Because they’re in the same division as the last two NFC Champions, it was easy for critics to ignore the Arizona Cardinals before the season.
But after a 3-0 start, Arizona sits atop the stacked NFC West as a team that has fought through injuries and late-game deficits to earn its undefeated mark. Showing its resiliency and toughness, the Cardinals have firmly put themselves in the conversation as one of the best teams in the conference.
Arizona is on a bye this week, preparing to pit their punishing defense against reigning offensive MVP Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
While Arizona is deep in preparation for their toughest matchup so far this season, let’s look back at the numbers that defined the Cardinals’ undefeated start:
Not only have the Cardinals started the year with three victories, but all of the wins have been a result of second-half comebacks. Arizona trailed the San Diego Chargers by 11, the New York Giants by four and the San Francisco 49ers by eight, only to come back and earn victories in each game.
Chandler Catanzaro earned the starting kicker job after not missing a field goal in the preseason, and he’s been just as reliable during the season. Catanzaro is 9-for-9 through the first three games, nailing three field goals from beyond 40 yards.
Until Week 2 against the Giants, quarterback Drew Stanton had not started a football game since 2010 for the Detroit Lions. However, the 30-year-old has taken advantage of his opportunities this season. Stanton is averaging 205.5 passing yards per game and has tossed two touchdowns with no interceptions while keeping Arizona’s record perfect during Carson Palmer’s two-game absence.
The Cardinals’ defense was tasked to stop a tough slate of quarterbacks to start the season, matching up against two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning, Pro Bowler Philip Rivers and dual-threat Colin Kaepernick. Despite facing talented passers, the Cardinals have yet to allow a quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards, giving up only four passing touchdowns while forcing three interceptions.
Third-year wide receiver Michael Floyd’s role in the offense has grown consistently since he joined Arizona, finishing second in receptions and leading the team in receiving last year. Still, Floyd has found a way to continue surpassing expectations with two 100-yard performances through Week 3.
Opposing teams focused on stopping dynamic punt returner Patrick Peterson last season, never allowing the corner to gain more than 22 yards. Ted Ginn Jr. has since replaced Peterson as the primary returner and has already given opponents a new return man to fear after his 71-yard punt return for a touchdown gave Arizona a 4th-quarter lead in their 22-14 win over the Giants.
Palmer and Stanton have avoided dangerous and regrettable passes so far this season. Arizona is one of four teams that has yet to throw an interception, joining the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns.
The lack of a consistent pass rush has been one of the few downsides for Arizona this season, as the Cardinals are tied for 27th in the league with only three sacks. That is significantly down from 2013, which saw the Cardinals tie for sixth in the NFL with 47 sacks.
The belief that quality trumps quantity can apply to football, specifically when it comes to rookie wide receiver John Brown. Brown has only caught nine passes this season, but 33.3 percent of those receptions have gone for touchdowns, including go-ahead scores against the Chargers and 49ers.