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Best offense in the NFL? Cardinals can make the claim

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) scores a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — For an offense, punting is considered to be a bad thing.

Touchdowns, on the other hand, are considered to be a good thing. The best thing, actually.

Through 15 games this season, the Arizona Cardinals have more touchdowns than punts by a 57 to 55 margin.

Now, 50 of those franchise-record 57 touchdowns are courtesy of the offense, with the other seven a combination of defensive and special teams scores.

Even still, 50 offensive touchdowns still tops the league, with the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots trailing at 49 each.

Arizona’s offense is good. Really, really good.

After Sunday’s 38-8 win over the Green Bay Packers, Cardinals coach and play-caller Bruce Arians was asked how fun it was to call plays during a game like that.

“It was fun,” he said. “It was fun.”

Why wouldn’t it be?

For comparison’s sake, the Cardinals’ 2008 offense, which was led by QB Kurt Warner and his trio of 1,000-yard receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, tallied 45 offensive touchdowns  — and 51 overall — before embarking on a Super Bowl run.

“That offense in 2008 was special,” Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who was a rookie on that 2008 team, said. “There was something about it that just, I mean, the receiving corps, three guys over 1,000 yards, Kurt Warner was slinging the ball around anywhere he wanted to.

“But this offense is more explosive, which is hard to say because that offense was so great. But you have so many different guys that can make plays. Our running game is going strong, our O-line is playing tough. Really, our receiving corps with so many different guys who make plays. You don’t know who’s going to be the guy who comes up with the big play, but we have a fourth, fifth, sixth receiver stepping on the field and making plays.”

He’s not wrong, as 13 different offensive players have reached the end zone for Arizona this season.

With just quarterback Carson Palmer playing at an MVP level while throwing to receivers like Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson along with tight ends Darren Fells and Jermaine Gresham, the team would be difficult to stop. Add in a running game that has really taken off with rookie David Johnson and is now boosted by the return of Andre Ellington and, well, you have a group that seems impossible to slow down and, if history is any indication, primed to make another Super Bowl run.

No doubt Arians, along with everyone else on the team, would tell you the offense is far from a finished product.

After Sunday’s win, in which the Cardinals produced 381 total net yards (121 of which came on the ground), made good on three of four trips inside the red zone and converted half of their third-down attempts, quarterback Carson Palmer said the effort was not a complete game, which is something they are still striving for.

“I missed a couple throws I shouldn’t have,” he said. “So, just got to keep continuing to work and get better, and try to reach that next level.”

What that next level could entail is anyone’s guess. If it is indeed an attainable mark then, well, wow.

If nothing else, the level the Cardinals have achieved to this point is the culmination of a process that began when Arians took over before the 2013 season. The year before he arrived, in 2012, the Cardinals mustered just 21 offensive touchdowns and 25 overall. Four different quarterbacks combined to pass for just 11 scores.

Arians said the difference since then is Palmer and fellow quarterback Drew Stanton staying healthy. That, and the work put in by GM Steve Keim.

“The rest of it is guys growing, putting better pieces in the puzzle around him — a better offensive line, a corps of running backs,” he said. “The receiver group has gotten better. Our tight ends have really improved. So, it’s just Steve putting better pieces around Carson.”

A look at the roster then and now would show a vast improvement, but still, it may be a little difficult to believe it could go from what it was to what it is so quickly. However, Arians, an offensive-minded coach, is not surprised. In fact, he thinks this level should have been reached even sooner.

“This is about where I thought we’d be in Year 3,” he said. “We were getting real close last year, until the quarterbacks got hurt, and the running backs.”

Arians is not wrong in that it was believed, or at least hoped, that a healthy Arizona offense could be among the league’s best. At the same time, the additions of Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati, the drafting and ascension of the rookie Johnson and the improvement from other players on the offensive side of the ball created a monster that no defense has really yet to contain.

Does that mean the Cardinals are guaranteed to finish this season as Super Bowl 50 champions? Of course not, but they’re certainly in the running. Their defense has been good for the last handful of seasons, and now they have an offense to match.

“It makes our job a lot easier, that’s for sure,” Campbell said of having an offense like this. “We know that we don’t have to carry the load. For a while, the defense, we felt like if we didn’t play a great game it would have been tough to get wins.

“The last three years, Carson Palmer, he’s led us. He’s made the defense’s job a lot easier. There’s games where we feel like we really didn’t do much and we blew a team out. That’s the sign of a good team, you never know who you’ll have to lean on in a game. Sometimes it will be special teams, sometimes it will be offense — it just depends on the game.

“But we have all facets of the game, all phases of the game. We can win any way we need to; that’s a good sign going forward.”

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