Cardinals look to get over the hump despite slow start

The Arizona Cardinals have lost three of their first four games as they look to return to the NFC Championship game


Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Bruce Arians speaking at the 2016 Leadership Series with the Arizona Cardinals hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Garrett Glynn and Jeremy Beren

After a successful offseason, the Cardinals are trying to improve upon last year’s franchise-record 13-win season, in which they claimed the NFC West title and appeared in the NFC Championship game. However, a surprising 1-3 start to 2016 has made that task much harder.

In March, the Cardinals made a splash by trading former first round draft pick Jonathan Cooper and an additional second round draft pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones. Jones’ natural pass rush ability was expected to alleviate the need to frequently dial up blitzes as the defense has done in years past. Indeed, Jones has four sacks in four games, but the Cardinals are 10th in total defense through four games after ranking fifth in 2015.

After facilitating the trade, General Manager Steve Keim was very optimistic on Jones’ versatility in his introductory press conference.

“His length, his athleticism, his ability to change direction and all of those things that he has is going to give us a lot of flexibility from a scheme standpoint,” Keim said.

The lack of pass rush was exposed when safety Tyrann Mathieu suffered a season-ending ACL tear in week 15 last season. The Pro Bowl safety has come back healthy this season, but he is averaging fewer tackles and has yet to record an interception – despite what was expected to be a freer role for him the defensive backfield thanks to the improved defensive line. will no longer have to over compensate and mask the lack of pass rush. A fan’s prediction on Twitter, which drew a response from Mathieu, does not seem like it will come true considering the start to the season.

The Cardinals drafted controversial big man Robert Nkemdiche in the first round of the 2016 Draft to play on that defensive line. Nkemdiche was projected to be a top five pick until personal issues caused him to fall to the team with the 29th overall pick. It is apparent that the Cardinals feel as if they have created a locker room environment in which he will thrive, but Nkemdiche has yet to play a down for the Cardinals this season.

The team accomplished a rare feat on the offensive side of the ball, bringing back every offensive player that accrued a touchdown last year. The offense set many franchise records and was expected pick up right where they left off with all skill position players remaining intact. However, the Cardinals’ offense has not set the world alight, scoring 92 points through four games – 40 of which came in one game, a home win vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and have fallen from first to sixth in total offense. Second-year running back David Johnson was poised to take a bulk of the load and has put up solid stats, But stalwarts such as quarterback Carson Palmer and 2015 breakout star John Brown have struggled.

The offense’s inconsistency is the prime reason for the Cardinals’ slow start, and the team will have to figure out a solution if they are to return to the NFC Championship game and ultimately get to the Super Bowl.