For the first time in a long time, things are pretty darn good in Arizona. The 2015 season and (HC) Bruce Arians has the Arizona Cardinals playing better than ever. Better than the Superbowl run in 2008, better than last year (even though they were 7-1 at this point), and if you ask the players, they will tell you that they can play, well, even better.
One of the biggest reasons for the Cardinal’s success has to be the team’s depth. General Manager Steve Keim has done wonders in Arizona. The Draft picks have been stellar, in just 3 years Steve Keim has his very own drafted talent littered all over the field. The contract structures, restructures, and extensions have also been stellar, allowing the Cardinals to target free agents like Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati while keeping the Arizona core not only intact, but happy.
And we can’t forget the incentive laced single year contracts. Steve Keim has a way of going through the NFL compost pile, and finding delightfully edible treats on the cheap. Keim has single-handedly turned Arizona into some sort of rejuvenation station, a place where players can come and prove themselves to be quite valuable. It’s a shame to see them go, but it’s a pleasure to watch these cats play as hard as they can for pennies on the dollar.
So no, you won’t find the likes of Jimmy Graham or DeMarco Murray signing for 40 millions plus in Arizona. Those players are great and all (especially when used properly), but instead you’ll find players like Daren Fells and Chris Johnson, signing for less than a million, and putting up comparable or even better numbers than the Money Mayweathers of the League.
Chris Johnson though… this might be a guy that Arizona has to extend, restructure, re-sign, whatever it takes because the man can run the ball. Arizona hasn’t even tapped into the rest of it’s talented backfield, Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson could probably start on a lot of NFL teams.
It’s the same with the receivers as well, Arizona has more than they can use. Larry Fitzgerald is having perhaps his best year ever, then you have John Brown and Michael Floyd – all three of these guys would probably have even better stats (and Pro-Bowl hopes) if they weren’t all playing on the same team but it works.
The reason why all of this works is Carson Palmer. Carson Palmer is mastering the Bruce Arians offense in his third year, posting a 110.2 QB rating, he is leading the NFL in yards per pass attempt (9.1), and is third in passing TDs with 20 air-born strikes.
This is why Arizona spent their big free agent budget on a left tackle and a left guard. The Cardinals had very high hopes in 2014, but they went through quarterbacks like socks. Through a balanced play-call (due to the improved running game) and better protection, Arizona has kept Carson Palmer fairly clean this year, with only 11 sacks in 8 games.
On defense Arizona has continued where it left off after losing Todd Bowles to the Jets. The Cardinal’s defense is as blitz happy as it ever was. People will say that the sacks aren’t there, and they will be right but the turnovers are there. The Cardinals are currently tied with the Panthers for the most interceptions (13), this tells me that the quarterback pressure is just fine. The run defense is no slouch either, Arizona is ranked 4th in yards allowed (90) and is also 4th in forced fumbles with 6 thorough 8 games.
Calais Campbell handles the trenches. When the Cardinals can shut down the run the offenses become one dimensional, and this is when the secondary eats. Patrick Peterson is having an amazing year along with Tyrann Mathieu, aka the HoneyBadger. Rashad Johnson already has 4 interceptions and that’s with only nine fingers. I’ve been trying to get the #NineFingerDiscount hashtag trendy on twitter but it’s been slow going.
The talent is there in Arizona. For the Cardinals to go deep in the playoffs all they need is the focus. The intensity has dropped at times resulting in lackluster performances on both sides of the ball. If the Cardinals had played to the best of their abilities they could very well be sitting at 8-0 along with the Carolina Panthers, the same Panthers that beat Arizona in the 2014 playoffs (minus Carson Palmer).
For the second half of the season to be successful, Arizona has to be able to flip that switch and leave it on for all 4 quarters. A devotion to emotion needs to be in place. Every game matters in this League, this isn’t the NBA or MLB, this isn’t a sport where you can count on “righting the ship” during the second half of the year. There is no plethora of games when it comes to NFL football.
Any team can be extremely dangerous when they feel they have something to play for, and every team feels like they have something to play for during that final stretch. As for Arizona the home field advantage is crucial in the playoffs, and that’s what the Cardinals have their sights on. When we look at the schedule, it only gets tougher as Lady Winter moves in. Arizona is in a great place right now but the true test has only just begun. But as they say, once you’ve begun, you’re already halfway.
More stories you might like