We are now a bit more than 25% through the 2013 NFL season and the Arizona Cardinals find themselves at 3-2, 1 game behind the Seattle Seahawks for first place in the NFC West. Although there is still a bulk of the season left to play, it is not too early to say that we have learned a few things about the Cardinals. Here a few key takeaways from the season thus far:
1. Carson Palmer will hurt you but keep you in games: Coming into the season, the Arizona Cardinals had high hopes and expectations for their new starting QB Carson Palmer after acquiring him from the Oakland Raiders in the offseason. The organization was thrilled to finally have some stability at the position, for the first time since Kurt Warner’s departure. Palmer was expected to throw the ball to WR Larry Fitzgerald and give the Cardinals some potency on offensive. However, there have been stretches this season when Palmer and the Cardinals’ offense has looked worse than it had when QB’s such as Derek Anderson and Max Hall were behind center. Palmer has already thrown for nine interceptions this season, many of which have come in the redzone and have cost the Cardinals an opportunity to put points on the board. In fact, Palmer is on pace to throw 29 picks this season. If he continues to throw careless interceptions, the Cardinals will lose games they should win and ultimately fall out of contention in the competitive NFC West.
However, as bad as Carson Palmer has looked at certain times this season, he has kept the Cardinals competitive in most games. Palmer will consistently start games at QB. He does not have a history of missing many games, which is a positive sign for Arizona considering their uncertainty at the offensive line. Palmer has also shown some nifty footwork and the ability to escape pressure a couple of times this year. He also has the ability to complete passes efficiently, which is a major reason he was brought in during the offseason.
2. Andre Ellington will be the team’s leading rusher: Andre Ellington may not lead the team in carries, but he certainly has been more efficient and explosive than starting RB Rashard Mendenhall. During last Sunday’s game vs the Panthers, Ellington carried the ball seven times for 52 yards (7.4 yards per carry) to lead the team while Mendenhall carried 17 times for just 43 yards (2.5 YPC). This has been the theme throughout the season for the Cardinals’ ball carriers. Furthermore, Ellington is establishing himself as a lethal weapon in the backfield. Ellington caught four passes for 31 yards (7.8 yards per catch), including a great toe-tapping catch to give Arizona a fresh set of downs, against Carolina. We have continued to see QB Carson Palmer throw the ball to Ellington. Whether it’s been a designed play call or the play stalls and Ellington is the last option, it is clear that Ellington is more than capable of fulfilling the role. I would imagine that head coach Bruce Arians will reward Ellington for his stellar play and increase his playing time.
3. “Honey Badger” is for real: The biggest question about Tyrann Mathieu was never about his ability to play the game of football. It was about whether he could stay out of trouble off the field. Thus far, he has been nothing short of spectacular for the Arizona Cardinals. His off-the-field issues seem to be a part of his past. Many people credit Mathieu’s maturity to his college pal at LSU and current teammate, CB Patrick Peterson. Whatever the reason behind his maturity, it is clear that Mathieu is fully focused on helping the Arizona Cardinals win games. Mathieu had five tackles last Sunday and notched his first career sack when he took down Cam Newton during the first quarter of last week’s game. Mathieu has a tremendous instinct when he steps onto the field. He has a knack for knowing where the football is and a great sense of knowing how to defend against the pass. There is no question that Mathieu is the team’s future starter at safety. And remember: “Honey Badger don’t care” who’s lining up across the field from him.