On Sunday the Arizona Cardinals will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite being one of the best teams in the NFC the past two seasons the Cardinals have taken a step back this year and enter Sunday’s game at 3-3.
On the young season this Cardinals team has been a little bit bi-polar. They have an impressive win over the defending champs, beating the Saints 30-20 at University of Phoenix Stadium back in week five. That’s the same team that came to the Raymond James Stadium and beat the Bucs like a drum two weeks ago. But then the Cardinals followed that performance up with a bye and a strange 22-10 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Earlier in the season the Atlanta Falcons beat them to within an inch of their life in the Georgia Dome, 41-7. They didn’t fare much better on their trip to San Diego, losing convincingly to the Chargers 41-10.
This team is 1-3 on its road trips this season but 2-0 at home. Unfortunately for Tampa they have to travel to Arizona for this one. The big question is which Cardinals team will they face off against? The team that beat the Saints at home or the team that went into San Diego and Atlanta and got destroyed?
A big part of the reason for the Cardinals collective step back this season stems from the retirement of Kurt Warner. Quietly, Warner put up a Hall of Fame career over the course of two acts in his time as an NFL quarterback. After a legendary start in St. Louis (ironically, the Bucs’ last opponent) he made a forgettable stop in New York before arriving in Arizona and turning the Cardinals into one of the league’s elite passing attacks.
Now, exit Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals dealt the disgruntled receiver to the Ravens in the off-season and bid farewell to Warner so he could go dance with the stars. That left the team searching for answers at quarterback. Initially Matt Leinart seemed to be the guy in line for the job but he was cut in a somewhat surprising pre-season move, paving the way for Derek Anderson.
Unfortunately Anderson wasn’t really the answer either, he lasted just a few games before Arizona chose to make the switch and go with rookie QB Max Hall. So far on the young season Hall is 30/59 for 289 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Despite his QB rating of 43.7, he was named NFC Rookie of the Week by NFL.com for his 17-27 day in the Cards win over the Saints.
The learning curve with Hall is what’s holding this Cardinals team back. But so far on the young season this once-impressive offensive attack has been abysmal. The Cardinals rank 29th in points scored and 32nd in offensive yards. They are currently last in the league in passing 28th in running the ball.
Defensively this Cardinals team isn’t much better than their offensive counterparts. This just goes to show you how strange the NFL is though. The Chargers lead the league in yards gained and allowed on offense and defense respectively, yet have just a 2-5 mark out of the gates. Compare that with Arizona who rates last in yards gained and 27th in yards allowed and the fact they are 3-3 just boggles the mind.
Right now Arizona averages giving up 26.7 points a game, they’re 21st against the pass but just 29th against the run. During the off-season the team bid farewell to more than just high profile offensive players. Karlos Dansby signed a giant contract with the Miami Dolphins and is now their defensive leader. In the secondary, Free Safety Antrel Rolle is now a member of the New York Giants. It’s difficult to replace two Pro Bowl caliber components and not miss a beat.
The biggest addition to the defense was the offseason signing of Joey Porter. Porter recorded 32 sacks in his three season in Miami, including a 17.5 sack campaign just two season ago. But the Dolphins chose to jettison the disgruntled OLB in favor of Cameron Wake (whom Porter deemed unworthy of stealing his reps). Questions arose as to whether the bombastic Porter had much left in the tank. So far on the young season he has just two sacks (compare that to Wake’s 6.5 for the Fins).
But in fairness, a large part of the Cardinals defensive problems (statistically, at least) stem from two games, 41-7 and 41-10 beatdowns at the hands of the Falcons and Chargers, respectively. You can read that two different ways. Two truly awful games have really inflated the yards-allowed and points-allowed stats defensively for the Cards. Or you could say they’ve been blown out in a third of their games. It’s kind of a glass half-empty/half-full debate.
We’ll have answers tomorrow, though.