Photo via Matt York / Associated Press
It is hard to put your finger on what it is wrong with the Cardinals. Their defense is #1 in the NFL in yards against and is 9th in points against (19 ppg). On offense they are also in the top 10, ranking 9th in yards for. However, they rank 17th in points per game, which I think is a telling statistic. Obviously, this team has a top 5 defense and probably a top 10 offense, yet they can’t consistently win football games and are below .500 at 4-5-1. Usually, when teams have great stats, but can’t find a way to win, it is because of untimely turnovers and losing close games that could go either way. Their turnover margin is -1, which is about average, so they shouldn’t be winning many games from turnovers nor should they be losing many games because of that.
Carson Palmer’s Decline
However, I believe it speaks to Carson Palmer. He isn’t a clutch QB this year and is turnover prone. After watching him in Oakland for many years, he was known to bring his team all the way back in a game, but always have that costly turnover or turnovers that lose the game. So far this season he has fumbled 10 times (only 4 lost), and thrown 10 INT (the game he was out with a concussion Stanton also threw 2 picks). He is well known for turning it over, and it is costing them games this year. I think the team is still a good team (probably a borderline playoff team), but it is not quite as good as it was last year (when Carson looked like what he is not, an elite QB). The team was so good in the last few years that it made Carson look that much better, but he is just a good quarterback, not elite, and that is starting to be revealed again this season.
Unlucky Bounces here and there
Another reason why they aren’t winning is luck. There are so few games in the NFL that sometimes teams can just be unlucky in a few games and that can be the difference in a good year or not. Would you trust the playoff picture in the NBA after only 16 games? You wouldn’t because a lot can happen because of luck. The Cardinals have lost a lot of close games this year and sometimes teams can just get unlucky. Arizona is only half a game from being .500, so they aren’t terrible this year, but they just not as good as they are in the past. Remember, maybe a win in Seattle (instead of the tie) and a win over the patriots (lost by 2) or the Rams (lost by 4) and we are having an entirely different conversation. That may not have meant the team was better if they won those games, but rather they just got a little more luck.
I think there is an argument to say that their defense is actually not as good as last year. Their stats may say they are good, but in reality, their stats look like they have been boosted against playing bad teams. They are blowing out bad teams, but are not able to stop average or good offenses. For example, the good games the defense had was against New York (3 points), LA Rams (17 points), Tampa Bay (7 points), Seattle (6 points, but with a very injured Wilson). Their defense gave up a fair amount of points to New England without Brady (23 points), Buffalo (33 points), the Niners twice (20 and 21 points), Carolina (30 points), and Minnesota (30 points). So I would say the defense stats are inflated against bad teams, but when they play teams that are tough or in crunch time when they can’t get stops. I think the reason for their struggles has to do with coaching because their defense is too talented to not be a dominant defense. So it must be a mix of preparation and not having the chemistry or communication that they have had in the past.
My Final Take
Ultimately, I think the team is still a good team (similar to how I feel about Carolina this year), but it is a combination when it comes to their record. Carson Palmer just isn’t quite as good as last year. The team is still good around Palmer (but maybe not great), but the league places such an emphasis on the quarterback and his slight decline in play is a big part of the difference. In addition, they have gotten a little unlucky by getting teams at bad times or just not getting the right bounces in a game leading to some close losses and ties.