Given their status as a perennial loser in the NFL, respect has been hard to come by for the Arizona Cardinals. However, in the midst of another winning season and likely playoff berth, respect is beginning to make its way to the desert. At 8-4, Arizona is in the driver’s seat of the NFC West for the second consecutive year and is on the verge of clinching the division for the second time in as many years.
The Cardinals have reaped the benefits from playing in an extremely weak NFC West over the past two years but they’ve also managed to win several high-profile games along the way. During last year’s run to the Super Bowl, Arizona ripped off consecutive wins against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles. This year, the Cardinals have already knocked of the New York Giants on the road and most recently the Minnesota Vikings.
Even more important for Arizona during the 2009 campaign has been the progression to a more balanced offensive attack. RB Tim Hightower continues to outperform his fifth-round draft status and rookie RB Beanie Wells is beginning to show why the Cardinals invested a first-round pick on the former Ohio St. standout. Last season Arizona was held to a NFL worst 74 yards per game on the ground but is compiling 94 yards per contest so far this year.
Additionally, the Cardinals’ defense has become even more dangerous under first-year coordinator Bill Davis. Upon head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s arrival in the desert, Arizona’s defense made a turn for the better but the team’s defensive unit has thrived under Davis’ guidance. While the Cardinals are allowing over 360 yards per game, they’ve forced 17 turnovers and are tied for third in the league with 35 sacks. Arizona totaled only 31 sacks on the season a year ago.
Although the Cardinals will be hard pressed to surpass the 10-2 Vikings for the second playoff seed in the NFC, locking up the third seed could prove crucial for Arizona. If that scenario panned out, the Cardinals would take on the lowest wild card seed and would avoid a potential divisional round matchup with the New Orleans Saints. Instead, Arizona would travel to Minnesota with plenty of confidence given Sunday’s dominating win.
Next up for the Cardinals is a winnable three-game stretch starting with a Monday night showdown against the San Francisco 49ers. Arizona will be out for payback as the 49ers took the first matchup of the year in the regular season opener. If the Cardinals can avoid being swept by their division rival, they’ll wrap-up the NFC West and begin their preparation for another playoff run.
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