Recently Football Outsiders (FO) ranked the Arizona Cardinals as having the best defense in the NFL. Yes, that is over the 9-0 Chiefs with their super stingy defense that has allowed only 12.3 points a game and over Houston's top ranked statistical defense that was allowing (before this weekend's game) only 273.5 yards per game. They even rank Arizona over the highly touted and media loved 49ers and Seahawks defenses.
When reading this my first thought was how? The Cardinals have allowed the 11th most points in the NFL and the eighth most yards-per-play (food for thought, the Browns lead the league at 4.5 yard per play). So why are the Cardinals the top ranked defense? Turnovers are the name of the game and are the biggest reason why the Cardinals lead FOs DVOA rankings for the best defense in the NFL. (Learn more about their DVOA rankings here)
Before this week the Cardinals averaged 2.3 turnovers per game and on the year have recovered eight of 11 fumbles and have 12 interceptions for a total of 20 turnovers. FO also states that Arizona has been excellent on second, third and fourth downs this season all while facing the leagues fourth hardest schedule of opposing offenses.
Some of this is surprising. Many fans haven't been happy with the play of the secondary past Patrick Peterson but according to FO the secondary has done a very good job despite the teams failure to cover TEs. FO dropped this little gem as support of their argument, the Cardinals rank fourth against team's number.one receivers and sixth against their number two. So while the Cardinals defense has some weaknesses and holes overall the unit has been performing at an elite level.
According to ESPN the Cardinals are tied for 13th in sacks, fifth in passes defended, tied for fifth in interceptions (10 teams have 12 or 13 INTs) and tied for fifth with seven other teams in eight forced fumbles recovered. Overall the defense is ranked 13th in average yards allowed per game, 19th against the pass and third against the run. These stats are not weighed like FOs but do give some perspective on the hard numbers of the Cardinals defense.
So while ESPN doesn't list the Cardinals as an elite defense it is good to read that using FOs statistical model the Cardinals defense is as good as they have looked during games. Considering the schedule the Cardinals have played and the negativity many fans (myself included) had towards the defense and Todd Bowles coming into the year the Cardinals have shown that not only are they better than last year, they are elite.
Now it's time to get FOs 29th ranked offense into gear and make a playoff push.