3 Reasons Arizona Cardinals Won't Win the NFC West
In the early weeks of the season, the Cardinals looked red-hot. Their defense looked physical, and Kevin Kolb looked like he should’ve been starting all along. Broadcasters, fans and even myself bought into the Cards’ early success.
Since Week 4, though, the Cardinals have lost all momentum going their way. The offensive line has looked atrocious, Kevin Kolb has been banged up and the competition in the NFC West has only gotten tougher.
The Cardinals need help fast if they hope to keep their playoff hopes alive.
However, this year it just doesn’t look like it is in the cards (see what I did there), and here are the reasons why.
The Offensive Line
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The key to the Arizona Cardinals’ recent downfall is their offensive line.
In seven games, the Cardinals’ offensive line has allowed 35 sacks, nine more than any other team in the NFL.
Let that sink in for a moment.
For all you non-math majors, Cardinals quarterbacks get sacked on average five times per game.
This lack of protection eventually led to a rib separation for Kevin Kolb that will most likely sideline him for the next few weeks.
Not only has the line affected the passing attack that now ranks 26th overall with 204.1 yards in the air per game, the Arizona run game has been nowhere to be seen either.
Cardinals running backs have been held to just 3.6 yards per carry this season with only three touchdowns. Arizona has only had one running back eclipse the century mark this year and is now down to its last peg with speedster LaRod Stephens-Howling being the only viable running back option left on the depth chart.
With an offensive line that is incapable of protecting the quarterback or creating holes for the running backs, the Cardinals can’t expect to score enough points to win games this year.
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John Skelton’s career record of 5-2 as a starting quarterback in the NFL is awfully deceiving.
The El Paso, Texas native does not have what it takes to keep the Cardinals from falling into the gutter in the NFC.
In his three-year career, Skelton has completed just 53.1 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and a 66.0 passer rating in 16 games.
Against the NFC West in 2011, Skelton played even worse than his career averages, with a 64.4 passer rating and eight interceptions to just five touchdowns.
If his track record against the NFC West is any indication of what’s to come, the Cardinals will be in terrible shape heading down the home stretch.
Skelton is not good enough to overcome the issues in the offensive line, and the Cardinals offense will crumble at the seams.
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Let’s face it. The NFC West is now one of the best divisions in professional football. At 16-12, the division currently has the second best record in the NFL, behind only the surging NFC North.
What makes the teams out of the West so dominant is their defenses. All four teams rank within the top 10 in the NFL in points allowed and passing yards allowed per game.
In my opinion, however, this race remains between just the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.
While the St. Louis Rams defense is greatly improved with the addition of Cortland Finnegan among other changes, the Rams offense doesn’t have the firepower nor the schedule to keep up with the top-tier defenses of the West, and that is why I don’t have them listed as a competitor.
San Francisco has been the focal point of the NFC West once again. The 49ers' defense gives up just 272.3 passing yards per game—the lowest in the NFL—and allows just 14.3 points per game—second in the NFL.
The Niners’ offense hasn’t been too shabby either. The 49ers' rushing attack, led by Frank Gore, ranks second in the league with 176.6 yards per game.
The 49ers would run all over the Cardinals' defensive line, which gives up 120.9 yards per game on average to opposing running backs, and would have no problem shutting down John Skelton and the Arizona air game.
The Seattle Seahawks pose another huge matchup problem for the Cardinals.
Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch and the ferocious Seahawks defensive line would manhandle the Cards’ offensive line, shut down the run game and fluster Skelton with ease. Struggling offensive tackle Bobby Massie will have the task of trying to contain monstrous defensive end Chris Clemons, and the young and extremely talented Seahawks secondary made up of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Brandon Browner will have a field day with Skelton’s poor decisions.
Seattle also has an extremely efficient running back of its own in Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. The powerful bruising back and the Seahawks’ offensive line are able to wear down opposing defensive lines effectively and control the line of scrimmage.
San Francisco and Seattle have two of the NFL’s top defenses to go along with their power running games. Despite the different strengths of the Arizona defense, it is not in the same class as those of the 49ers and the Seahawks.
Thanks to John Skelton, the Cardinals’ offensive line and the tough competition they play in the NFC West, Arizona will surely drop out of the divisional race.