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Palmer's better offence could offset any problems with depleted defence

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - A better offence could offset any problems that surface for what has been a stout defence in Arizona.

Quarterback Carson Palmer says he's not sure you can fill the shoes of the three players the Cardinals lost up the middle on defence. Tackle Darnell Dockett was lost for the season with a knee injury in practice Monday.

The team already was without both inside linebackers. Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland as a free agent and Daryl Washington is suspended for the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"There's not a bunch of Darnell Docketts out there," Palmer said. "There's not a bunch of Karloses. There's not a bunch of guys out there that are athletic freaks like Daryl was."

Palmer said he knows there will be replacements who bring talent to those positions, but he thinks the offence is ready to bear a bigger responsibility.

"We need to be kind of the backbone," he said. "We need to be counted on to win games at the end of games. We've got to pick up and continue to improve week after week. Who knows how the season's going to shake down, but we need to be ready offensively to carry."

The offence, coach Bruce Arians said, needs to pick up from where it was in the second half of last season, when Arizona went 6-2, then build from there.

In each of the first two preseason games, Arizona's first-team offence has mounted a long touchdown drive on its first possession.

In the opener against Houston, Palmer was 5 of 5 for 84 yards, culminated by a 7-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Last week at Minnesota, the Cardinals went 93 yards in nine plays for a score the first time they had the ball.

But it was only a brief appearance. This week against Palmer's old team, the Cincinnati Bengals, Cardinals starters will play longer. Arians said they will go no more than a half, less than that if they play well.

"It's hard to be perfectly comfortable when you know you're only getting a couple of shots," Palmer said, "because you have to have every one be perfect. First downs got to be great, second downs got to be great. because third-and-10 can be so difficult."

Palmer has not had one of his top targets, Michael Floyd. Floyd, who topped 1,000 yards receiving in his second NFL season a year ago, has been sidelined with a groin injury but is practicing. He's expected to play against Cincinnati on Saturday night.

New wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie John Brown bring a speed element that was lacking a year ago. Getting in sync with players who run so fast takes time.

"I like the speed," Palmer said. "I think it adds a new facet to our offence and is going to make some of the underneath stuff a little better. It's going to make the run game a little bit better."

The running game hasn't produced much statistically. Arizona is averaging 2.5 yards per carry, but Arians says he isn't concerned.

"The running game's been fine," he said. "There haven't been very many long runs but they've been very efficient. When you go for it on fourth down four times and you make it four times that's a pretty good running game."

The team is keeping starting running back Andre Ellington mostly under wraps to avoid injury. He's had four carries for 12 yards and caught one pass for 16 yards. Ellington is counted on not only as a dynamic ball carrier but as a receiver. He's learned every wide receiver spot.

A year ago, Palmer and the rest of the Cardinals were struggling mightily to learn Arians' intricate offence. This year they know how to correct their own mistakes.

"There's no comparison," Palmer said. "You go from totally trying to learn an offence and doing something wrong and getting screamed at and yelled at to now we're correcting things on the field and talking about things on the field."

Not that there still isn't screaming and yelling. That's just the way Arians' staff is.

"It's the same sound in that room," Palmer said. "You would think we didn't complete a pass or make a run past six inches, but that will never change and we know that. That style of coaching has been very successful."

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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