TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals led the NFL in yards gained last year. They averaged 38 points a game.

All the skill people returned. What should be well-oiled familiarity instead is disjointed and stagnant.

The Cardinals (1-2) are coughing and sputtering at the start of each game, taking precious time to get in gear.

“Every year is different,” coach Bruce Arians said after what was described as a spirited practice Wednesday. “When you get everybody back you expect to be as good (as last year) or better. But other things change. Again, our performance is not acceptable so far.”

Arizona has yet to score a point in the first quarter, not against New England, not in a blowout win over Tampa Bay, and not last Sunday in a 33-18 loss at Buffalo .

Last Sunday was the worst. The Cardinals didn’t get a first down in their first five possessions and were down 17-0 in a hurry.

What’s wrong?

“We always strive to score that first possession. That’s something I take pride in,” said Arians, who prefers to take the ball first if the Cardinals win the coin toss rather than deferring to the second half. “The biggest thing is third-down conversions, third-down conversions and poor first-down plays. If we have a short play we’ve gone a good job of getting it in second-and-five or less, but the third downs are the key, like they are every week.”

The Cardinals are 17 of 41 (41.5 percent) in third-down conversions. Against Buffalo, they were 5 of 15.

Like most of his teammates, Carson Palmer wasn’t at his best against the Bills, completing 26 of 50 passes for 260 yards. He threw four interceptions — all in the fourth quarter — and didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

Arians said two of the interceptions were the receiver’s fault for running the wrong route. The other two came when Palmer threw a couple up for grabs in hopes of scoring quickly with the team so far behind.

Palmer was 7 for 14 for 44 yards in the first half.

“I think it always comes down to execution,” Palmer said about the slow starts. “There’s never one reason that kind of covers them all. It’s execution — everybody, all 11 guys executing the right play at the right time.”

Arians has said things might have worked out differently if Michael Floyd hadn’t dropped the first pass of the game. Maybe the momentum of a catch would lead to an early score and the whole mood of the day would be altered.

Floyd, who has just nine catches for 134 yards in three games, said a few big plays could loosen the team up.

“I think our offense feeds off our room, our group (wide receivers) and making big plays ,” he said. “I think that feeds on the offense. I think it feeds on the whole team, seeing us making big plays out there. With me to start out the game with an incomplete pass., you know, I take that seriously and I’m making sure that doesn’t happen again.

“It’s just starting of fast, making big plays and getting back into the groove and having that confidence that we can just go downfield and score.”

Much easier said than done with the rough defense of the Los Angeles Rams coming to town. The NFC West foes meet Sunday afternoon in Glendale.

Notes: The Cardinals signed three players — long snapper Aaron Brewer, punter Ryan Quigley and inside linebacker Joplo Bartu. … With regular punter Drew Butler still in a walking boot due to an ankle injury, the holder’s job on extra points and field goals probably will to Quigley, Arians said.


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