Yesterday was a tough day for anyone who calls themselves an Arizona Cardinals fan. We went scorched earth on the team with talk of firing both coordinators and blaming everyone from the (almost) MVP-caliber quarterback, the star receiver and the defense as a whole, but could a new day bring a new perspective?
Watching last night's game between the Eagles and Browns gave this discouraged fan some hope. It wasn't long ago that the Eagles found themselves at 5-5-1 after a tie to the lowly Bengals and a blow out loss to the Ravens. They've since rebounded with three consecutive wins and are on the verge of sneaking into the playoffs. Teams rarely play great, or even good football for 16 consecutive streaks and the Cardinals are undoubtedly in a lull right now, but their problems are not terminal. This is still the same team that beat the Cowboys and played with the Panthers for the entire game at their house. The Cardinals are certainly a team with flaws but they've also got several things working in their favor:
Ability to Rest: The Cardinals for all intents and purposes are locked into the #4 seed for the playoffs. Their next two games will have no bearing on their playoff positioning heading into January which affords them the luxury of resting any players that need some extra time. Guys like Travis Laboy, who's been slowed by various injuries all season long, Sean Morey, Matt Ware, Steve Breaston, Clark Haggans and Bert Berry could all benefit from some extra time to let their bumps and bruises heal completely. Other veterans like Kurt Warner, Mike Gandy, Bryan Robinson and Chike Okeafor could use a breather or short week to recuperate after a grueling regular. The Cardinals don't have the advantage of an actual bye week but they do have the opportunity to rest guys who need some extra time to ensure that they're 100% heading into the post season.
Health: It's often said that the healthiest teams heading into Janaury have the best chance at being successful and if that's true the Cardinals should have an advantage over just about anyone. The most significant player on injured reserve is Ali Highsmith and there aren't any current injuries that should linger once the playoffs start. Other playoff contending teams like the Cowboys (5 players), Falcons (6 players), Vikings (7 players), and Bucs (9 players) have much more significant injury concerns. Some teams like the Vikings (Pat Williams), Giants (Brandon Jacobs) and Cowboys (Marion Barber) are hoping that their big name players will be ready to go by the start of the post season. The Cardinals have yet to take advantage of their good health but injuries will take their toll eventually.
Now before I get jumped, I am not suggesting that the Cardinals are perfect or in great shape heading into the playoffs. I am suggesting though that their struggles in the past month does not mean that their destined to fail in January. They' still have two weeks to gain momentum and prepare for the post season. So with all that being said, why do I still have hope that this team can make some noise in the playoffs?
High Risk/High Reward: There are some teams in the league that are very consistent and you pretty much know what you're going to get when you play them, but the Arizona Cardinals don't fall into that category. They're a high risk/high reward team that has the explosiveness to score points on any defense but also the implosiveness (is that a word) to shoot themselves in the foot, than the leg, then the arm and finally the head all in the same game. On any given the day the Cardinals can be unstoppable and a rested Warner and FQB would give them the best chance at being explosive in January.
Improving Defense: As painful as it was to see Roderick Hood get destroyed by the Vikes, I came away very encouraged about one thing. The Vikings felt more comfortable going after Hood instead of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, even though he's a rookie making his seventh career start. DRC is quickly becoming a solid, explosive play maker and if he can help stabilize the secondary, the Cardinals defense would be vastly improved. The pass rush has fallen off since coming out of the gates quickly at the beginning of the season, but some rest for the weary could work wonders for Travis LaBoy and veterans, Okeafor and Berry. One other thing to remember about the Cardinal defense also is that they often play like the offense: high risk/high reward. Even though their yards and points per game ranking isn't all that impressive, they do a very good job of forcing turnovers. No team in the league has recovered more fumbles and they're tied for third in terms of total turnovers. They've also scored six non-offensive touchdowns, including three in the past two weeks.
So what was the point of this long-winded sun-shine pumping venture? I just think that even though the Cardinals aren't playing great football right now, they still have great football in them. They still have the time and the talent to turn this thing around and that's something that we shouldn't forget. Sure, they've still got flaws and weaknesses but they've also have some very unique talent. Agree/Disagree? Are they capable of turning it around or is this just a ticking time bomb?