The jury of public opinion is still deliberating the merits of the Arizona Cardinals' contender status. They question the makeup of the team and wonder aloud how many wins they must accumulate before being labeled as legitimate.
Like most juries, they need some guidance from a well-schooled counselor. Someone to direct them towards the proper evidence and frame the questions in an accurate manner.
Today, that man is me.
How Many Win Do the Cards Actually Have?
"Some attorney. It's three. Now move on counselor before you lose my interest."
Dear juror, your observation is keen, but not entirely accurate.
While it's true that Arizona has already accumulated three wins entering Week 4, the important number of wins is actually eight.
To take a true measurement of this team, we must look all the way back to Week 12 of last season. That is when the Arizona Cardinals started to gel into the unit that stands in front of us today.
In their last nine games, the Cardinals have only been beaten once. Most of the games feature scores in the low-20s by design. This team was built to put teams in a choke hold and let the defense slowly squeeze the life out of an opponent.
Who Has Arizona Beaten?
Glad you asked, because there are some crucial pieces of evidence here.
This year has seen the Cardinals take down two teams with winning records and serious playoff aspirations.
The Philadelphia Eagles started out the season with close wins over the Browns and the Super Bowl-worthy Ravens. Despite not playing their best ball offensively, the defense has held on late to carry the team when needed.
The Cardinals crushed them in Week 3 by a score of 27-6.
The Cardinals held on for a tight 20-16 victory.
The other team that the Cards beat to reach their three victories? Those perennial Super Bowl favorites in Boston. The most impressive detail of that win? It came in New England.
This isn't just a team that has ridden its crowd and defense to wins over inferior opponents. It went into the previous year's second-place team and took a well-earned victory for the ride home.
Lastly, the San Francisco 49ers also fell to the Cardinals during their late run last season. While the Niners were trying to lock down home-field advantage, Arizona smacked them in the mouth.
The Working Parts
To better understand the Cardinals, let's take a look at the composition of the team.
Arizona has drafted well over the years to stock the defensive cupboard full of goodies. Patrick Peterson was a great top-10 choice, but the ability to find great value in the later rounds has proven beneficial. Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett were nabbed in the second round, Calais Campbell in the third.
No, it's not the same as finding starters in the seventh round, but being able to consistently win on your second- and third-rounders is the mark of solid drafting.
The offense is somewhat of an unknown. The quarterback situation is confusing at best. John Skelton "earned" the starting job and got hurt in the opener. In came much-maligned Kevin Kolb, who promptly led the Cardinals down the field for the decisive score. Since then, he's managed to stay out of the way and get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald just enough to move the chains now and then.
The offensive line will need to be addressed in the offseason and running back Ryan Williams needs to validate his second-round selection.
The unit charged with scoring the points is held together with duct tape and Ken Whisenhunt's deft coaching. He knows better than to expect the Greatest Show on Turf and manages them accordingly, making sure they allow the defense the opportunity to grab the win.
Which is exactly what the defense has done often.
So put it all together, folks.
Are the Cards Contenders?
There are actually eight wins there, not three. Among the victims of those victories are Super Bowl contenders and participants, as well as a rising Pacific Northwest menace. Lastly, there is a roster full of blue-chip talent—particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And there's Larry Fitzgerald.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence that has been presented.
The Arizona Cardinals are a bona fide contender.