TEMPE, Ariz. — Tyrann Mathieu chuckled.
“No, not by any means,” he said, with a laugh, when asked if the Arizona Cardinals’ 3-0 start is at all a surprise.
After a 2013 season in which the Cardinals won 10 games — including seven of their last nine — and a 2014 campaign that saw them race out to a 9-1 start before a slew of key injuries led them to limp to an 11-5 finish, the idea that they would once again be good in 2015 shouldn’t have been considered far out there.
Sure, the preseason predictions were all over the place, with some, like NFL.com’s Adam Schein, proclaiming the Cardinals would be among the NFC’s elite. However, it certainly seemed like more folks, including those over at Football Outsiders and SI.com’s Greg Bedard, expected the Cardinals to take a significant step back from where they were last season.
Bedard, in fact, predicted the Cardinals would win their first two games before going on a 10-game losing streak.
However, a perfect start that has seen the Cardinals score an NFL-best 126 points while posting a league-high +77 point differential has many, including ESPN’s Jim Trotter, singing a different tune about the team. The general consensus seems to be that they are, in fact, good. That the Cardinals are undefeated three weeks into the season may not be a surprise, but even head coach Bruce Arians admitted how they’ve done it — his team has yet to trail at any point in a game and is coming off a 47-7 romp over the San Francisco 49ers — is.
“Oh hell yeah,” he said. “If you would have told me we were going to win by 40 points I would have told you you were crazy. Even last Saturday I didn’t think that.
“But things happen in games and games get away from some teams at times, and that’s our job to make sure that happens. But I’m anticipating close games the rest of the way.”
Odds are Arians is right and the Cardinals will play in a few close games. Who knows, they might even lose some.
But that’s all for the future.
Right now, the Cardinals are the talk of the NFL, a team that is a surprise to many outside of the organization while really doing nothing to change the perception from those who are a part of it.
“We expected to be 3-0, that’s for sure,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “I don’t know about the way we’ve won, that’s a little surprising, it’s nice, I’ll take it.
“It’s not often you win the game by 40 points — that’s spectacular. It shows how good we can be on this team, different guys making plays. You see Fitz making the plays he’s making, it’s impressive, it’s inspiring. Carson’s just been playing as good as anybody in the NFL and I love playing with those guys. They’re making our job a lot easier, putting points on the board.”
Campbell talked about how the offense has done a good job making opponents one-dimensional, which does not go unappreciated by the defense.
Arians has referred to Sunday’s victory as a “team win,” and it’s easy to see why. The defense scored two touchdowns and notched a safety while the offense had success both through the air and on the ground. Special teams was good, too, as Chandler Catanzaro was perfect on the day and the punt team was able to down a kick at the one-yard line — which led to the safety.
And that’s just it with this team, what seems to separate it from both the 2013 and 2014 versions. While those teams won a lot of games, they often did so on the backs of one aspect of the team — usually the defense. Though it’s only been three games, now it appears the Cardinals can put forth complete efforts, with one group picking up another if need be.
The belief that was apparent for most of last season is certainly noticeable now.
“We are confident because we are good and we know it,” QB Carson Palmer said. “I don’t think it’s a false confidence, I don’t think it’s a cockiness. I think we are just confident in each other and that’s the most important thing.
“You look at the guys on defense and they can look each other in the eye and they’re confident in each guy. We look around in the huddle and you’re confident in that group on the offensive line, you’re confident in the receivers, you’re confident in the backs that come into the game. It’s an issue if it is a cockiness or something like that, but I think we have a good mindset right now.”
Mathieu echoed those sentiments, talking about how the offense’s success has allowed the defense to thrive, while special teams has done its part to help earn wins. Safety Rashad Johnson didn’t disagree.
“We know we’re good,” he said. “We know we’ve got a bunch of good players on both sides of the ball that can make plays. We’ve shown glimpses of that these past couple of years, especially last year on a nice run that we made. But we knew this year was going to be a new year, but we kept a lot of those core guys.
“The confidence is because we know that we’re good, we know that we all can play at this level, we know that we all can make plays each and every week.”
The Cardinals felt that way going into the season, and while you would have been likely to hear a similar sentiment all across the league, they’ve done a good job through three weeks of proving themselves prophetic. There is still plenty of season left to play and, as they unfortunately learned last season, even the fastest of trains can be derailed at any time.
Only time will tell if the 2015 Cardinals have more success than the 2014 version, but the hope now is that they learned from their predecessor.
“I think this team’s a little more talented and we’re a lot smarter of a team this year,” Campbell said. “I really believe that’s the biggest difference. We’re situationally smart; we’ve got a lot of different players that are stepping up big because they see it before it happens. If we continue to play smart and correct our mistakes, I think we can continue to win some games here.”
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