The Arizona Cardinals are 6-0. But if coach Kliff Kingsbury and the rest of the team were asked what matters at the moment, they’d tell you their next matchup against the Houston Texans in Week 7.
Vance Joseph, acting as head coach against the Browns in Week 6 due to Kingsbury’s COVID absence, was asked if they should be viewed as the best team in the NFL.
“That’s not our call, man,” Joseph said. “I’m gonna tell you this: Kliff coached this team like we’re 0—5. So now it’s 0—6, right? No one even talks about that stuff. We are literally day-to-day man, especially now with the COVID stuff. We are day-to-day, and this team’s mature and they get it. So no one’s talking about being the best team in the league. That ain’t our concern, man. We are on to the Texans. That’s our only concern.”
So that leads us to football media’s beloved discussion every week.
Power rankings. They shouldn’t matter to anyone. Even the writers say it because it mostly changes every week, every opinion is up for debate and no matter what will always leave fanbases upset.
But one writer is not on the undefeated Cardinals bandwagon.
Extreme Bold Ranking
Sports Illustrated senior editor Gary Gramling came out with his Week 7 Power Rankings. It seems like every Power Rankings article has the Cardinals at least in the top three. Maybe some are still catching up and place Arizona at the end of the top five.
Gramling has the Cardinals ranked seventh. Mind you, Gramling has a tier called “Super Bowl Contenders” and Arizona is in that tier.
But Gramling doesn’t like the Cardinals’ offensive system.
“What’s worrisome is an offensive system that requires the quarterback to maintain an MVP level over 17 games,” said Gramling.
Let’s stop right here. Kyler Murray has played at an MVP level this season. But not only that, but he has also done it against tough defenses. Murray and company lit up the Rams for 465 total yards, who are third in DVOA according to Football Outsiders as well as the Cleveland Browns, who are ranked seventh in DVOA. That offense against the Browns also happened to be without their signal-caller Kingsbury and their starting center Rodney Hudson.
A system filled with playmakers and an offensive line that’s ranked among the best in the league requires the QB to maintain an MVP level? Or is that the offense has evolved from Murray’s past ways of simply running out of trouble? This offense could just be “elite”?
Gramling also touched on the Cardinals’ efficiencies on crucial third and fourth downs on both sides of the ball.
They’ve been great, but they’ve also been fortunate along the way. The Cardinals are converting a lot of third and very longs while also stopping opponents on fourth downs at an unsustainable rate (10 of 14 so far, league average usually hovers around 50%). They’ve recovered 18 of 23 fumbles (expected fumble recovery rate for any team is 50%). Between fourth-down defense and fumble recoveries they’re stealing two possessions per game so far. They’re the only team in football to have opposing kickers miss three attempts inside 50 yards, one of two teams to have opposing kickers miss four PATs, and are top 10 in offensive and defensive red-zone efficiency, typically a volatile stat unless you have a Derrick Henry on your roster.
It’s possible that regression will hit Arizona when it comes to third and fourth downs on both sides of the ball.
“Arizona is the only team that ranks in the top five of TruMedia’s Expected Points Added (EPA) per drive metric on both offense and defense, and its plus-85 point differential is tops in the NFC,” said Reiss. “There’s nothing fluky about the Cardinals’ 6-0 start.”
This isn’t just luck. According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals are ranked second in DVOA.
It’s also possible that their pass rush is one of the best in the league. Arizona is fifth in sacks and first in the league in forced fumbles with 10.
It also helps that Byron Murphy is the best corner in the league against single coverage according to PFF.
Gramling even thinks the 2021 team could just be the 2020 team again.
“In many ways, it smells a bit like the 2020 edition—albeit with a better defense. But, mostly, they’re 6–0, which actually counts even more than their position in some guy’s power rankings.”
The 2020 team on offense featured DeAndre Hopkins and a lot of uncertainty. 37-year-old Larry Fitzgerald was second on the team in receptions and penalties were a big issue. Andy Isabella hasn’t sniffed the field this season compared to 2020.
Arizona acquired Rodney Hudson in the offseason and drafted shifty Rondale Moore and signed A.J. Green, which is a fresh change of scenery for the All-Pro.
Why Cardinals Should Be #1
Power rankings can be interesting and informative.
Danny Kelly of The Ringer put out a great piece and happens to have the undefeated Cardinals at number 1.
But it’s not just having the opinion of putting the Cardinals at one because of their record. It’s the facts to back it up:
“Murray has an ungraded skill group to work with thanks to the addition of Green during the offseason, and the team has gotten reliable contributions from running backs James Conner and Chase Edmonds. The scary part, though, is that this unit could take an even bigger jump down the stretch: Veteran tight end Zach Ertz (whom the team traded for on Friday) should give Murray another reliable security blanket on third downs, and rookie playmaker Rondale Moore is only scratching the surface of what he could do with an expanded role. This Arizona offense has shown week in and week out that it can beat opponents in a wide variety of ways―and the Cardinals still have an ace or two up their sleeve.”
Arizona had Maxx Williams looking like a top ten tight end in the league. And now, Ertz can come in and do his thing against the Texans for the first time in a Cards uniform.
The Cardinals are legitimate and should be treated as such.