TEMPE, Ariz. — Back when the Arizona Cardinals won back-to-back NFC West crowns and advanced to Super Bowl XLIII, they did so with one of the best offenses in the NFL.
That offense, though, featured one of the league’s worst running games.
In 2008, while Arizona was fourth in total offense and tied for third in points, it was 32nd in rushing yards. In 2009, while the Cardinals were 14th in total offense and 11th in points, they were 28th in rushing yards.
The key to their success was as obvious as it was fun to watch: A passing game led by Kurt Warner that featured a dynamic wide receiver duo in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
During the two-year stretch, Fitzgerald caught 193 passes for 2,523 yards and 25 touchdowns, while Boldin accounted for 173 receptions, 2,062 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The team’s offense has taken a substantial dip since Warner retired and Boldin was traded to Baltimore, as the Cardinals have struggled to find a capable quarterback while continually searching for a number two receiver to complement Fitzgerald.
While Carson Palmer is not reminding anyone of Warner, he’s on pace to throw for 4,252 yards and 25 touchdowns, which would rank third and sixth, respectively, on the team’s all-time list.
And it appears the Cardinals may have found their new Boldin, too.
Michael Floyd, the second-year pro out of Notre Dame, was selected 13th overall in the 2012 draft with the hopes that he would develop into a player who could alleviate some of the pressure Fitzgerald deals with as the team’s primary threat in the passing game.
His rookie season was fairly nondescript, as he caught just 45 passes for 562 yards and two touchdowns, though he finished the season with an impressive eight catch, 166-yard, one touchdown performance against San Francisco.
It was only the beginning.
Now in his second year, Floyd has caught 54 passes for a team-best 860 yards with four touchdowns. He’s on pace to become the first player not named Fitzgerald to lead the team in receiving yards since Boldin in 2006, and his emergence over the last three weeks – where he’s caught 18 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns – has given the offense a dynamic it has not seen since, well, Boldin.
“There’s no doubt,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said when asked if Floyd is developing into a 1B to Fitzgerald’s 1A. “He’s emerged, and three weeks in a row at that level is kind of a breakout.
“That’s consistency you’re looking at, and he’s playing hurt. That’s even better.”
Floyd’s “breakout” has opened up an offense that has slowly started to find its footing. The Cardinals have averaged 28.4 points over their last five games, and have moved up to 18th in the league in total offense and 14th in passing yards.
“Mike has been playing very well,” Palmer said. “When you come in to play us you kind of have to decide who you really want to focus on defensively, because both of them (Floyd and Fitzgerald) have made a ton of plays, play after play, whether they’re doubled or singled.
“Run after catch stuff, they’ve both done. They’ve won down in the red zone. They’ve made plays all over the field — third down, red zone, short yardage. It’s been huge for us and it makes it easier to call plays, it makes the running game easier, it helps everything.”
Floyd has earned a reputation for being a good blocker, too, though his shoulder injury has affected that part of his game. But it hasn’t stopped him from his main job, which is catching passes.
“Me being a big, physical guy, as much as us wide receivers don’t want to get hit, they really don’t want to hit us either,” Floyd told the Big Red Rage.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Floyd’s game is similar to that of Boldin during the latter player’s prime. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Boldin excelled at catching the ball in traffic and then bouncing off defensive backs that were unable to bring him down.
One of the few guys with the team who could make the comparison between the current Cardinal and the former Cardinal is Fitzgerald, who is on pace to score the most touchdowns he’s had in a season since 2009.
“Anquan is Anquan and Mike is Mike, let’s put it like that,” Fitzgerald said. “They both are really good players. I had a lot of quality time with Q earlier in my career and now later in my career with Mike.
“I see a lot of the same similarities in terms of the toughness and the meanness out of both of those guys – they’re both really mean dudes.”
Fitzgerald, with a smile, added that he’s nicer than Boldin and Floyd, saying, “You would like to have me at your Thanksgiving table much more than you’d rather have those two.”
Floyd didn’t disagree with his teammate.
“My mindset is trying to beat that defender over me, getting my job done,” Floyd said. “We can be best friends off the field. I can have known him since I was five years old. But as soon as we get on that field, it’s a different man comes out of me.”
Different is not a bad thing, especially when it is similar to something the Cardinals and their fans already know.