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Cardinals' Undefeated Record Proves Beauty of NFL Anomalies

Arizona is playing like the most complete team in football right now—proof that not everything needs to make sense on paper.

The best team in the NFL right now spent the offseason poaching third-contract veterans in their thirties and doubling down on an offensive system that most teams have abandoned after its popularity surged with the Wes Welker Patriots and received a second life as the Chiefs helped acclimate Patrick Mahomes to the NFL.

The best team in the NFL right now was, until the start of this season, a collection of talented but disjointed defensive parts and an offense orbiting around its two transcendent stars hoping to stay afloat in football’s most daunting division. The best team in the NFL right now is coached by a fired college transplant who, despite the myriad, systematic failures of his far more successful NCAA counterparts trying to make the same transition, seems to be piloting a spotless ship, downing three of the best coaches in the NFL over the course of four weeks (and Urban Meyer, for what it’s worth).

There are beautiful parts of every season where nothing on paper makes sense. At the moment, the Cardinals remain the lone undefeated team in the NFC and, depending on the Raiders’ performance on Monday Night Football, the entire NFL, is one of those incredible anomalies.

Of course a great deal of their success can be attributed to the near-endless stream of theatrics supplied by Kyler Murray, who was flawless in Sunday’s 37–20 drubbing of the previously undefeated Rams. He remains the antidote to every defensive philosophy; deft enough to maneuver around every blitz and steely enough to sit back in the pocket and carve a defense one throw at a time. It was maddening to watch Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris unfurl one stunt or twist with Aaron Donald after another. Murray would respond with a pass that arced neatly between the defenders in bracket coverage, or a controlled scramble to pick up a first down.

But on Sunday, Murray continued to enjoy a full-force tailwind provided by the rest of a team that, until this moment, did not seem to inspire much confidence throughout the football world, save for those who reside in Phoenix and make a living responding to every anti-Andy Isabella Tweet (Isabella, by the way, has not taken an offensive snap for the Cardinals this season which, for a former second-round pick should indicate some kind of organizational failure but instead validates their panic accumulation of people to replace him). Each snap seemed to bring a wave of pressure. Their secondary was flexing its rangy athleticism, with Byron Murphy perfectly undercutting a DeSean Jackson deep route that would have—and has—toasted some of the better secondaries in the NFL.

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At the moment, Arizona may actually be playing like the most complete team in football—and one of a select few that posts with regularity positive offensive and defensive EPA (expected points added) per play. Rodney Hudson, one of those third-contract veterans, is one of the best centers in the NFL according to pass block win rate. Josh Jones, a third-round pick in last year’s draft, is the second-highest rated guard in the NFL among pass blocking guards. Arizona has a top 10 run-stopping defensive tackle (Corey Peters). J.J. Watt, another one of those third-contract veterans, is playing like one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

Questions of ultimate sustainability can be staved off for another day (even with the 49ers and Browns looming on their schedule), especially now that Arizona has cleared their biggest hurdle to this point. Clubbing the Rams in Los Angeles was not just a win over the hapless Jaguars or a missed field goal against the Vikings.

It was a recognition that, for now, something we didn’t see coming came. A team that we didn’t expect to float is now creating the waves. Something that didn’t make sense is now becoming a formula for destruction. 

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