyone will get a clearer idea of how ready Rosen is.
“We expect him to get better,” Wilks said.
azcentral sports’ Kent Somers and Bob McManaman talk about the Cardinals’ 24-17 victory against the Chargers in their first preseason game.
That’s also the hope involving the team’s batch of wide receivers. Although it’s difficult to gauge where the passing game stands because it never really got a chance to click Saturday night against the Chargers, one of the Cardinals’ other major concerns remains waiting for one or two receivers to separate themselves from the pack.
There isn’t a clear-cut No.2 receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald among a group that includes Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams and rookie Christian Kirk. The tight ends actually had a better game overall, which is telling because that particular unit is viewed as one of the team’s major weaknesses.
“We need to be more productive; that’s obvious right there,” Wilks said of his receiving corps and blaming his second- and third-string offensive linemen in the process. “We need to do a much better job and it starts with the protection, giving the quarterback the opportunity while he’s in the pocket to step up and go through his reads.”
Wilks liked what he saw on special teams, especially from kicker Phil Dawson, punter Andy Lee and an early-game, 38-yard punt return from Kirk that helped set up a touchdown drive by the first-team offense. But there was too much inconsistency elsewhere as the game wore on, particularly with a few players fighting for spots on defense.
One player who shined particularly bright on Saturday night was Cap Capi, who is listed as the team’s fourth-string defensive end. A star in last year’s training camp but ultimately cut from the team, Capi responded with three sacks and a forced fumble in the second half and probably just climbed a spot or two up the depth chart closer to sack master Chandler Jones.
Capi, who split last season with the Giants and Bills, knows how important it is to make a good first impression with a new coaching staff. He did that that Saturday night.
“It’s really big,” Capi said. “I always have a good preseason but always end up falling short of the 53-(man roster). But I’m hoping this year can be different.”
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.