Time again for Five Questions, Five Answers, previewing Seattle’s opponent Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals.
Question 1: Arizona was 3-4 after being blasted by Seattle down there on Oct. 17, but now is 9-5. What in a nutshell has changed?
A: How big is the nutshell? The simple answer is comfort level. Half of the starters and more than half of the roster is new from a year ago. The first half of the season, players were still working out issues like timing and communication. From the lines to the skill positions, those details are huge. I think the connection between coach Bruce Arians and the players took a while to evolve, too, starting with understanding his expectations.
Q2: Assess Carson Palmer’s season to date.
A: Think of the trajectory of a rollercoaster as it clankity-clanks up a steep climb and that’s how I would assess his season. His performance in the early chunk of the schedule was rough and fans were quite vocal in their frustration. Fourteen interceptions in eight games is a tough pill to swallow. Few, however, appreciated how complicated Arians’ offense is. It took time for Palmer, the receivers, the running backs and line to get on the same page. Now that they are much more in sync, Palmer has been terrific. His strong arm and deep ball is something the team lacked last season. He is finding Larry Fitzgerald (above in an AP photo) more and taking advantage of the skills of Michael Floyd, who is a far improved player from a year ago. Through it all, Palmer has been the model of patience, and his ability to not overreact to the early struggles has been huge for the continued development of this offense. The turnaround has been impressive.
Q3: What has been the key to Arizona’s run defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL right now?
A: A big nod goes to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who puts players in the best position to succeed. The attack scheme really plays to the strength and speed of physical freaks Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Credit talent evaluation, too. Looking at the way Karlos Dansby has played this season, it is surprising Miami didn’t work harder to keep him. Outside linebacker John Abraham, 35, has been a difference-maker, causing all kinds of mismatches.
Q4: What also has been the key to Arizona forcing so many turnovers?
A: Early in training camp, Bruce Arians said he cared about only two statistics: points allowed and turnovers. This team took his message to heart and drills that focus on forcing turnovers are a part of every practice. Linebackers start every one doing strip drills and tackling drills But the Cardinals also have players who have an instinct for it. Patrick Peterson has that talent, which is why he has three interceptions. Another good example is now-sidelined Tyrann Mathieu, whose instincts in that area are probably as good as anyone on the team. He can pick off a pass or knock a ball loose.
5, Finally, is there a thought that the Cardinals are building for the future and this is the beginning of something good down there, or is this just a team on a little of a second-half run?
A: I think fans believe this is the beginning of something special and that says something. They are a cynical bunch, having lived through decades of futility. They are feeding off Arians’ mentality. There is no wishy-washy with this coach, who speaks with utter confidence. And maybe because of all the life experiences that come with being 61, he is a staright shooter. He says they are building something special here. People believe him.