Receivers struggle as part of Arizona offense woes


Receivers struggle as part of Arizona offense woes

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Larry Fitzgerald is the most formidable receiver struggling in Arizona's impotent offense, but the whole group is contending with problems often beyond its control.

Bad passes and missed blocks in the protection have thwarted big plays that seemed ripe for the taking. Sometimes when that goes right, the receiver drops the ball. It's been that kind of year in Arizona, where the Cardinals take a seven-game losing streak into Sunday's road game against the New York Jets.

Now injuries have added to the problem. Andre Roberts, the No. 2 receiver behind Fitzgerald, missed practice for a second straight day Thursday with an ankle injury, although he said he was ``very optimistic'' he would be able to play Sunday. Early Doucet, usually the No. 3 receiver, missed Sunday's home loss to St. Louis with injured ribs and has been limited in practice this week.

Asked to assess the receivers as a whole, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, ``It's hard to assess any position. We haven't had enough consistency or continuity offensively this year.''

``Our guys are trying, we've got to get better,'' he said. ``Last week we had a good half of football. If we don't turn the ball over, it could have been a very good day for us offensively. We've just got to build off of that.''

Doucet's injury opened the way for the NFL debut of undrafted rookie LaRon Byrd, who took a vicious hit against the Rams and left the game with dizziness. He said he has been cleared to play this week.

One player who has taken advantage of his opportunities is first-round draft pick Michael Floyd, who had seen his playing time grow even before Doucet was hurt.

Floyd had dropped some passes early and said he took it to heart. After eight catches in his first seven games, Floyd has 16 for 169 yards in his last four.

``I'm always my worst critic,'' he said. ``I mean, I'm yelling at me, I get down on myself more than anybody else could. But it's always motivation because I expect a lot out of myself to be productive and make plays when they come my way.''

A critical flaw for Arizona is the inability to get the ball to Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the game.

In the last two games he has four catches for 42 yards and had none in the second half against St. Louis, when the Rams outscored the Cardinals 17-0 en route to a 31-17 victory.

Rookie Ryan Lindley got his first NFL start on Sunday and completed 31 of 52 for 312 yards and no touchdowns with four interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns.

On two of the interceptions - including one brought back for a TD - Fitzgerald was open for big gains but Lindley badly underthrew him. In the previous game at Atlanta, Whisenhunt benched quarterback John Skelton when he missed a wide open Fitzgerald in the end zone.

Fitzgerald has taken pains not to criticize anyone for his situation.

``You've got to maintain your professionalism,'' he said. ``It was like my son when we were home and eating dinner and I'm trying to get him to eat his vegetables and he's doing everything he can to not eat them. That's frustrating, but I know we're trying to do everything we can to make sure we have big plays. It's not a conscious effort that, `We're not going to get Fitz the ball' or `We're going to overthrow him on this one or not call his number.' We're just not executing.''

One thing for certain, Fitzgerald is sick of this losing streak.

``Seven weeks, the urgency is like if you would be drowning,'' he told reporters on Thursday. ``You ever been in the pool and you're struggling for air, how hard do you fight to get to the top? That's kind of how we all feel right now. We're struggling and fighting and doing anything we can to get to the top. If we're close enough I'll pull you down to get to the air.''


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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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