With a 20-16 victory over division rival Seattle Seahawks in the books, our Arizona Cardinals have once again proven true our Revenge of the Birds tagline. It certainly is not a true Cardinal's game until someone has a heart attack. I can certainly vouch for myself at least in that the fourth quarter gave me a heart attack. Despite some tense moments to close out the football game, our Arizona Cardinals were able to hold onto their fourth quarter lead, and start off the season in the best possible way. With that in mind, I present to you five positives to take away from Sunday's nail biting victory.
Hit the jump to see the aforementioned positives.
1. Ray Horton's defense is for real
After a somewhat shaky showing from the Cardinal's number one defensive unit during the 2012 preseason, some fans and pundits were beginning to question whether Ray Horton's defensive schemes that we witnessed were a true representation of what we could expect from this year's group, or whether it was merely a mirage. If yesterday's game was a sign of things to come, then we certainly can expect the top 10 defense that Cardinals fans grew accustomed to during the second half of the 2011 season.
The Cardinals front seven were very strong against both the run and the pass, applying consistent pressure to rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, as well as limiting feature back Marshawn Lynch to 85 yards on 21 carries. In fact, the Seahawks four scores (one touchdown and three field goals) all came on drives with a short field; either due to a long return from kick returner extraordinaire Leon Washington, or turnovers by the offense. The defense looks to be the Cardinals strength again this season.
2. Utilizing the Tight Ends on offense
Sub-positive before a delve into the main focus: Todd Heap is healthy and looks to be in good condition to be a viable weapon on offense. Now back to the main point: Last season both Skelton and Kolb made many Cardinal fans pull out a lot of hair on their heads, due to the lack of using a very valuable offensive weapon, the tight end. Especially now that tight ends are in vogue (Gronkowski, Graham, et al) it would have served either quarterback well to utilize the created mismatch with their tight ends.
With the 2012 edition of the Cardinal's 53 man roster featuring four tight ends, it would seem pertinent to look to the tight ends to contribute on offense. And contribute they did. Both Todd Heap and Jeff King were extremely valuable in pass protection when needed, and also contributed five catches for 40 yards, including a couple key catches during the game winning fourth quarter drive. Second year tight end Rob Housler also had a key contribution in stopping a kickoff return touchdown for Leon Washington, chasing down the speedy back before he ended up in the endzone.
3. The continued improvement of Patrick Peterson
If you asked the average NFL fan to name a Cardinals football player other than Larry Fitzgerald, I would wager the most popular answer would be the electrifying Patrick Peterson. The second year cornerback/punt returner out of LSU demonstrated last year his elite playmaking ability, however on the defensive side of the ball, he does have some work to do. Sunday, Peterson once again proved how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands, netting good return yardage, as well as nearly returning an Adrian Wilson interception for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter.
On defense, Peterson was responsible for a few pass interference penalties, including one late in the fourth quarter that gave the Seahawks the ball on the Cardinal's 13 yard line. Despite the infractions, Peterson did look much more poised in coverage, and did a good job blanketing whomever he was responsible for on most plays. On a few occasions, Peterson (as well as the other defensive backs) forced Russell Wilson to run the ball himself, due to the outstanding coverage in the secondary. Peterson just seems to get better every game.
4. Kolb looked very good in limited time
Best wishes to John Skelton, please have a speedy recovery. And thank you Kevin Kolb, for stepping in when our team needed a spark (as well as a touchdown) and marching the offense down the field for the go-ahead score. Kolb refuted nearly every single criticism about his quarterbacking with his impressive fourth quarter drive, going six for eight for 66 yards and a touchdown pass to Andre Roberts.
Kolb made quick decisions, found the open man, and delivered the ball to receivers in stride. He did have a couple of passes batted down at the line, but considering that Kevin Kolb circa 2011 would have simply rolled out of the pocket and gotten sacked, I definitely prefer the quick decisions and throw while faced with a collapsing pocket. Kolb will have a tough test next week in New England (with Skelton out for four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain) but a strong showing would go a long way in gaining some confidence and support from both the coaching staff and Cardinal fans.
The most obvious positive to take from Sunday's game? How about opening the season off with a hard fought victory over a stout defense and a division rival. For the third straight season the Cardinals opened their season against a highly touted rookie quarterback, somewhat overlooked due to the stature of said rookie signal caller, and for the third straight year, the Cardinals started off a career with a one in the loss column. Furthermore, our Arizona Cardinals were already written off by some NFL experts as locks for the number one overall selection in 2013. But as we all know, the Cardinals thrive in those scenarios.
It may only be week one, but the Cardinals have done all that they could with one week. They protected their home field, executed very well on defense, and demonstrated the ability to battle adversity and pull out a win in the fourth quarter. Birdgang, it's time to shock the world again.