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There are hints suggesting the Arizona Cardinals are going to be postseason relevant for the first time in the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray era.
The offense, which Kingsbury was supposed to turn into some NFL version of his college Air Raid attack, is actually doing a fair amount of airing. And raiding. Whatever — you get me.
The Cardinals, with seven passing TDs and five rushing TDs, are the only NFL team that ranks in the top-5 in both passing and rushing TDs this season.
The Cardinals have gained 400 or more yards and scored 30 or more points in each of their first three games for the first time in franchise history. And this is a club established in 1898, OK?
Not to be outdone, the defense is also making a mark.
The Cardinals have seven takeaways this season. Only Dallas with eight takeaways has more.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense caused four turnovers last weekend against Jacksonville and that alone is more than Arizona had the first five games of the 2020 season combined.
The Arizona defense is second in fumble recoveries, second in passes defensed and third-down percentage, and fourth in sacks.
So good stuff is happening in the desert out west.
But the test approaches. It begins this week and extends for four more weeks after that.
And the test will determine whether these Cardinals are for real.
The Cardinals play at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in a matchup of two unbeaten teams. But despite their twin 3-0 records, one team is universally considered to be a Super Bowl contender.
And the other team is the Cardinals, which are …
Well, we don’t know exactly what they are.
Understand that the Rams ended the Cardinals’ season on a major downer in the 2020 finale. And the Rams are better now with the addition of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who last week helped his team beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Cardinals, however, believe they’re also different.
“It’s not even a question,” Murray said this week. “Night and day.”
That might be true.
Murray holds the reins to an offense that is different from last year. The 2020 offense was mostly a pitch-and-catch show featuring the quarterback and receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
This year the ball is being distributed to others including Christian Kirk, who is the team’s leading receiver, with Rondale Moore and A.J. Green not far behind. Hopkins is the team’s fourth-leading receiver.
So, there’s diversity in the attack.
“I think sometimes it goes that way and sometimes, like you saw last year, one guy gets hot and catches a bunch of balls,” Kingsbury said. “From my perspective as a play caller, it’s harder to defend when you’re distributing it more equally.”
The Rams and the Cardinals have combined for 191 points on offense this year. But the Cardinals, which have scored 96, have actually outscored the more highly regarded Rams, who have 95 points on offense.
“They’re a very good team. Very talented, very well-coached,” Kingsbury said. “I think last year what stood out is we threw a pick-six in both games that ultimately was kind of the difference. You can’t do that against those teams.
“This past week, they had zero penalties, zero turnovers. They’re playing at a very high level, and that’s the sign of a (Sean) McVay-coached team. He does a great job with those guys.”
The Cardinals will have to play up to their record to beat Los Angeles. But some pundits argue Arizona’s record, while noteworthy, is something of a mirage.
Remember, this team was down 19-10 until late in the third quarter against hapless Jacksonville.
The Cardinals also beat Minnesota 34-33 because Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired.
Now, wins are wins. That’s true.
But with the Rams on Sunday, followed by San Francisco and then Green Bay two weeks after that, the true quality of this team is going to be seen.
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