Believe it or not, the Arizona Cardinals have been here before and it wasn't as far
back as you might think. In an interesting parallel, the 2002 Cardinals beat the Cowboys at home to move to 4-2 and led their division at the time. They would, of course, crush all hopes of being a respectable team by losing nine of their next ten games en route to a 5-11 finish. As Cardinals fans we're used to a certain level of disappointment but even that pill was hard to swallow. That failure of a season marked the end of the Jake Plummer era and others like David Boston, Thomas Jones, Frank Sanders and Kwamie Lassiter would also leave for various reasons. It's hard to imagine this 2008 version of our Cardinals suffering the same fate, but we have seen it before right. So what makes this team different from so many Cardinals teams of years past?
We've got a real QB: Anyone want to venture a guess about the last time the Cardinals had a quarterback who threw for over 3,400 yards and more than 25 TDs in back to back seasons? The answer is never. Kurt Warner probably won't have the longevity in Arizona to supplant Neil Lomax as the best Cardinals quarterback ever but he's putting together the best two statistical seasons in franchise history. He's a early MVP-candidate and his ability to lead this team without any fear is contagious.
Improved Defense: The Arizona defense won't get confused with the '85 Bears or 2000 Ravens, but they are a big reason why the Cardinals are thinking about playing more than 16 games this season. Opposing teams can't simply count on running rough shot over this team anymore. They're able to bring constant pressure off the edges with Travis LaBoy, Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor and the defensive line, led by Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith, is a handful for even the best offensive lines (just as the Cowboys). With veterans Adrian Wilson and Karlos Dansby, this defense has the talent and the experience to create havoc and give any offense some problems.
Promising Youngsters: This years' rookie class deserves a story of it's own (in the works) but there are a handful of young guys who are playing huge roles in this years early success. No discussion about promising youngsters can start without praising Steve Breaston's play so far. He's stepped in for Anquan Boldin the past two games and has led the Cardinals in receiving the past three weeks. Tim Hightower and Calais Campbell have also played really good backup roles and they're part of a promising rookie class that's added a ton of depth of this team.
Competent Coaching Staff: Whether or not you're a 'Whiz Kid' like myself, you've got to be encouraged by the job that Ken Whisenhunt is doing. There are still some areas that need improvement (winning on the road, penalties) but he is on pace to be the first Cardinals coach to be over .500 in his first two seasons since Don Coryell in 1973 & '74 (14-13-1). Todd Haley is a very solid offensive coordinator and he'll be a heading coaching candidate very soon, as will offensive line coach/assistant head coach Russ Grimm. Clancy Pendergast is the most criticized among the coaching staff but his gameplans (like the one against Dallas) should help endear him to the fan base.
The Arizona Cardinals haven't outrun their history just yet, but they've certainly given this fan hope that they've put previous failures behind them. With all eyes on the immediate future and the rear view mirror ripped off, this team looks like a team that's poised to take the road less traveled (at least by the Cardinals). Thoughts?