Leading up to the game, that was likely accurate.
But that’s why they play the game. If records were based on games Arizona “should have” won or lost, it wouldn’t be anywhere close to playoff contention.
The Cardinals (7-4), instead, are on the cusp of doing something great this season. They have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and the offense has been firing on all cylinders for a month—not consequently, the team is 4-0 over that stretch.
There is a lot to take away from this enormous victory, so let’s get to it.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the light bulb clicked on this season for Carson Palmer, but we can give it a ballpark range. The past four games have been among his better four-game stretches in his career.
Palmer is 89-of-129 passing (69.0 percent) over that time for 1,146 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions for a 110.8 passer rating.
Once again, he took three sacks. That is a bit higher than you’d like, but other than the sacks, there wasn’t much pressure on him. The offensive line did a nice job of holding outside linebacker Robert Mathis in check—he had one of the sacks while defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois picked up the other two.
Here’s Palmer after the game, per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
I think this was a respect game. I don’t think we are well respected throughout the league, and that’s not anybody’s fault but our own. But I think we are better than people think.
Palmer has run Bruce Arians’ offense to perfection the past four weeks, and it has turned the team into one not many teams should want to face in the coming weeks.
He was neither a battering ram against the Colts nor was he a speedster outrunning everyone. But Rashard Mendenhall played his best game with the Cardinals to date.
He carried 13 times for 54 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown and added a 24-yard reception early in the game.
Mendenhall was quicker and more sudden on Sunday than he has been in the past two years. He looked to have the burst back in his legs, which led to his longest run of the season on the first drive of the game—a 15-yard scoot off right tackle that would have been a three-yard gain just two weeks ago.
Will Mendenhall have this burst the rest of the season? That would be great for the run game if he does.
Is this Michael Floyd the receiver we will grow to love over the next handful of years as he tears up defenses? Or, is this Floyd just on a hot streak?
He backed up his 193-yard performance against a bad Jacksonville Jaguars team with seven receptions for 104 yards (14.9 yards per catch). It’s his third 100-yard game of his career and first in back-to-back games.
What’s great about this connection Floyd seems to have with Palmer right now is that there aren’t any passes off target. Floyd had seven receptions on seven targets from Palmer against the Colts. Last week, it was six receptions on 10 targets.
The answer to the first paragraph is probably closer to the former than the latter, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the NFC West. Floyd is consistently playing like the No. 13 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft for the first time in his career.
With a 16-yard reception to convert a third down in the second quarter, Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player to record 11,000 receiving yards. At 30 years and 85 days, he surpassed Randy Moss, who did it at 30 years and 222 days, according to Pro Football Talk.
Add to that his two touchdowns and Fitzgerald had himself a game to remember. His eight touchdowns this season are his second-most through 11 games in his career—he had nine with Kurt Warner in 2009.
The next milestone on his radar is probably 100 touchdowns. Currently at 85, that likely will come sometime next season.
It would be an upset if inside linebacker Karlos Dansby made the Pro Bowl. That’s not because he doesn’t deserve it; he does. But he currently is eighth in voting, once again according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
He led the team with five tackles against the Colts and also picked off Andrew Luck in the second quarter, returning it 20 yards for a touchdown.
He entered play this week with 79 solo tackles, which ranked No. 1 among all linebackers. Dansby now has 87 total tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble this season—a Pro-Bowl-type season, no doubt.
Will he get the votes? He’s in the top 10 among inside linebackers, which is required to qualify for inclusion in the captains’ picks (odd new rules). Perhaps the question is will he stay inside the top 10?
Arizona’s defense came into the game as the No. 2 unit in the NFL, allowing only 81.4 yards rushing per game. Only the New York Jets (73.2 YPG) were better.
It won’t be moving anywhere after allowing 80 yards to the Colts—most of which came late after Indy decided to just run out the clock and get out of town with its tail between its legs.
The Colts leading rusher, Dan Herron, carried four times in the fourth quarter for 33 yards (8.3 YPC) with 22 of those coming on one rush. And Luck was the leading rusher until then, scrambling twice for 31 yards (15.5 YPC), including a 28-yard scamper that more than doubled the team’s total output at one point.
Trent Richardson (7 carries, 15 yards, 2.1 YPC) and Donald Brown (2 carries, 1 yard, 0.5 YPC) were rendered useless. They put a lot of pressure on Luck due to their inability to make anything happen in the run game.
The only player to get regular pressure on Sunday was defensive end Calais Campbell. He had Luck in his grasp twice before he finally was able to bring him down for a sack—a half sack, at that, as fellow DE Darnell Dockett helped corral the big quarterback.
But that was it for the pass rush. The defense hit Luck eight times—including those two near-sacks from Campbell—but was unable to do any real damage.
It’s not as though Indy’s offensive line is overpowering. In fact, it had been ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) Pass-Blocking Efficiency (a formula the site uses to gauge how offensive lines protect the passer on a weekly basis).
Is that surprising, though? From Weeks 8 to 11, the team had nine sacks. A staggering seven of those came from outside linebacker John Abraham, meaning the rest of the defense accounted for just two over that four-game stretch.
It’s hard to succeed with just one player creating all the pressure and sacks. Yes, the Cardinals destroyed Luck and the Colts this week despite failing to bring him down. But that won’t be the case every week.
They need to generate more pressure.
All that being said about the pass rush, the defense played the pass extremely well on Sunday. Luck was on the verge of his worst passer rating for a single game in his young NFL career before hitting tight end Coby Fleener for a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown.
On the day, Luck completed 20 of 39 passes (51.3 percent) for 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception for a 60.1 passer rating.
Here’s how bad his day was compared to all his regular-season games:
- 51.3 percent completion was 10th-lowest
- 163 yards was second-fewest
- 60.1 passer rating was fourth-lowest
- 4.18 yards per attempt was by far the lowest (previous was 5.76)
Note: All game stats according to Pro-Football-Reference.com
Arizona’s recent trend with top quarterbacks is tipping in its favor. More often than not, it seems the Cardinals defense steps up against the better quarterbacks in the league (just ask Matt Ryan). The team hasn’t won all those games, but it hasn’t lost because of opposing quarterback play.
That’s a good sign, because if the Cardinals intend on getting to—and winning in—the playoffs, they’re going to have to beat some good quarterbacks.