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Are the Cardinals worse than last year?

ArizonaSports.com’s very own Mark Asher penned a column
today that pointed out the things that he now knows about
the 2011 NFL season.

The first item was this:

The AZ Cardinals are a worse football team
this
year than they were last year.

I got to thinking…is he right?

Certainly we can point at the team’s 1-6 record compared
to
their 3-4 mark through 7 games last year. That is, after
all, the ultimate number to gauge progress. But there are
others.

The Cardinals are better offensively this year. Sure, Kevin
Kolb has been a disappointment as the Cardinals quarterback. But the
Cardinals passing
game is averaging over 52 yards per game more, and Kolb’s
individual rating is 15 points higher than Derek
Anderson’s was through seven games in 2010.

Beanie Wells, now healthier than he was a year ago, is a better option than
what
the Cardinals were putting on the field at running back
last season.

The Cardinals have finally started to use their tight ends
as part of the passing game, adding a wrinkle that they didn’t have last
season (or any season since Jackie Smith left St. Louis).

Defensively, this year’s numbers are a tick off from last year’s. Neither
defense has been all that great. But this year, at the very least first round
pick Patrick Peterson looks like he’s getting better and better every week at
his cornerback position.

And his ability to change games with punt returns has
already led to a victory. He leads the league averaging 19.1 yards per
return.

So what does all this mean? A 3-4 team compared to a 1-6
team pretty much is a wash, right? Neither mark is
one to be proud of.

What this means to me is that this is a case where you can
throw out the records. I believe this year’s Arizona Cardinals team
is improved over last year’s. Slightly, but improved
nonetheless.

Through seven games last season, the Cardinals had three
wins. Three fluky, non-convincing wins. Think about it.
Opening day 2010 featured a 3-point win against a St.
Louis Rams team with a rookie quarterback making his first
start. It also featured a strange play during which Steve
Breaston (remember him?) prevented a Rams defensive score
that would have put St. Louis up by 10 points in the 3rd
quarter with an unbelievable hustle play.

The Cardinals’ early season win over Oakland was
punctuated by Raiders’ kicker Sebastian Janikowski missing
three field goals including the potential game-winner from
32 yards.

And you’d be hard-pressed to find a stranger win than the
Cardinals’ 30-20 triumph over New Orleans that featured
two Arizona defensive touchdowns and a Levi Brown fumble
recovery for a score. In fact, in that game the Cardinals became only
the 2nd team in the history of the NFL to score 30 or more
points without throwing or running for a touchdown.

The point is, that team very easily could have been 0-7
after 7 games. This year’s team, with any breaks, could
have 5 wins.

Now stop laughing and pick yourself up off the floor.
We’ll eliminate the Minnesota and Pittsburgh games, which
were both one-sided affairs.

Think about it. In the Washington game (a 1-point loss),
Chansi Stuckey fumbled on what could have been the go-
ahead drive. A week later in Seattle, again the Cardinals
had a chance to tie or win, but Kevin Kolb threw an
interception at the Seattle 36-yard line. Who can forget
the goofy Victor Cruz “gave himself up” play at the end of
the Giants’ game? And then there was the Baltimore game,
which could have been different if not for Torry Smith
burning Richard Marshall on a 36-yard catch on what turned
out to be the Ravens’ game-winning drive.

Football is a game of inches. We hear that all the time.
We’ve also heard Cards’ head coach Ken Whisenhunt offer
the “we just didn’t make enough plays” excuse several
times this season. He’s right. A few made plays here or there and we’re
talking about a different season.

I’m not saying the Cardinals are not a good football team right now.
They’ve got a lot of deficiencies. But they very well
could be a 5-2 team with those same deficiencies.

The record doesn’t show it, but the Cardinals have made
some improvement this season.

Now it’s time for the improvement to translate to some wins.