The Arizona Cardinals, who Bleacher Report called the “New Kings of the NFC West,” improved to 4-1 on the season with a dominating 42-17 victory over the struggling Detroit Lions on Sunday.
A big reason for the Cards’ success is their big-time offense. Arizona has put up 190 points so far, which is the seventh most in NFL history, according to ESPN.
The Cardinals are currently averaging a league-high 38 points a game, and topped the 40-point plateau for the third time this season against Detroit — Arizona put up 48 points in Week 2 versus against Chicago, and 47 in Week 3 against San Francisco. The Cards have scored at least 22 points in each of their first five contests.
Arizona produced just 310 points a season ago.
A big reason for Arizona’s offensive explosion is quarterback Carson Palmer. The 35-year-old veteran completed 11-of-14 passes (78.6 percent) for 161 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions (0-5) for a season-high 154. 2 rating. For the season, he has completed 98-of-148 passes (64.9 percent) for 1,316 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. Palmer leads the NFL in touchdown passes, is fourth in rating (114.0), and fifth in passing yards.
Palmer has been consistently dangerous when healthy over the last two seasons, and Cardinals vice president of media relations Mark Dalton tweeted the following.
While Palmer is the offensive catalyst, he is definitely not doing it alone. Palmer has a couple of top targets in wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Fitzgerald leads the NFL with six receiving touchdowns, fourth in receiving yards (460), and fifth in receptions with 35. Fitzgerald only had five catches, a season-low, for 58 yards against Detroit.
Brown, the Cards’ third round selection in 2014, has hauled 23 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns this year — he had four receptions for 73 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown catch against Detroit. The second-year pro had 48 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns a year ago.
The Cards rushing attack isn’t bad, either. The Cardinals, featuring a three-running back system, have racked up 134.8 yards a game on ground (third most in the NFL). Arizona leads the league in yards per attempt (5.0) and rushing touchdowns (seven).
Chris Johnson leads the way for the Cards with 405 yards on 71 touchdowns (5.1 ypc). Johnson, who didn’t reach the 1,000 plateau for the first time last year, has been fantastic the last three games, averaging 6.0 per carry. The eight-year veteran has four 20-yard plus runs this season, which includes a season-long 40 yard scamper against the Lions. Johnson finished with 103 yards on 11 touches on Sunday.
Andre Ellington, the team’s starting running back in the season opener, and rookie David Johnson are the Cards’ other two running backs. In his first game since being injured in the season opener, Ellington ripped off a 63-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on Sunday — his other two carries netted zero yards.
David Johnson has seen limited duty the past two games, garnering just three carries in each of them. The third round selection had two short touchdown runs versus Detroit and has 91 yards on 18 carries to go along with three scores on. Johnson has also caught nine passes for 137 yards and two more scores. In addition, he has scored on a kickoff return, and is averaging 51.3 yards per return.
Ellington will likely continue to backup Chris Johnson, as Johnson seems to have turned back the clock a little. Ellington has carried the ball 15 times this season for 132 yards and a pair of scores.
As good as the offense has been, there are a couple of areas of concern for the Cards. Arizona has turned the ball over seven times, which ties them with several other teams for 14th most, and they have converted 37.3 percent of their third down opportunities — 20th in the NFL.
The Cardinals offense isn’t the only unit thriving this season, as their defense is tied-for second with 13 takeaways — six of which came against Detroit. The D also ranks No. 9 in yards allowed (332.6 per game) and No. 5 in points a contest (18.0).
Arizona’s D has recorded 8.0 sacks, intercepted 11 passes, forced three fumbles (recovered two) and scored three touchdowns.
The Cardinals currently have a two-game lead over St. Louis (2-3) and Seattle (2-3) in the NFC West, as well as a league high 100-point differential (190 points for,90 points against). The Cards don’t plan on giving the division up.
Arizona next plays in Pittsburgh (2-2) this coming Sunday. The Steelers, who face the San Diego Chargers tonight, will be without Ben Roethlisberger (MCL Sprain) for at least a few more weeks.
[Photo by Gregory Shamus / Getty Images]