Cardinals Tyrann Mathieu expected to return Sunday versus Falcons

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' secondary might be getting a boost a few weeks earlier than expected.

Coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that safety Tyrann Mathieu will play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, although the Honey Badger wouldn't fully commit to taking the field for the first time since suffering a shoulder subluxation in Week 8 at Carolina. But Mathieu also said Arians' declaration wasn't premature.

"I think I'm ready to go," Mathieu said. "We'll see how the week goes. If I continue to progress well and everything's OK, I'll be out there Sunday."

In addition to regaining Mathieu, the Cardinals' secondary will also be getting safety Tyvon Branch back in the next couple of weeks. With Branch practicing Wednesday, it signaled he was the player Arizona had designated to return from the injured reserve list, which ended the seasons for running back Chris Johnson and linebacker Alani Fua, both of whom previously were candidates, along with Branch, to return from the IR.

According to NFL rules, Branch can't play for two weeks after his first practice, making him eligible to play in Week 14 at Miami.

"We just need him, special teams and defensively," Arians said.

Mathieu will be the nickel corner when he returns this week, Arians said, and Arizona will figure out Branch's role when he returns. Branch played 129 of his 166 snaps in the slot before getting hurt, and with key special-teams players injured, Branch's presence on special teams will be helpful.

"We'll wait and see," Arians said. "He's just practicing this week, and we'll see who's available next week. Tyrann Mathieu will be the nickel, and we'll see where [Branch] fits in."

With Arizona choosing to bring Branch off the injured reserve list, Johnson's season was officially over.

Johnson signed a one-year deal last offseason worth $1.5 million to be David Johnson's backup. In four games before suffering a groin injury that required surgery, Chris Johnson ran for 95 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

Picking Branch over Johnson from the IR was "the hardest decision," Arians said.

"I put it off as long as I could to make sure that we could do the right thing for the team," Arians said.