Not having Watt’s presence on the interior of the defensive line allowed the Green Bay Packers, who were down three wide receivers, to run the ball against Arizona’s thin defensive front, leading them to a 24-21 win in State Farm Stadium.
It didn’t help that, in addition to Watt, the Cardinals lost rookie linebacker Zaven Collins to a shoulder injury late in the first half after they were already without two other defensive tackles, Corey Peters, who’s out with COVID-19, and Rashard Lawrence, who missed the game with a calf injury.
“We’ve got to get Rashard and Corey Peters back,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Obviously, having those two guys out was not ideal with J.J. going out as well. But you can’t replace a presence like that.”
Arizona also lost safety James Wiggins to a knee injury.
Losing Collins during the game made the Cardinals rely on a rotation of Zach Allen, Jordan Phillips, Leki Fotu, Michael Dogbe and Josh Mauro. Allen and Phillips played 56 and 50 snaps, respectively, shouldering more of the load up front, while inside linebacker Tanner Vallejo played a season-high 28 defensive snaps.
Watt will have shoulder surgery next week, Kingsbury said, but the coach didn’t have a projected timeline for Watt’s return.
However, it is possible that Arizona gets Peters back within the next week. This was the third game he missed with COVID-19.
Kingsbury expected the Cardinals to get a “heavy dose” of Packers running back Aaron Jones after Green Bay lost their top three receivers to COVID and injury. The Packers ate time by running the play clock down and didn’t turn the ball over. Because of how effective the Packers were at running the ball and keeping the clock moving, the Cardinals were on the field for more than 10 fewer minutes than their average and ran 11 fewer plays.
Once the Packers started having success running the ball, linebacker Jordan Hicks said, “it was a go for them – and it wasn’t anything exotic.”
The Cardinals just didn’t have the personnel to slow down Green Bay’s 151 rushing yards.
But the injuries didn’t just stop on defense.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins left the game for more than two quarters with a hamstring injury after reaggravating the same issue that kept him out of practice all week. He was out from the 8:18 mark of the first quarter to the 8:15 mark of the third, a stretch of 30:03. During that span, the Cardinals managed just 54 yards on 22 plays -- 2.5 yards per play -- and scored a rushing touchdown.
“He’s pretty good,” Kingsbury said. “I mean, that's a big part of our offense having that guy.”
He played just 13 snaps and finished with 66 yards on two catches, but 58 of those came on the play in the first quarter when he reinjured his hamstring. He returned to the game against the Cardinals’ wishes.
“Obviously, if you take the best receiver in the game out, it makes it a little tough, but I have confidence in everybody out there,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. "I don’t want to make it about that. It wasn’t about that. We just didn’t play up to our standards.”
The Cardinals now have 10 days to try and heal up before heading to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Nov. 7 (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).