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Cardinals’ Arians: Trust in new players allows for success

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TEMPE – Earning a victory in their season opener, the Arizona Cardinals relied on a formula that helped make them a surprise playoff contender last year.

With a rookie receiver John Brown scoring the go-ahead touchdown and Tommy Kelly, a 33-year-old castoff from the New England Patriots, playing well in place of injured defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, new players held key roles in an 18-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Monday.

Head coach Bruce Arians said he has one word for being successful with his new players, especially the replacements.

“Trust. I think the guys respect the fact that you see something in them that you can fit them in a game for, whether it be offense or defense,” Arians said at a news conference Tuesday. “There are a lot of coaches that would never do that – I know that. I might be against the norm.”

Case in point: Kelly, a defensive end picked up from the Patriots late last month, recorded two tackles and provided significant pressure against quarterback Philip Rivers and a mostly veteran Chargers offense.

“I love Tommy Kelly; he did very well. A lot of pressure in the pocket. Got real close a couple of times,” Arians said. “He and Calais (Campbell), both with their length, they have a tendency to bull rush and get low and when they can’t get there, they just get their hands up. They make it hard to throw up the middle.”

The Cardinals had one of the NFL’s top defenses last season despite injuries to key linebackers, with veteran John Abraham recording 11.5 sacks and replacements filling in ably.

As with last season, Arians said he didn’t have many other options Monday but that embracing the gamble is key to playing replacements.

“I had to do it out of necessity and it worked. Don’t be fearful of it,” he said.

Arians may have to do it again with Frostee Rucker, another veteran called upon to help replace Dockett, expected to be sidelined at least for Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants due to a calf injury in Monday’s game.

“We’re not gonna stand pat with these rosters,” he said.

While last season didn’t end the way the Cardinals wanted despite a 10-6 record, Arians said the team’s belief in the system works from year to year, regardless of a changing roster.

“What carries over from one year to the next?” Arians said, repeating a question. “We have so many new faces. The belief that we were good enough to get it done carried over because it was there from the Seattle game and other games last year.”

Larry Fitzgerald recorded just a single reception for 22 yards on Monday and wasn’t a target until the fourth quarter against the Chargers, leading to criticism of quarterback Carson Palmer and the offense. In Palmer’s defense, Arians said that the offense isn’t designed for a single receiver.

“You design plays so wherever the cover is, that dictates it,” Arians said. “He was open a couple other times and he threw it somewhere else, but I’m not interested in anyone’s numbers except the W’s.”