NFL Handicapping: Are Arizona Cardinals a Contender?
by Trevor Whenham - 9/20/2012
If you tell me that you predicted that the Cardinals would be at 2-0 at this point in the season, and that one of those wins would be at New England, then even though I probably don’t know you I am going to call you a liar. You would have to be a really committed Arizona fan or a pill popper to have seen this one coming. Yet, there are only six unbeaten teams remaining, and one of them is based in Phoenix. Truly bizarre.
We can question how they got here, but the undeniable fact is that they are here. Now, as NFL handicappers, our task is to figure out two things — how did this happen, and can this team legitimately keep it up? We know that consistently well over half of teams that start 2-0 go on to make the playoffs. Is there any way Arizona can be among that majority?
The Cardinals were a hard team to love heading into the season — largely because they were about as anonymous as a team could be outside of Larry Fitzgerald, and they had real QB questions. Given the general lack of interest in this team it is easy to forget that they have won nine of their last 11 games, or that they are 9-3 ATS in their last 12. In other words, this team has quietly been much better than people think recently.
If there is one factor above all else that has led to this 2-0 record it is the stellar defensive line play. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is in his second year on the job, and the way things are going he is not going to be there long because teams are going to be calling with head coaching opportunities. So far his defensive play calling has been brilliant. He is a huge fan of the blitz, and he has knocked both opposing quarterbacks off their game. He blitzes from every look and from all over the field, so teams are struggling to oppose him. As good as he has been, it is important to remember that there is some real talent on this defense. With Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett on the line and guys like Patrick Peterson and Adrian Wilson in the secondary Horton has a fair bit to work with — and he is making the most of it. One big number stands out from this defense — in each of the last nine wins the team has not allowed more than 20 points.
The defensive line has been very good, but the offensive line really hasn’t been. In fact, it has been a disappointment. Pass protection has been fine — they have allowed only two sacks. They have been lousy blocking the run, though. The offense was never going to be particularly potent, but the running game had far more promise than the pass. If the team can’t get the run game working then it is going to be tough to keep the momentum going. It should be noted in their defense, though, that both Seattle and New England are much better against the run than most teams — including many that the team will face going forward.
Kevin Kolb and John Skelton were locked in one of the least inspiring quarterback battles in recent memory throughout the preseason. Skelton won, but then he lost the job for now after getting injured in the opener. The surprising thing, though, is that Kolb was actually pretty solid against New England. He didn’t light the world on fire and may never live up to the hype that surrounded him when he left Philadelphia, but he was competent. Now he has a chance to build confidence against a Philadelphia team that he knows very well. Things could be better at QB, but they could also be a lot worse.
Arizona Cardinals Schedule
The only time Vick played the Cardinals while with the Eagles he was absolutely terrible. If they can get in his head and knock him off his game again then 3-0 is possible. There are reasonably soft games against Miami and Minnesota in the first half of the season. The rest of the schedule, though, alternates between challenging and very difficult. The schedule makers were not particularly kind to this team — especially if St. Louis and Seattle maintain their solid early play. That’s a blow to the chances of this team.
Arizona have had a lot of luck to help them to their wins this year. Seattle had a first down deep in Arizona territory at the end of their game but Russell Wilson couldn’t convert and Seattle won by four. New England missed a very makeable field goal in the closing seconds of their game to lose by two. You can argue that Arizona got those teams in a position to struggle leading up to the closing minutes — especially considering how well both played in their other games — but the fact is that Arizona is just two plays away from 0-2. They are far from certain to keep getting the lucky breaks along the way, and that could make sustained success difficult.
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