Well first things first, the Cardinals are 7-4. Who predicted that? Bruce Arians' team are currently riding a four-game win streak as they stream-roll themselves towards a play-off spot. Arguably their most impressive win of the season against another seven-win team in the Colts, the Cardinals dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and put together their most complete game of the season so far.
"You won't fear us but you will respect us." - Bruce Arians following the win against Indy.
The previous three games all ended in a W for the Cardinals, but non were of the calibre of this. The Texans, Jaguars and Falcons preceded the win against the Colts, but had a combined win total of five at the time, whereas the Colts were leading the AFC South and in possession of the two seed in the AFC. This was the first real test for the Cardinals, and they duly delivered. People questioned the Cardinals coming in as to whether they could beat a 'top team' implying their earlier wins against the now 8-4 Carolina Panthers and 6-5 Detroit Lions, leaders of the NFC North are irrelevant. Could the Cardinals defense slow down Andrew Luck? Could Carson Palmer continue to play error-free football? Well the answer is yes, and yes.
Luck passed for 163 yards for one (garbage time) touchdown and a (pick-six) interception and was unable to deal with the pressure upfront and the impressive coverage from the secondary. Patrick Peterson did a good job on T.Y. Hilton all game, if not for some over-physical play downfield which was overlooked by officials. To no ones surprise, the Colts' leading receiver was a tight end, Coby Fleener had 55 yards on four catches and a late score, but no skill position players managed to get into any sort of rhythm. Luck himself was the teams second-leading rusher with 31 yards (Dan Herron had 33 yards) as they rush for 80 yards on the day, with Trent Richardson and Donald Brown averaging 2.1 and 0.5 YPC respectively. All credit goed to Todd Bowlesand the way he organised the defense on Sunday. Pressuring the quarterback was key, making sure they get constant hits on Luck just to get in his head to let him know they're coming for him.
As for our own quarterback, Carson Palmer, he produced yet another brilliant performance. 26/37, 70.3% completion, 314 yards and 2 TDs and a 93.1 QBR; Palmer continues his impressive run of form into December. What I took from this was he found that all important connection with Larry Fitzgerald, who had been stagnant the last few games, recorded his first two-touchdown game since Week One at the Rams. They only connected on five throws, but it was enough. Palmer hit 11 different receivers (!!!) which really does prove this was a team effort. Opposing defenses cannot key in on one guy anymore, there are several guys making plays on every drive. Michael Floyd is emerging as a a true number-two receiver with back-to-back 100-yard receiving days, and 297 yards the past two games, whereas Rob Housler is beginning to 'break-out' with four 50-yard or better receiving days in the last five games, including his first NFL touchdown. The Cardinals offense lacked a real threat at tight end in recent years, could Housler be 'the guy'?
Finally, we learned that the Cardinals are a truly dominant home team in the NFL. Statement wins against three current play-off teams in Indianapolis, Carolina and Detroit, the Cards are 5-1 at home, with the only loss coming at the hands of Seattle. They are in that bracket with Seattle, Denver, New England as the truly dominant home teams. They are a different team at home. University of Phoenix Stadium is one of the toughest places to visit in the NFL.
At 7-4, the Cardinals stand a real chance of a post-season appearance if they can get a game up on the 49ers within the division. And speaking of the NFC West, Arizona are 0-3 in the division, meaning they are 7-1 outside of the West. That astounds me. Really goes to show that they'd be a division contender in virtually any other division in football. What a burden the NFC West is. Then again, you gotta beat the best to be the best.