The 5: Cardinals who could be the team’s midseason MVP
With half of their 2017 schedule already in the books, the Arizona Cardinals are a team facing a lot of questions.
Can Adrian Peterson continue his Herculean workload over the last eight games?
Can Drew Stanton guide the Cardinals’ offense with the necessary efficiency to win games?
Will Tyrann Mathieu once again become a havoc-wreaker on defense like he was prior to his season-ending knee injury in 2015?
The next two months will provide answers to those questions. There is another question, however, that wasn’t sufficiently answered in the season’s first half: Who is the Cardinals’ team MVP at this point?
I asked 11 different members of the staff of 98.7 Arizona’s Sports Station that very question — and got five different answers.
1. Patrick Peterson
Who voted for him?: Mike Jurecki, John Gambadoro, Dave Burns
There is little question that Peterson is the Cardinals’ best player, but his value is a little harder to quantify simply because on most Sundays, you don’t notice him. That’s how good he is at his job — he completely nullifies the player he’s covering and makes most passing downs a 10-on-10 proposition.
Clearly avoided at the position, 57 cornerbacks have seen more passes thrown into their coverage than Peterson. On the 30 targets into his coverage, he is surrendering a league-low catch rate of 33.3 percent. Perhaps most impressively, Peterson has given up just 22 yards after the catch, a testament of how tight he has covered his man.
Peterson’s stats are meager due to him not being challenged. The six-time Pro Bowler has 13 total tackles and doesn’t have an interception. In fact, it’s been 12 games (dating back to 2016) since Peterson snared his last pick. That came in a Week 13 win over the Washington Redskins last December.
2. Adrian Peterson
Who voted for him?: Dan Bickley, Luke Lapinski, Vince Marotta
Can the team’s MVP be a guy who wasn’t on the roster until Week 6?
In a word, maybe?
The other Peterson was acquired in a trade with New Orleans in October and immediately made his impact felt. In his first game as a Cardinal, he ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Tampa Bay.
Game circumstances and a head coach who admitted he abandoned the running game too soon limited Peterson’s effectiveness in a Week 7 loss to the Rams in London. But after the bye, Peterson was at it again, running 37 times (a career-high) for 159 yards in a win over San Francisco.
The 32-year-old has overdelivered on what the Cardinals brought him in for — to ignite a stagnant (OK, nearly dead) running game. Over the first five weeks of the season, Arizona averaged a league-low 51.9 yards per game on the ground. Since Peterson has taken over in the backfield, that number is up to 117.3 yards per contest.
For those who were doubting it, A.D. still has a lot of gas left in the tank.
3. Larry Fitzgerald
Who voted for him?: Bertrand Berry, Doug Franz, Craig Grialou
The Cardinals’ offense isn’t the high-flying, wide-open unit it was earlier in the Arians era. Offensive line issues and running woes have affected the once-potent Arizona passing game. The Cardinals are still fifth in the league, averaging 261 yards per game through the air, but their 11 aerial touchdowns rank tied for 18th-most in the NFL.
The receiving corps has been spotty, with one exception. Fitzgerald continues to be a rock for whomever is throwing the ball his way.
At the midway point of the season, he’s got 50 catches, which is not only tied for sixth-most in the league, but puts the future Hall-of-Famer on track for 100 catches for the season. It would be the fifth time he’d reach the century mark in his career and the third year in a row.
Only Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker have had more 100-catch seasons than Fitzgerald. Not bad for a 34-year-old.
4. D.J. Humphries
Who voted for him?: Ron Wolfley
So if Adrian Peterson, a running back who has played in three games can get consideration, why can’t Humphries, a left tackle who has played in only four?
The Cardinals are 2-2 in games in which the third-year tackle has been available, although it is fair to point out that he was injured in the opener against Detroit. Humphries played only eight offensive snaps against the Lions, and the Cardinals were leading 7-0 at the time of his injury.
And as much as Peterson gets credit for energizing the team’s running game, his arrival did coincide with Humphries’ return from injury. With Humphries at left tackle in the last three games, Arizona has yielded only five quarterback sacks in 89 dropbacks.
5. Corey Peters
Who voted for him?: Paul Calvisi
Peters has been very good in the middle of the Cardinals’ defensive line in 2017. The 29-year-old has played the second-most snaps on the D-line and has registered 16 tackles and a sack.
Pro Football Focus has had Peters ranked as one of the Cardinals’ top five overall players in five different games this season, including last Sunday’s win against the 49ers, in which he received the top grade on the team (81.9).