Despite popular opinion, the Arizona Cardinals are deserving of some first-half awards this season. Those examining only the Cardinals' win-loss record (1-5) may disagree, but that view is a shortsighted one.
Sure, the Cardinals have lost five games in a row. In any city, on any team, such a five-game slide would draw the ire of the most dedicated fan.
Surely the Cardinal players themselves must have the feeling of ether burning in their chests after losing week in and week out. And yes, if Arizona doesn't get a road win against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday, we can label the month of October "Losstober."
Despite the current affairs in Glendale, however, I see this as a team that is headed for a solid second half of the season. Based on how the Cardinals have played through the first half of this season, awards are in order.
I'm here to hand out three awards to this Cardinals team for its play to date.
The video to the left is a vivid reminder of the power that Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells runs with on each play.
In that game, Wells took a handoff from quarterback Kevin Kolb and started powering downfield. Minnesota Vikings defensive back Cedric Griffin made the mistake of getting in the locomotive's way. You see the result.
Griffin hasn't been the only one to be subjected to Wells' brute force. There have been others.
In his rookie year, Wells showed promise as a feature running back for the Cardinals. After suffering a knee injury that required surgery, he had a dismal sophomore campaign. This year, Wells has come on strong.
After five games, Wells is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored six touchdowns, and he has done so against solid defenses.
In what seems to be expected, however, Wells has suffered two injuries in the first half of this season.
First, a hamstring pull kept Wells out of the Week 3 game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals lost that contest 13-10. Without Wells, Arizona averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
Wells is not expected to play this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens because of a swollen knee. The team has not provided any specifics as to Wells' injury.
It's obvious that Wells came into this season determined to be the Cardinals' feature running back. When he's on the field, he punishes defenders, making them earn each and every tackle.
Wells has become the heart of the Cardinals offense and has earned a first-half award.
The Arizona Cardinals' ability to stop the run has been overlooked this year.
The Arizona defensive line is anchored by Calais Campbell. Campbell has been playing with a high motor, applying constant pressure to quarterbacks. The Cardinals' highest grade as a team by Pro Football Focus is their pass rush, ranking 15th in the league.
Except for All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, Campbell and the rest of the front seven have held talented runners to subpar performances.
Against the Carolina Panthers, the Cards held the dynamic trio of Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to 74 combined yards with a 2.7 yards per carry average. The Birds' run defense showed up against the New York Giants and held Ahmad Bradshaw to 39 yards on 12 carries. This past Sunday, Arizona shut down the Pittsburgh Steelers run game—Rashard Mendenhall averaged 2.5 yards per carry.
One could argue that opposing rushers have been held to low yardage amounts because teams focus on throwing on a soft Arizona secondary. You'd be wrong.
The telling stat is that rushers have been held to low yards per carry. On multiple occasions, the Cardinals front seven has displayed the ability to stop the run. They're getting the job done.
This group has the ability to get after the quarterback, stop the run and make a difference in winning games in the near future. They will be tested against the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Rice this weekend.
Campbell & Co. deserve a first-half award for their relentless effort each Sunday.
The Arizona Cardinals secondary is one of the most bashed groups in the NFL this season.
In their defense, the Cardinals' secondary has been marred by injuries. After trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles, Arizona lost cornerback Greg Toler to a torn ACL prior to the regular season. Kerry Rhodes broke his foot and will be sidelined for the next several weeks. All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson is gutting it out through a partially torn bicep.
Which leaves us with the rookie and the former undrafted free agent—Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson, respectively.
The Cardinals are ranked a lowly 28th in the league against the pass, giving up 274 yards per game. Pro Football Focus has them ranked 18th in terms of pass coverage.
As is often the case, however, the stats don't tell the whole story.
There is no stat to record how much heart a player has. If there were, the Cardinals secondary would hold top honors.
If you've watched Arizona play, then you've seen the plays that Peterson and Jefferson have made on the ball. They hound opposing receivers, break up plays and never back down.
Adrian Wilson has already proven himself and provides an intimidating presence on the field. The young cornerbacks are learning each week and will be the key to Arizona turning this season around.
Peterson and Jefferson will turn it around, and they'll do it without notching a single stat for what will make it happen—heart.