The Arizona Cardinals are not the doormat team that many predicted for the NFL 2012 season. They are far from a sure bet playoff team and are taking that to heart every week they go out and play. Still, they are 3-0 entering week four and emotion is driving their success as much as talent is. For the most part, this Cardinal team is statistically tested but the Miami Dolphins could find success on Sunday if they play their, pardon the pun, “cards” right.
To fully appreciate the Cardinals 3-0 record and thus their five point spread against the Miami Dolphins, you have to take a look at who they beat as much as how. The Dolphins pose a significant threat to the Cardinal perfect season despite those who are saying they have no chance. In other words, this game is no lock for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have beaten the Seattle Seahawks in week 1, the New England Patriots in week 2, and the Philadelphia Eagles in week 3. They have scored 20, 20, and 27 points respectively in those games while giving up 16, 18, and 6. Let’s take a look at the defensive statistics for the Cardinals’ previous opponents and compare them to their own offensive output.
Seattle Seahawks: 10th in the league in passing giving up an average of 213.7 yards a game and only 2 TD’s in three weeks through the air.
New England Patriots: 24th in the league in passing giving up 262 yards a game and 5 TD’s in three weeks.
Philadelphia Eagles: 3rd in the league in passing giving up 172 yards per game on average with 3 TD’s in three weeks.
Miami Dolphins: 29th in the league in passing giving up 303 yards per game with 3 TD’s in three weeks.
Arizona Passing: The Cardinals are ranked 29th in the NFL in passing averaging just over 171 yards per game with 4 TD’s through the air.
The Cardinals have rotated Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Each QB threw for around 140-150 yards in weeks 1 and 2 before putting up over 200 against the Eagles 3rd ranked unit. Kolb has thrown 3 TD’s in the last two weeks.
Not so much running.
Seattle Seahawks: 2nd in the league in rushing defense with 57.6 yards per game average. 2 TD’s yielded on the ground.
New England Patriots: 7th against the rush with 71 yards per game and 2 TD’s.
Philadelphia Eagles: 17th against the run with 103 yards per game and 1 TD.
Miami Dolphins: 3rd against the rush with 66 yards per game and 2 TD’s.
Arizona Rushing offense: 26th in the league in rushing with 81 yards per game and 2 TD’s.
The Cardinal rushing attack is more or less and enigma right now. Lost to IR is starting tailback Beanie Wells leaving Ryan Williams the starting RB this week. Williams had a serious knee injury that knocked him out of his freshman season last year and his return has been a little shaky.
The lack of major offensive production isn’t surprising for the Cardinals. Statistically they are in the bottom of the league in both rushing and passing and while they have faced tough defenses who rank well in rushing and passing, it’s their defense that has kept them in games thus far and allowed the team to pull out two close victories.
Here is a look at the Cardinals defense and how they match up to their opponents offenses.
Seattle Seahawks passing: 32nd in passing with just over 171 yards per game and 4 TD’s with 6 yielded sacks.
New England Patriots: 9th in passing with 281 and 4 TD’s with 7 yielded sacks.
Philadelphia Eagles: 5th in passing with 285 yards per game and 3 TD’s and 9 yielded sacks. (the Eagles so far this season have played every game from behind despite winning 2 of 3.)
Miami Dolphins: 25th in passing with 193 yards per game and 1 TD and only 4 sacks on the season.
Cardinals Pass Defense: 9th giving up 210 yards per game and 2 TD’s thus far.
The Cardinals have a very good secondary who play physical on the outside. What they do not have are coverage LB’s who can compliment their corners in underneath routes, TE seam routes, and RB’s out of the back-field. The Cardinals best defense in the passing game is clearly their blitz schemes which have netted them 12 sacks thus far. If sacks are an indication of line play, the Dolphins will present the Cardinals defensive front their first solid offensive line. Or the Dolphins will find out that their four sacks were simply based on their opponents lack of up-field push.
Cardinals against the Run:
Seattle Seahawks: Ranked 6th gaining an average of 141 yards per game.
New England: 12th averaging 109 per game.
Philadelphia: 8th averaging 130 per game.
Miami: 4th averaging 175 yards per game.
Cardinals defense vs. the run: 18th giving up an average of 106 yards per game.
In the 3 games that Cardinals have played, they have yielded 85, 71, and 74 yards to the top rusher from those teams. The top 3 RB’s for each of their opponents have failed to score on the ground. Still, the Cardinals are giving up yards on the ground and that is something that the Dolphins can use to their advantage. Play action passing will keep the Cardinals honest and a solid running attack will help keep Ryan Tannehill off his back. If the Cardinals come out blitzing the rookie QB as expected, the Dolphins will need to use the rushing game to get behind the front seven forcing them to back off. If they can successfully do that, they should open the underneath passing game and allow Tannehill the time he will need to move the ball down field.
The Dolphins’ toughest opponent thus far was the Houston Texans who scored only field goals against the Dolphins defense when not gaining the ball of turnovers. The Oakland Raiders scored one TD against the Dolphins and the NY Jets scored twice following turnovers one a pick-6 INT. The Dolphins thus far have been pretty stingy on defense this year giving up points that do not come off turnovers. In fact, only two TD’s have been scored the team not coming off TO’s.
It will be a major challenge for the Dolphins to not turn the ball over to the Cardinal defense who have six turnovers on the year. Specifically the running of Daniel Thomas will play a big part in this. With Reggie Bush nursing a knee injury that will likely limit his playing time, Thomas has not been the model of keeping the ball. He has two fumbles in three games and both have come after a Ryan Tannehill INT. The Cardinals will likely hit Thomas hard and often swipe at the ball to create a turnover and get in his head.
Most believe this will be yet another win for the Cardinals and many believe it could be an easy walk through the park. If the Dolphins can keep the ball and win the battle of field position, this game may come down to a bunch of field goals for both teams. Perhaps giving Dan Carpenter a chance at redemption for last weeks misses.