This week brings an unfamiliar NFC foe. These two teams have only squared up five times since '97. The Cardinals are an intriguing team, filled with mystique. To help demystify this week's opponent is Revenge of the Birds Managing Editor Jess Root.
The Cardinals have an impressive trio of running backs. You've got the veteran Chris Johnson who has somehow found the fountain of youth in Phoenix, the always explosive receiving threat Andre Ellington, and the rookie David Johnson, who always finds a way to score. However, despite this, the Cardinals racked up only 55 yards on the ground last week. Can you tell us why the Cards abandoned the league's 11th best rushing attack?
It actually has been the tale of the two losses. They ran far less than they passed. That tends to happen when you play from behind, but it was a number of things. Because of several penalties on first and second down (they were penalized nine times last week), they ended up with some first and forever and second and forever situations. They weren't on schedule with the offense. It is hard to run the ball in those situations. At the same time, Bruce Arians has long been known for his infatuation with passing game. He is good with keeping the offense balanced when the team is ahead, but it is so easy for him to get away from it when it isn't doing well or when they are behind.
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The common denominator in the Cards' losses has been their lack of red zone production. According to azcentral (and correct me if I'm reading this wrong), Arizona has an astounding conversion rate of 94% in their victories this year. In their two losses, it's been the polar opposite. A dismal 22 percent. With the Ravens having the league's 10th best RZ defense, the Cards have to be on their A-game. Can you explain what the Cardinals need to do to convert more often?
It is basic execution. Against the Rams, David Johnson dropped a touchdown pass. Jermaine Gresham dropped a third down pass that would have given the team a first and goal inside the five. Carson Palmer missed a wide open John Brown in the end zone last week. Michael Floyd was called for offensive pass interference. Palmer was picked off in the end zone, making an absolutely inexcusable throw. These are the types of mistakes. Basically, the theme for the Cards in their losses has been beating themselves.
As of 2013, the Cardinals owned the worst record when playing on Monday night with a Win % of .295. After reading up on the Cards on some various message boards, I also get the sense that this team chokes a lot on national television. Does this late-night special and the significance of its time slot have fans worried?
The record is bad because the Cards are historically bad. We have had some stinkers, but really the only choke came in 2006 when the eventual NFC Champ Bears rallied from like 20 down to win in the 4th quarter. That was the Denny Green "they are who we thought they were" postgame tirade. I don't get the sense there is any worry simply because it is on Monday night.
The Cardinals have never defeated the Ravens in their lovely air-conditioned palace, or at any other stadium that they have called home. Tell us why this factoid will become obsolete come Monday night.
Well, without coming across as insensitive, the Cards are good this year and the Ravens are not. It is a game the Cardinals should win if they are to be considered a good team.
Your team has sort of been... a 'hipster' Super Bowl pick, if you will, over these past few seasons. A roster that hasn't seen much turn over these past few years, coaching stability, and the fall of NFC West powerhouses Seattle and San Francisco seem to make the perfect recipe for Arizona to excel. Even though this team has fallen short of those Super Bowl expectations in the past, what makes this year different?
Well, 2013 was a year in which they figured things out too late. 2014, it was having to play Ryan Lindley. There is no excuse this year. If they don't, it isn't because they can't. It will be (assuming general key health) because they just were outplayed or made mistakes. What is different this year is the offense. They had weapons before, but the offense has been top notch in 2015. They have a comfortable Carson Palmer playing at perhaps the best level of his career. He has so many people to throw the ball to and, most importantly, a running game to balance things out. It's exciting this year.
*obligatory score prediction*
I expect a bounceback game for the Cards. Maybe it isn't the offensive explosion of their other wins, but I see a 27-16 victory coming.
Once again, special thanks to Jess for corresponding with us this week. You can find my responses at Revenge of the Birds.