Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals have seen their fair share of ups and downs this season. A season in which they started 4-0 is now heading into the last game of the season at 5-10. Whether they finish 5-11 or 6-10, their record simply wasn't good enough.
It's a shame that this team didn't stay on an upward trend after its four-game winning streak to start the season. Ray Horton's defense is currently the 12th-best defense in the NFL based on yardage, which means the Cardinals defense will most likely finish in the top 15 for the first time since 2005.
Pretty remarkable considering they had zero offensive help after Week 6. Right now Mike Miller's offense is the 32nd-ranked unit in the league. They are averaging a pitiful 15.8 points per game by compiling a measly 263.1 yards per game.
It has been a frustrating year for Cardinals fans, but there is still work to be done on the road. Arizona can play upset special this week and hinder the San Francisco 49ers' chances of a first-round bye. If the Cards find a away to take down San Francisco at Candlestick, Green Bay will indeed sew up the No. 2 spot in the NFC regardless of the outcome of its game.
Let's take a look at just where the Cardinals stand heading into Week 17.
On a day where the Chicago Bears defense scored more points than the Cardinals offense, there's no question more than one thing went wrong on that side of the ball. Both quarterbacks, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer, tossed interceptions to the opposition, and converting third downs proved to be impossible yet again.
But lo and behold, there was nothing worse than Arizona's rushing attack. The Bears stingy run defense held them to a minuscule 29 yards on 19 carries. The poor performance was surprising because of the team's strong ability to run the ball one week earlier against the Detroit Lions.
However, in the same sense, it wasn't that surprising that Chicago shut them down. The Cardinals' rushing attack has been one of the most uninspiring and frustrating rushing attacks in the NFL all season. Heading into Week 17, they have only managed to produce four games of 100 yards rushing as a team.
Not to mention they have had six games under 50 yards rushing. All of this raises this question: What is causing Arizona to have such a poor ground game? Simply enough, this club can not run the ball between the tackles.
When running between the left tackle and left guard, Arizona's backfield averages 1.5 yards per carry. When they run it between the left guard and the center, they average 2.8 yards per carry. When they run the rock between the center and the right guard, they average 2.2 yards per carry.
In all honesty, there are only two spots on the entire offensive line where they can run it and pick up more than 3.5 yards per carry. It happens when they run between Daryn Colledge and Bobby Massie. The one other position is straight off of Massie's backside.
Heading into the offseason, it's clear that the Cardinals need to beef up the interior offensive line.
Despite turning the ball over three times and not scoring an offensive touchdown, not all was lost in defeat.
Even with Horton's defense surrendering 152 yards on the ground, the defensive front seven played very well at the point of attack. There were two or three long runs that gouged them, but those long runs didn't stop Pro Bowl snub Calais Campbell from making his presence known.
Campbell did what he normally does, he wrecked opposing offensive linemen all day long. By game's end, he finished with one quarterback sack and three quarterback hurries. Moreover, he had six defensive stops. Four of those six defensive stops were tackles for loss.
Through 15 games, Campbell is tied for 20th in the NFL with 12 tackles for loss. Five of those 12 came in the last two weeks alone. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus, No. 93 has put together his two best games of the season in back-to-back weeks.
Additionally, PFF has Campbell down as its third-best 3-4 defensive end. Respectfully, only J.J. Watt and Muhammad Wilkerson are ahead of him based on the grading system. Wilkerson does a better job of playing the run, and Watt does everything better than every other 3-4 defensive lineman.
Even though Arizona has been out of playoff contention for a few weeks now, it speaks to the character of Campbell to keep playing at a high-level despite having nothing left to play for. Playing for pride can sometimes be forgotten when your club had just lost nine games in a row three weeks earlier.
Like Justin Smith is to the 49ers defense, Campbell is to the Cardinals defense. The defenses run through these guys, as crazy as it sounds.
Stock Watch (Week-By-Week Evaluation)
Rising: Brian Hoyer
While Hoyer may not be the Cardinals starting quarterback going into next season, he is playing for the role of backup either in the desert or somewhere else. He is hoping that his Week 17 against the 49ers will produce good enough results, as he is scheduled for free agency in the offseason.
Falling: Nate Potter
Another rough game for the seventh-round pick out of Boise State. Left tackle Nate Potter was unimpressive as he gave up three quarterback sacks and three quarterback hurries. Since taking over as the starter in Week 11, Potter has allowed 18 total quarterback pressures.
Rising: Patrick Peterson
Patrick Peterson didn't manage to grab an interception for the fifth game in a row, but he did manage to hold quarterback Jay Cutler in check. When Cutler threw his way, his quarterback rating was 57.1, and he completed four passes on 10 attempts. Pedestrian numbers considering PP spent plenty of time on Brandon Marshall.
Falling: Greg Toler
Fellow cornerback Greg Toler is not falling on the basis of poor performance, but more because his playing time keeps slipping. Whenever Toler plays extensively it seems like he always makes plays, so it's baffling to me as to why he only played 17 snaps against the Bears when he played 51 snaps against the Lions.