First things first. It’s hardly time for panic. But something does seem amiss, at least in the early stages of the 2016 NFL season, with the defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals.
While three games and a 1-2 isn’t much of a sample size, the concerns really began late last season. And it seems that the things that plagued Bruce Arians’ squad down the stretch in ’15 have reared their ugly head in September.
Remember when the Cards dealt the Green Bay Packers a humbling 38-8 loss back in Week 16 this past season? Since that victory, the talented team is a mere 2-4 in its last six contests. And keep in mind that three of those four setbacks were by at least 15 points.
That convincing win over the Pack at home was followed by a 30-point loss in the same building to the playoff-bound Seattle Seahawks (36-6). Two weeks later, the Cardinals outlasted Green Bay in overtime in the NFC Divisional Playoffs before being annihilated in the conference title game at Carolina, 49-15.
On opening weekend at home against a New England Patriots’ team down quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and a few offensive linemen, Arizona looked shaky early, rallied to take the lead but then missed a potential game-winning field goal in a heartbreaking 23-21 loss. Then one week after taking out their frustrations against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (40-7), it all came apart in Orchard Park in a 33-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Is it all on the head coach and the quarterback? Well, it has not been a good six-game stretch for veteran Carson Palmer.
Last season, the Cards owned a 13-2 record in their first 15 contests. In those games, there was MVP talk surrounding the experience signal-caller. He had already thrown a team-record 34 touchdown passes compared to only 10 interceptions. He fumbled six times in those outings and lost only two of those miscues.
Since then, Palmer has connected for 10 scores but been picked off 11 times—four of those in last Sunday’s debacle at Buffalo. He’s put the ball on the ground six times and lost two of those fumbles. He’s also been sacked 15 times in those half-dozen contests.
The Arizona Cardinals run defense entered Week 4 ranked 28th in the league and the club’s kicking game has cost them dearly early on. This simply doesn’t look like a team clicking on the same cylinders at the moment. On Sunday, they welcome the 2-1 Los Angeles Rams to the desert—a team they lost to at home a year ago.
In the next five days, divisional games with the Rams and San Francisco 49ers should tell us if Arians and company have the kind of problems that can derail a potential championship season. It’s hardly time to panic, but a few beads of sweat on the forehead are certainly understandable.