Less is more: Cardinals work to balance preparation, health

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Kliff Kingsbury learned some hard lessons last year while coaching his Arizona Cardinals through a late-season collapse from a 6-3 record to 8-8 and just missing a spot in the playoffs.

Arguably the most important: In the NFL’s regular-season grind, less is sometimes more when it comes to the practice field.

This is one of those times for the NFC West-leading — but very banged up — Cardinals.

“I don’t want to give away our secret right now, but we’ve definitely made some adjustments at this juncture in our season to Wednesday more than anything,” said Kingsbury, who is in his third season.

Arizona (8-1) is thriving with the best record in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

In particular, the injuries are mounting: Quarterback Kyler Murray (ankle) and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) missed last week’s win; three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (shoulder) is likely out for the season; running back Chase Edmonds (ankle) could miss multiple games; and the offensive line has been in constant flux because of injuries to Justin Pugh, Max Garcia and Rodney Hudson.

Kingsbury said Wednesdays were a “fairly intense” day of practice throughout last season, but he’s made some changes to that schedule to help his team, particularly the veterans, feel fresh on Sundays.

Even with the practice tweaks, it’s been a tough grind for the Cardinals, who have played nine straight weeks and have two more games before their long-awaited bye week over Thanksgiving.

The Cardinals didn’t have a full practice on Wednesday, but if they had, the injury report said 12 players would have missed and four more would have been limited. That’s nearly a third of the active roster.

“We’ll continue to be smart and monitor who’s up, who’s not and really try to get to the bye week with that in mind,” Kingsbury said. “After the bye week, once we’re fresh and energized, we’ll take it from there.”

Murray missed the first game of his three-year NFL career on Sunday because of his ankle. He watched from the sideline as the short-handed Cardinals, led by backup quarterback Colt McCoy, earned one of their most impressive wins of the season by beating the San Francisco 49ers 31-17.

Murray said he hopes to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and added that he’s “made crazy strides in a positive direction” since last week. Kingsbury said the quarterback is “day to day,” but that could mean just about anything because the coach uses that description for basically any injury that’s not season ending.

Whether it’s Murray or McCoy under center on Sunday, the Cardinals will likely still be formidable. The 35-year-old McCoy was excellent in his first start this season, completing 22 of 26 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown.

“We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that, even when they’re not starters, they prepare like starters, they work like starters and then you see how enthusiastic the rest of their teammates are when they are able to play and step up and have an impact on the game,” Kingsbury said. “It’s been a fun group to be around in that regard.”

NOTES: Even Arizona’s long snapper is hurt. Aaron Brewer has a broken arm and will miss multiple weeks, according to Kingsbury. The Cardinals signed veteran long snapper Kyle Nelson on Wednesday in an attempt to fill his spot. Nelson is a nine-year veteran who has snapped in 106 career games after entering the league in 2011. … Also on the injury list was starting safety Budda Baker, who has a concussion and knee injury. … Kingsbury said he hopes receiver A.J. Green (reserve/COVID-19) will be activated before Sunday’s game.

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