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Cardinals sign Freeney to bolster fledgling pass rush

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va — The Arizona Cardinals entered Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions with a full roster of healthy players. All seven inactive players were healthy scratches.

That situation changed, however.

The most serious injury was to outside linebacker Alex Okafor, who is expected to miss significant time with a calf injury. How much time will be better known after the team receives the results of an MRI.

That prompted the club to reach agreement with free agent Dwight Freeney, who is expected to sign a one-year deal with a minimum salary and incentives for sacks.

The Cardinals have been interested in Freeney since the summer, but he wanted too much money. Five games into the season, both sides were motivated to make something happen.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks on the season so they needed help even if Okafor hadn’t been injured. But he is also their best pass rusher, even though he hasn’t recorded a sack since getting two in the season opener.

Coach Bruce Arians, however, has said he has been satisfied with the pass rush. And the team does have 11 interceptions, most in the NFL. So the pass defense has been solid.

Arians denied that a deal was in place with Freeney, even though multiple outlets reported it.

If Freeney does sign, he will be a pass rush specialist, likely replacing LaMarr Woodley in those situations.

With Okafor out, the Cardinals need rookie Markus Golden, their second-round pick, to continue to improve. Golden has shown pass rush ability although he sometimes tends to lose containment.

–Arians downplayed returning to Pittsburgh this Sunday to play the Steelers.

“I’ve been there as a visitor there many times,” he said. “I’ve been in both those locker rooms, so it’s no big deal.”

Not many people are going to believe that. Over the past three years, Arians often has mentioned the Steelers “re-firing” him after the 2011 season. Earlier this year, he said he gives thanks every day the Rooneys fired him. That enabled him to go to the Colts, where he won coach of the year honors for the job he did as an interim replacement for Chuck Pagano.

That stint led to the Cardinals hiring him in 2013.

–The Cardinals are staying and practicing this week at The Greenbrier, a luxury resort in West Virginia. The Saints have had held training camp there, and the facilities are impressive.

“It was a lot easier traveling last night than going all the way back to Phoenix,” Arians said. “We knew coming in here that it was going to be an outstanding facility, that we could get our work done and it wouldn’t be any kind of distraction.”

INJURY NOTES: ILB Kenny Demens (left ACL) is out for the season. A backup, Demens is a core special teams player who will be difficult to replace. … S Chris Clemons (hamstring) could miss significant time. He also is a solid special teams player.

REPORT CARD VS. LIONS

–PASSING OFFENSE: A. Carson Palmer threw just 14 passes but he completed 11, three of them for touchdowns. He was sacked twice in the first quarter, but the protection improved dramatically after that. He did not have an interception, and his receiver didn’t have a drop.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A. Chris Johnson has helped the team achieved what might be its best running attack since moving to the desert in 1988. He gained 103 yards on 11 carries, including runs of 25 and 40 yards. Andre Ellington broke a 63-yard touchdown run in the second half.

–PASS DEFENSE: A. The Cardinals intercepted four passes, including three off starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. They only had one sack but they got enough pressure on Stafford to make him move around.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A. The Lions were behind, 28-7, at halftime so they couldn’t run much in the second half. They finished with 57 yards on 18 carries.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Nothing special, and punter Drew Butler continues to average one bad punt per game. But everything else was solid.

–COACHING: A. The Cardinals bounced back from their only loss of the season thus far. Bruce Arians probably made a mistake by opening in the no-huddle – it looked awful for two possessions – but everything else went flawlessly.


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