The Arizona Cardinals have won 21 regular season games over the last two seasons, a total that is tied for fifth-best in the NFL.
As it stands, only the Denver Broncos (25), Seattle Seahawks (25), New England Patriots (24) and Indianapolis Colts (22) have earned more victories over the two-year span.
You’d think that kind of success would indicate the Cardinals have a pretty talented roster, yet the folks over at ProFootballFocus.com beg to differ.
In an ESPN Insider piece ranking the NFL’s 32 rosters, PFF lists the Cardinals all the way down at No. 24, worst among teams in the NFC West and a far cry from the No. 9 ranking they held this time one year ago.
Top five players: Calais Campbell, Jared Veldheer, Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
Starters who should be upgraded: Alex Okafor, Matt Shaughnessy, Tony Jefferson, Rashad Johnson
Analysis: This Arizona defense has typically performed better as a unit than you’d expect from its overall talent level. The Cardinals have a couple of excellent players — Campbell, Mathieu and a healthy Peterson — but they also have a ton of average contributors for whom the scheme does a lot of heavy lifting.
The offense is all about potential, with former first-round pick Jonathan Cooper still an unknown quantity as the Cardinals’ starting right guard, and some other question marks at tight end and fullback. Even the quarterback position is less than a sure thing, with Carson Palmer recovering from a torn ACL.
Now, while you’re unlikely to find anyone arguing the Cardinals are more talented than the likes of Seattle, Green Bay or New England, it may be a tough sell ranking them below teams like the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.
And maybe ProFootballFocus, which has its own metric for grading players, is not far off base when it says the team — especially on defense — has performed at a level that exceeds what you’d think its talent should play at.
However, in football probably more than any sport, the whole of a team can often be greater than the sum of its parts. Coaches devise schemes that can help “hide” talent deficiencies, and if not hide them, accentuate what skills a roster does possess.
That’s how you win, and maybe that’s how the Cardinals have done it.
Or, it’s also possible the team is significantly more talented than they are being given credit for.