Monday, October 12, 2009

First Look: Arizona Cardinals

Many NFL observers and experts expected the Cardinals to fall on their faces after a
Super Bowl run last season. The word was that they had a miracle run that was unlikely to happen again. I was in the minority that expected them to be a better, more consistent team this season.

They did not lose any significant players. Many of their best players outside of QB are young and still improving. Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Kurt Warner appeared to be every bit the offensive Juggernaut they were last season. And yet, here they stand at 2-2, just a half-game better than our beleaguered Seahawks squad that has more missing starters than Jacksonville had first downs. Why? There was not an obvious answer on first blush.

This is a team that ranked 7th (2007) and 3rd (2008) in points scored the last two seasons, that is currently ranked 21st. The slide is even larger in yards/game where they slipped from 4th in the NFL all the way to 27th this season.

Kurt Warner's passer rating is down from 96.9 to 89.7. Not exactly the stuff that foreshadows impending offensive doom. His TD% (the percentage of TDs thrown per pass attempt) has dropped considerably from 5.0 to 3.8. Comparatively, Matt Hasselbeck leads the NFL with an 8.3 TD%. That likely means they are settling for more field goals than last year. Another stat that would support that theory is that the Cards are 29th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion rate, sporting a nasty 25% success rate. Show me a team struggling to convert third downs, and I'll show you a team struggling to sustain drives and likely struggling in the red zone.

It would be easy to point the finger at the Cardinals anemic running game, but they ranked dead last in the NFL last season, so even dropping from 3.5 YPC to 3.2 is not all that noteworthy since it clearly is not the key to their success.

Remember all the talk about how Matt's game this week was somehow expected against a Jags team that is last in the NFL in sacks and 31st in pass defense? The Cardinals defense ranks dead last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing over 300 yards/game! They rank 25th in sacks. Their run defense is excellent.

At first glance, our strengths match up with their weaknesses. The Hawks boast the 7th ranked NFL 3rd down defense, and we just saw what our passing game looks like with Matt clicking. It's hard to feel confident when you're facing a trio of receivers like the Cards throw out there when our best corner is still out, but there are reasons for optimism.

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