Much has been said about the Arizona Cardinals this past week and how they have overcome their numerous injuries en route to the best record in the NFC, their best start in franchise history. The vast majority of it has been positive, but their still are a few stragglers who seem to think the bottom will fall out from under this Cardinals team, pointing at the teams underwhelming statistics.
Of course it is a valid argument, the team does rank a paltry 23rd in total offense (330.4 YPG), 16th in passing (238.9 YPG), and a weak 28th in rushing (90.5 YPG). If you looked at these stats, what would you think?
"How in the world are we 7-1?"
That seems to be the general consensus from fans outside the NFC West, and some media outlets. It's a fair assumption. Most fans do not get to watch a Cardinals game, as TV networks care about their ratings so they want to follow the Johnny Manziels and the Denver Broncos of the NFL. They label the Cardinals off as lucky, whether it be due to poor officiating, to a key player being out from the opposition.
What is not a fair assumption, is how some individuals glaze over the fact that the Cardinals are 7-1, despite heavy losses to the defensive side of the football. We all know who they are -- Karlos Dansby to free agency, Daryl Washington to suspension, Darnell Dockett to injured reserve, yet despite key losses, the team found players to fill those rolls, and do well in the process. Tommy Kelly has been an excellent addition to the line, so much so that defensive line coach Brenston Buckner thanked Bill Belichick for letting him go.
So what is it? What is it that makes this team tick? Kurt Warner says we lack that 'wow' factor, which he is correct, but what makes this team play so well?
We could very well say it is the coaching, and that's very well a large factor in their overall play. But perhaps the biggest key is the team's heart. Steve Keim and Bruce Arians have installed a philosophy, not on the gridiron, but in who they want in their locker room. They do not care for the big name player who only cares about his statistics, but instead the seven year journeyman who cares about helping a team win.
That's exactly what this locker room is built upon. Ken Whisenhunt tried to do the same thing, but was unsuccessful. He brought in Ray Horton because they were polar opposites. Whisenhunt had an even-keeled, hardly show emotion persona, while Horton was the energetic, quick to give praise, but just as quick to get in a player's face and tell him to get his head out of where it should not belong. He needed someone to spark the defense, while he himself tried to work on his faltering offense. It showed glimpses of hope, but in the end it failed because Whisenhunt could not get players to believe in him, and the philosophy he wanted. Whisenhunt was a strategist, not a leader.
Fast forward to Arians and Keim. They're similar to Horton in the sense that they're quick to deliver the bad news, but just as quick to dish out the praise. They want the best from their players and they, in turn, deliver their best.
They're innovators. They're strategists, but most importantly they lead by example. They have provided the spark that for so many years, no coach, no general manager, no player has produced.
Sure, Kurt Warner lead a brief two-year renaissance, but he had his limitations. Keim and Arians have no limitations. Keim is fighting like he has something to lose, Arians is fighting like he has nothing to lose. Those two mentalities combined have rubbed off on the the 53 men that call the Cardinals their team. The players know they have plenty to lose, but they play like they have nothing to lose. Similar to a 1-14 team in their last game of the season. They know their jobs are on the line, but they play as if they're back in college, and wind up pulling off an upset.
That's what this team is all about. Let loose, don't worry about pleasing everyone, and just play the game you love.