GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nine games into the season, it’s fair to say the Arizona Cardinals win the games they are supposed to win. Their losses are to Seattle, at San Francisco, at New Orleans and at St. Louis when the Rams still had QB Sam Bradford. The first three opponents should all make the playoffs.
Their wins are over Detroit, at Tampa Bay, against Carolina, Atlanta and Houston on Sunday, a win that improved their home record to 4-1.
That’s a good sign after past years when the Cards suffered some maddening losses. And it’s a good sign for the rest of the season as the Cards prepare for the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars this week, as well as St. Louis and Tennessee, teams that are without their starting quarterbacks for the rest of the year.
If the Cardinals can somehow squeeze another win or two in there (at home against Indianapolis and maybe at Philadelphia), they have a good chance of making the postseason, even if they don’t manage to beat San Francisco or Seattle in the season’s final two games.
Now for a look back at Sunday’s critical, 27-24 win over the Texans.
Justin Bethel’s blocked field goal: The Cardinals were facing a six-point halftime deficit as the Texans lined up for a 40-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter. Houston had already scored 10 consecutive points and was looking to seize momentum. But Bethel used his ridiculous speed to come off the edge and block Randy Bullock’s attempt, keeping the deficit at 17-14. The Cards scored on their first drive of the second half and never trailed again. In fact, they didn’t allow another point until Rashard Mendenhall fumbled late in the game, setting up the second of Andre Johnson’s two TD catches with 3:17 remaining. If Bethel doesn’t earn a Pro Bowl nod, those honors have lost all their meaning. With the block, the Cardinals have blocked an NFL-high 16 FG attempts dating to 2008, and three in the last 11 games dating to last season.
WR Andre Roberts: With Michael Floyd exiting the game with an injury, Roberts got a chance to reprise his role as the Cardinals second option in the receiving game and didn’t disappoint, catching five balls on eight targets for 72 yards and his first TD of the year. It was Roberts’ best performance since the season-opener, when he caught eight passes for 97 yards.
It’s been a tough year for Roberts, who knew he wouldn’t get a lot of chances because the Cardinals run a lot of two-tight end, two-wide receiver sets in which Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are the wideouts.
“I’m human. Of course it’s frustrating,” Roberts said. “Coming off last year, playing a lot and then not playing a lot this year or getting as many touches this year, of course it’s frustrating, but I know my role, and I have to play my role. In games like this I have to step up when Mike’s out and produce.”
Defensive end Calais Campbell: You won’t see it in the stats, but Campbell had a monster game in both run and pass defense. He was strong at the point of attack as the Cards limited Houston to 76 rushing yards. Campbell also had a pass defensed, a QB hit, and nine QB hurries. Honorable mention goes to John Abraham for a two-sack performance (we think he got the third one that was credited to Frostee Rucker, too). Abraham has made the loss of outside linebackers Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander a moot point.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
The offense is what it is: The Cards spent the bye week working on third downs, red-zone plays and harping on turnovers. Well, one out of three was solved. Arizona went 4 for 4 in the red zone with two TDs and two field goals. But the Cards were 3 for 10 on third downs and turned the ball over three times. Carson Palmer threw his 15th interception of the season (one off the league lead), and he and Rashard Mendenhall both fumbled when they were stripped by J.J. Watt, although Arians thought the whistle had blown before Mendenhall’s costly miscue.
The wildcat has arrived: Arians said in training camp that he doesn’t like to use the wildcat formation, yet there it was on Sunday, for three consecutive plays no less. Running back Andre Ellington took three snaps, running for gains of 5 and 7 yards before handing off to Patrick Peterson for a 4-yard loss. Arians clarified after the game that he doesn’t like the wildcat with the quarterback on the field. Carson Palmer was not. Given the relative success of the formation on Sunday (it sparked a TD drive), don’t be surprised to see it again, albeit in very limited bursts. It’s just another thing for defenses to think about, and the Cardinals added several other wrinkles on Sunday, including three-tight-end sets, effective screen passes and some interesting play-action.
Karlos Dansby could never play wide receiver: There was humorous talk of more fines after Karlos Dasby dropped two more interception attempts on Sunday. That’s five dropped INTs for Dansby, who has one to his credit. It’s hard to fault Dansby, who has had a terrific season and always seems to be in the right place, thus the opportunity to make those picks. But if he had held onto a couple more, he might have been headed to his first Pro Bowl.
Wide receiver Michael Floyd suffered an AC sprain in his shoulder on Sunday. Arians is hopeful he will play in Jacksonville, but he wasn’t as hopeful Monday as he was on Sunday. If Floyd is not ready, Roberts is more than capable of filling in.
ODDS AND ENDS
— Tight end Rob Housler had four catches for 57 yards and his first career touchdown on Sunday, marking the third time in the past four games he has caught at least four passes. After the game, Larry Fitzgerald was ribbing Housler and told the media to ask him why it took him three years to get his first career TD. Plenty of people have wondered that same thing.
— Fitzgerald had just three catches for 23 yards on six targets, fueling more postgame speculation that the Cards will try to trade him after the season. He’s making an awful lot of money to be a bit part in this offense.
— With just 13 rushes for 42 yards (3.2 average) and a fumble, Rashard Mendenhall further angered a fan base that would like to see Andre Ellington get more touches, and maybe is even ready to see what Stepfan Taylor can do. But Arians said after the game that he still has full confidence in Mendenhall and plans no changes in the team’s backfield set. For what it’s worth, Arizona still managed 97 rushing yards. Ellington had 55 on 11 carries.
— It had nothing to do with the Cardinals, but if you like great plays, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson turned in a pair with his two TD catches. On the first, Johnson ran a crossing route across the back of the end zone with safety Rashad Johnson in tow and managed to keep both feet in bounds for a terrific catch. But the second one was even better. Patrick Peterson had great coverage and even got a piece of the ball, but Johnson at 6-feet-3 has at least two inches on Peterson, who is generously listed at 6-1. He leaped higher, pulled the ball away on the left edge of the end zone, then somehow had the wherewithal and freakish body control to get a foot down and drag the other toe inbounds. Spectacular catch.
— Eric Winston had a rough game, getting whistled for two false starts, allowing five QB hurries and struggling in run blocking.
— Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was very aggressive on Sunday, blitzing on a lot of plays and trusting his secondary to cover when the pressure didn’t arrive. This Arizona defense is feeling its oats. Houston had just 41 yards of offense in the second half.
— Jay Feely has made 15 consecutive field goals. He hasn’t missed since the season opener.
— Arians gave players with at least three years of NFL experience a Victory Monday — a day off. He told the Cardinals they could start enjoying such days at the 5-win mark, which they reached Sunday (5-4) equaling last season’s entire win total.
— Arizona improved to 4-1 at home on Sunday. That marks the team’s best home start since 2008 (4-1). Arizona’s four home wins trail only New Orleans (5) in the NFC and only New Orleans (5), New England (5), Denver (5) and Kansas City (5) among all NFL teams.
— The Cardinals defense allowed a season-low 235 total net yards against the Texans on Sunday, with Houston averaging just 3.5 yards per play. Yesterday’s game marked the third time this season Arizona allowed fewer than 3.7 yards per play during a game, making the Cardinals the only team in the NFL this season that has accomplished that feat.
At Jacksonville, Sunday at 11 a.m.: The Jaguars got their first win of the season by beating the Tennessee Titans, 29-27, on Sunday, when the Titans likely lost quarterback Jake Locker for the year with a foot injury in the second quarter. Put simply, this is a game the Cardinals have to win.