When the Super Bowl is played Sunday, it will feature the best offense in the NFL — Denver scored 606 points this season, an incredible 37.9 per game — against the best defense in the NFL — Seattle not only allowed the fewest yards, but also the fewest points this season. A tangible example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It’s hard not to see it as the answer about that “defense wins championships” cliché that floats out there.
It also got me thinking about the Cardinals, and their better recent teams.
The 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl after scoring 427 regular-season points (26.7 points a game) and followed up in the playoffs with 30, 33 and 32 points before scoring 23 in the Super Bowl. Of course, that team allowed 426 points, which is why they eeked out a 9-7 record. It was a potent offense. This season, the Cardinals put together 10 wins in large part because of the defense. The Cards were tops in the league in run defense, sixth overall and seventh in scoring defense. It would be interesting to consider that 2008 offense — Kurt Warner, Fitz in his prime, Anquan Boldin, 1,000-yard Steve Breaston and the Edge/Hightower RB tag-team going against the 2013 Cardinals defense.
Which is the better path to take? It’s hard not to think that defense wins titles. It’d be good to see Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl, but I’m not totally sure why the Seahawks aren’t favored in this game, at least a little. Maybe it’s because of last year’s Super Bowl, when a couple of defensive-dominant teams ended up playing in a scorefest. That was in the climate-controlled Superdome, though, and Manning won’t have that advantage Sunday.
As far as the score-first Cardinals versus the defense-first Cards? There’s a reason why Kurt Warner has said this year’s Cardinals team was better than his 2008 version. Part of that was that this year’s team could score a little bit too — with 379 points (23.7 a game) it wasn’t like the Cardinals couldn’t find their way into the end zone. I’d argue that Andre Ellington gave the offense an explosive element that 2008 offense didn’t really have either. Nevertheless, it’s a great debate to have.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Anquan Boldin, Broncos, defense, Edgerrin James, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, offense, Seahawks, Steve Breaston, Super Bowl, Tim Hightower
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Bruce Arians called it a beginning, and his players all talked about the optimism they have going forward into 2014 after a 10-6 record in 2013. The tangible proof in the improvement, however, goes beyond the five-victory rise from 2012. Many of the other numbers on both offense and defense also underscore the Cards’ change this season.
Offensively, there was nowhere to go but up after the disaster of 2012. That started with the play of quarterback Carson Palmer, especially after the unit started to grasp Arians’ scheme. Palmer threw too many interceptions — with 22, the Cardinals actually threw one more than the QB group did in 2012 — but all the other numbers were much better, including the overall rank (the Cards were 12th in the NFL, after being dead last in ’12) and points scored (the Cardinals increased their per game average by more than eight points a game.)
|Year||1st downs||Points||Yds||Yds rushing||Yds Passing||Sacks allowed||Comp pct||TD||INT||NFL rank|
We all know the Cardinals’ defense was pretty good in 2012, finishing 12th in the league. Then Todd Bowles came in as defensive coordinator, there was much hand wringing, and then the Cards ended up a fantastic unit. They ended up sixth in the NFL, best against the run (after finishing 28th last year) and were the main reason the Cardinals became a factor in the NFC West and the NFC overall. Now we see how many interviews Bowles gets to be a head coach and whether the Cardinals can keep their DC for at least another season.
|Year||Points allowed||Rush yds per game||Rush D NFL rank||Yds per game||TDs allowed||Sacks||INT||INT TDs||NFL rank|
Tags: Carson Palmer, defense, offense, Todd Bowles
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It only makes sense, as the offense rounds to form, that the points are starting to come for the Cardinals. At this point, the Cards have 254 points scored this season after 11 games. All of last season, the Cardinals scored 250. (And a h/t to Kent Somers for pointing it out.) But the points are coming in many ways that are new. The mere fact that the Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in seven straight games is nice, since last year, the Cardinals reached 20 points exactly once in their final 12 games of the season.
As was mentioned Sunday, the 40 points against the Colts was the most the Cards had scored since beating Denver, 43-13 — I like to refer to it as Jay Feely’s Fantastic Show – in December of 2010. It was also the fourth straight game the Cardinals scored at least 25 points. The last time that happened? Back in Weeks 3 through 6 of 1988, the Cards’ inaugural season in Arizona, when Neil Lomax and company scored at least 30 in beating the Bucs, Redskins, Rams and Steelers.
It isn’t as if the Cards are scorching the scoreboard. They are on pace for a respectable 369 points, although that falls short of the 400-plus points the Cardinals scored in 2007 and 2008. They are still only 18th in the league in points. But after last year, when they were next-to-last in points (to the Chiefs), the trend is encouraging. And pointed up.
Tags: Jay Feely, Neil Lomax, offense
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The Cardinals have a whole new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new offensive system. At this point, the offense has not been as crisp or productive as the Cards have hoped. But it does seem like it is better than last season at this point.
Generally, the numbers bear it out.
|Year||1st downs||3rd-down Pct||Yds||Yds rushing||Yds Passing||Sacks allowed||Att||Comp||TD||INT|
As you can see, there isn’t a giant discrepancy. There is a pretty healthy difference in the running game — more than 100 yards — and the arrow would seem to point up for the Cardinals heading forward with the way Andre Ellington and now Stepfan Taylor have looked. The third-down conversions aren’t much better, and the fewer third-down chances says to me more about the Cards getting some yards on first- and second-down rather than shorter drives. As long as Carson Palmer stays healthy too, I think the offense creates a bigger gap between now and 2012 too, both with the schedule coming and the recollection that the Cards’ offense got worse — much worse — in the second half of the season last year. Sacks are way down too, believe it or not. Palmer better figure out the interception problem, however. That’s the glaring error of 2013.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer, offense, Stepfan Taylor
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There’s been a lot of talk about the Cardinals adjusting their playcalling to fit with what seems to be a transitioning philosophy on offense — a little more deliberate, sticking with the run, etc. But offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing really has changed in what he has been dialing up on game days.
“It feels pretty much the same,” Miller said. “I haven’t really done anything differently. We’ve made adjustments in-game that come up specific to that opponent. But as far as the way we call it, I mean, we ran no-huddle in the Seattle game, mixed it up in the New England game. It’s been ‘up’ we just haven’t called it.”
Through three games, the Cardinals are fairly balanced, although not 50-50. The Cardinals have 87 pass attempts and been sacked five times, and nine of the 12 quarterback runs have been scrambles from a passing play, for 101 pass plays. With the three intentional quarterback runs, they have had 78 rushing plays. Interestingly, even though the offense needs to generate more yards and have been outgained, the Cardinals have almost even time of possession with opponents (29:46 to 30:14) and the Cardinals are one of only six teams in the NFL to score at least 20 points in each of their three games.
(They are the only team in the NFL to allow less than 20 points in each game too.)
– There were a couple of statistical changes from the Philadelphia game, affecting the sack totals of a couple of linebackers. Sam Acho had previously been credited with a tackle after a Michael Vick one-yard scramble in the second quarter, but after further review it was deemed Vick only got back to the line of scrimmage — which by definition gives Acho a sack. In the third quarter, Daryl Washington had been credited with a 12-yard sack of Vick on a first down play, but after further review it was decided Vick was a runner when Washington got to him, so instead of a sack it became a 12-yard tackle-for-loss. It means Washington now only has two sacks this season and Acho now has two himself.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Mike Miller, offense, sacks, Sam Acho
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