Image: Wikimedia Commons / All-Pro Reels
Image: Wikimedia Commons / All-Pro Reels

Arizona Cardinals: the NFL’s last team standing

The Las Vegas Raiders’ 28-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers meant that the Arizona Cardinals became the NFL’s only unbeaten team through four weeks after their impressive 37-20 win over division rivals Los Angeles Rams.

Tennessee lost to Arizona in Week 1 by a score of 38-13 before Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals earned a fortunate 34-33 win against the Vikings in Week 2. They followed up with a shaky performance against the Jaguars, but ultimately pulled through to win 31-19.

Being the only undefeated team in the NFL currently, they are the number one seed in the NFC, and sit atop the competitive NFC West.

Much of Arizona’s success can be pinned on their star quarterback, Kyler Murray. Murray is currently the frontrunner for the AP MVP award, though the MVP race can change drastically over the rest of the season.

The undersized signal-caller has been at the heart of an offense that currently ranks in the top five in all major categories and have scored over 30 points in every game this season.

While Arizona’s defensive form has been more volatile, their performances have certainly exceeded expectations.

This unbeaten run marks the first time the Cardinals have gone 4-0 since 2012, when an injury-plagued quarterback room saw them lose 11 of their final 12 games.

Kingsbury’s team will look to avoid a similar fate this season, with a tough run of fixtures ahead. They take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Are the Cardinals dominant or lucky?

Coming into this season, the Cardinals were projected to finish last in the bloodbath that is the NFC West. However, now at the quarter-mark of the season, the Cardinals are sitting pretty at the top, undefeated and full of confidence.

In the opening weekend of the season, the Cardinals came out and proved their doubters wrong by dismantling the Tennessee Titans, last year’s AFC South champions. They neutralised Derrick Henry through some physical play at the line of scrimmage. The 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year was limited to just 58 rushing yards on 17 attempts as Arizona’s Chandler Jones managed five sacks in a dominant performance.

Arizona then hosted the Vikings in Week 2, a team that presented a greater challenge to them. With splash plays for both teams, the game could only be described as a shootout. With little time left, the Vikings drove down the field efficiently, to kick a winning field goal from short range. It had seemed that the victory was sealed, had it not been for kicker Greg Joseph’s miscued kick. It meant the Cardinals went 2-0, thanks to some good fortune.

Their third game was against the young Jaguars, the team who had the first overall pick in the Draft. A stuttering first half meant that the Cardinals trailed 19-10 at half-time. However, some big plays from cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. in the third quarter changed the landscape of the game, as Murray led his team to an uneasy 31-19 win in the final quarter of the game.

Week 4 presented a different kind of beast for the Cardinals. The LA Rams hosted Arizona at the futuristic SoFi Stadium and had gone 8-0 against the Cardinals since coach Sean McVay’s appointment.

While it would be unrealistic to expect an undefeated season for the Cardinals, they are most certainly the team to beat in the NFL currently

The Cardinals were ready though. Aaron Donald, the usual menace along the defensive line was neutralised and the Cardinals found a lot of success running the ball and throwing across the middle of the field. The result? A resounding victory for the Birdgang, which had been sealed by the end of third quarter.

Murray is arguably the most dynamic player in the NFL right now. He has taken a “Mahomesian” leap from his second year and looks the real deal – his performances have matched and even exceeded that of Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady.

It often helps when your offence is stacked too. Arizona’s busy offseason has paid off so far as A.J. Green, James Conner and Rodney Hudson have played key roles. Not to forget Matt Prater too, who made a franchise-record 62-yard field goal against Minnesota in Week 2.

Defensively, J.J. Watt is currently third in defensive tackle pass-rush win-rate, behind just Donald and Javon Hargrave. His impact on the team is not just on the pitch though, as he has proven to be a worthy leader who epitomises the camaraderie that General Manager Steve Keim was looking to build.

Aside from the veterans though, the Cardinals have a plethora of young, unproven players who have really stepped up this year under the veteran leadership of Watt and Hudson, among others. Versatile second-year tackle Josh Jones possesses the highest pass-block win-rate of any offensive tackle or guard while linebacker Isaiah Simmons has been showing his worth too.

“The Arizona Cardinals are a very young team, they’re still growing,” commented Sam Matthews Boehmer on The Boar Sport’s ‘NFL Preview’.

“They [the Cardinals] had a decent draft with lots of value picks and a lot of athletes.”

This is the scary thing about Arizona – they are still growing.

During the 2020/21 season, the Cardinals showed flashes of elite play, which were sometimes clouded by inconsistency. However, with a greater veteran presence on the team this year, the Cardinals will hope to string it all together.

They have been criticised forplaying down to their opponent and, so far, it has held true. They were fortunate to beat the Vikings and looked poor against the Jaguars. What matters is that they won, and it is a show of their new, tougher character that they can grind out tough wins.

While it would be unrealistic to expect an undefeated season for the Cardinals, they are most certainly the team to beat in the NFL currently. It will be up to the 49ers to see if the Cardinals streak can end this week.

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