The Arizona Cardinals are the NFL’s most surprising team after two weeks, they are 2-0 following wins at home against the Seattle Seahawks and then a shocking upset of the Patriots in New England, despite many experts predicting them to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. How did we end up in this bizarre world where this essentially offense free Arizona Cardinals team is undefeated and are they somehow legitimately good? The answer is yes. Follow me down an strange path which leads to the conclusion that the Cardinals will be a legitimate playoff contender in 2012.
1) Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback in football – The Cardinals obviously had high hopes for Patrick Peterson when they drafted him with the fifth overall pick of the 2011 draft, and he showed flashes of how good he can be as a rookie, and was record setting in the return game for which he was named to the All-Pro First Team. This season, Peterson has taken his game to a different level, and through two weeks he has been the best cornerback in the NFL. The numbers do not show it (5 tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended) however, Peterson has taken away one side of the field for Arizona this season, and offense coordinators are scared to challenge him. Peterson has a rare combination of size (6’1 220lbs) and athleticism which makes him physical and quick enough to match up with any receiver in the NFL. At just 22 years of age, with his combination of skills in the return game and lockdown abilities at a cornerback, Arizona seems to have hit the jackpot with Peterson. He could become one of the greats.
2) The defensive front seven is lethal – Calais Campbell is the best player in football that is not a household name, the massive (6’8 305lbs) defensive end is an absolute monster in the trenches and has 11 tackles and 2.0 sacks through two games, you will be hearing a lot more about him in the coming weeks. His defensive line mate Darnell Dockett has been a good player for some time now, and the two of them combined with big Dan Williams make the Cardinals a nightmare to handle at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers benefit, and a group highlighted by young players like Daryl Washington (21 tackles, 1.0 sacks) and veteran Paris Lennon (17 tackles, 2.0 sacks) have been filling the gaps and making plays. The Cardinals defense was underrated in 2011 and they are proving thus far in 2012 that they are one of the more elite units in the NFL.
3) The schedule is very favorable – Now that the Cardinals have defeated the Patriots in New England, they are 2-0 heading into a Sunday showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles (also 2-0), a winnable but difficult matchup. If Arizona can handle the Eagles at home (or even if they lose, which would drop them to 2-1) they enter a four game stretch where they face: Dolphins, @ Rams, Bills, @ Vikings before they hit the toughest stretch of their schedule. Say the Cardinals can handle the Eagles this Sunday, there is a legitimate chance that they can ride their stout defense to a 7-0 record before the San Francisco 49ers (currently the best team in the NFL) come to town. The road does get tougher from there (@ Packers, BYE, @ Falcons) however, we could conceivably be looking at a 6-1 or 7-0 Cardinals team prepping for a divisional rivalry showdown against the 49ers on October 29th.
The issues – Of course the Cardinals still have some major question marks, especially at quarterback, where Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have combined for just 355 passing yards (Eli Manning had 510 last Sunday) and 2 touchdowns to 1 interception through two games, and star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald continues to be underutilized (catching just 5 passes for 67 yards and frustrating fantasy owners nationwide). Arizona’s two running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are averaging a horrific 2.1 yards per carry, and the offense has been stagnant at best.
On the bright side the Cardinals offensive line, which has been a major issue in recent seasons, has exceeded expectations allowing just 2.0 sacks in 2 games. If the Cardinals can ride their hot defense, the special teams play of Patrick Peterson, and can get anything going on offense we could be looking at a ten or eleven win team in the desert and a one of the most shocking wild card playoff berths in recent memory.