Prior to this season, the Arizona Cardinals had scored 40 or more points in a single game just nine times in 27 seasons since moving to the Valley.
Sunday, the 2015 Cardinals put another 40-spot on the board for the third time in their first five games, beating the Detroit Lions 42-17 at Ford Field to push their record to 4-1.
It should have been worse.
Arizona forced turnovers on both of Detroit’s first two possessions. Safety Rashad Johnson picked off a Matthew Stafford pass on a 3rd-and-2 and returned it to the Detroit 43-yard line. But the Cardinals couldn’t do much, going three-and-out.
The Lions (0-5) coughed it up again on their next possession. This time it was rookie running back Ameer Abdullah who was separated from the football by safety Tony Jefferson. Defensive lineman Josh Mauro recovered at the Arizona 39-yard line.
Again, the Cardinals did nothing and punted.
Then the onslaught began.
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) October 11, 2015
Led by the efficient Carson Palmer, Arizona scored four second-quarter touchdowns, including two short David Johnson touchdown runs.
You’d think that having one-third of the league’s 40-point outbursts so far this season would please head coach Bruce Arians.
Not so fast.
“We did a good job of taking short fields and getting points — after the first two turnovers, we didn’t get anything,” Arians told Paul Calvisi in the locker room after the game. “I really wasn’t pleased with our offense. We missed a 3rd-and-1 on a dive. We started out with two three-and-outs, which we’ve only had two or three of those all season.
“There’s a lot of room to improve offensively, especially up front.”
That may be a little nitpicky. After all, the Cardinals did run for 187 yards on 25 attempts, good for a cool 7.5 yards per carry. Chris Johnson eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time this season and Andre Ellington, back on the field after missing three games with an injury, uncorked a 63-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to finish the scoring for Arizona.
Arians was pleased with the play of the left side of the line, tackle Jared Veldheer and guard Mike Iupati.
“We hit some good ones over there, but again, we hit some stuff on the right side,” Arians said. “As a group, I thought it was an average outing.”
The passing game was clicking. Palmer threw as many incompletions as he did touchdown passes. The veteran finished 11-of-14 for 161 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 154.2 was the second-best single-game mark in his career.
“He was spot on,” Arians said. “Other than getting hit early and not having a chance to throw it to a wide-open guy. He was absolutely perfect.”
The Cardinals did struggle on third downs, converting just 1-of-8 chances. But they did clean up their red-zone issues from a Week 4 loss to St. Louis, scoring touchdowns on all five trips inside the Detroit 20-yard line.
Through five games, the Cardinals have scored 190 points — 28 more than the second-highest scoring team, the Atlanta Falcons. To put that in perspective, the 1991 Cardinals scored a total of 196 points in 16 games on their way to a 4-12 record under head coach Joe Bugel.
Arizona also has a +100 point differential at this point, 27 points better than the +73 posted by the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The franchise has had a +100 point differential or better only three times since 1920, the last time happening in 1948. That team had a +169 differential and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Championship Game.
Other notes on the Cardinals’ offensive performance on Sunday:
• Arizona ran only 45 offensive plays — just a shade under half of what the Lions ran (89).
• The Cardinals averaged 7.7 yards per play — 7.5 on rushing plays and 7.9 on passing attempts.
• Arizona’s 185 yards rushing was their highest total since they had 201 in a Week 8 win over the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.
• The Cardinals had four plays from scrimmage of 40 yards or more.