You may not think of the Arizona Cardinals as an elite team, but perhaps you should. Since Bruce Arians arrived in 2013, the Cardinals have gone 24-11, they’re 9-0 over the last two seasons in games in which Carson Palmer has played, and this season they lead the NFL in margin of victory (25.7 points per game).
In short, they’ve been amazing.
“Yeah, no doubt,” Fox Sports NFL analyst Charles Davis said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think it goes back to the Super Bowl they appeared in (after the 2008 season). I really do. If you guys remember, when they got into the Super Bowl that year, they were 9-7, division champs and it felt fluke-ish. On the national stage, everybody’s like, wow. But then they played an extraordinary game with Pittsburgh. Only lost it because of Big Ben’s big drive – the big touchdown pass at the end, incredible catch, the whole deal.”
The Cardinals got back to the playoffs the very next season but lost in the first round.
“They’re never to be heard from again until Bruce Arians gets into town,” Davis said. “They don’t have that year-in, year-out buildup where people expect them to be great. It’s still hard for people to absorb the fact that since Arians has been there, they’ve won 10 games and didn’t make the playoffs, which is unusual. They won 11 games last year and had to play four different quarterbacks due to injury. And then this year they’re off to the 3-0 start – and they look really good.”
Larry Fitzgerald, especially. The 32-year-old wideout has erupted for 17 catches, 246 yards and five touchdowns over the last two weeks.
“As you know, he moved from the outside receiver to the inside receiver – and that took some convincing,” Davis said. “I asked him about it point blank this week, and he was very honest about it. He said, ‘No, I didn’t want to move inside. It took a lot to convince me because my question back to them was exactly what am I doing wrong out there except going to Pro Bowls and eating people alive?’”
But Fitzgerald, Brandon Tierney pointed out, was no longer eating people alive. He had finished with less than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons and had recorded double-digit touchdowns only once since 2009.
“But his assessment was, ‘I’m still a good player out there,’” Davis said. “And you guys know as players, we’re the last ones to say we’re not good players anymore. He felt like he was (still elite). Plus, unfamiliarity. He had never been inside before. It took some convincing. He said he spent time with Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin – a bunch of guys – and they talked him through the process.”
They also told him to watch Arians’ offense. The guy lined up inside makes a lot of plays. In fact, he might be the team’s No. 1 playmaker.
Once Fitzgerald saw that, his eyes opened.
“He worked through the process,” Davis said. “It wasn’t fun for him, but now he’s there.”