The NFL has evolved into constant innovation on the offensive side of the football, forcing defenses such as the Arizona Cardinals to adapt and become more flexible when it comes to stopping teams.
Led by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the Cardinals have done precisely that within the first five weeks of the season, limiting teams to just 19 points per game through their 5-0 start. Arizona is just one of six teams to hold offenses to an average of under 20 points thus far.
Up next are the Cleveland Browns, who tout the league's top rushing attack. Led by running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Cleveland currently ranks first in rushing attempts (175), yards per carry (5.4), yards per game (187.6) and rushing touchdowns (12).
In their Sunday loss to the Chargers, running backs Nick Chubb (21-161-7.7) and Kareem Hunt (12-61-5.1) combined for 222 rushing yards and 6.7 per attempt. Hunt had two rushing touchdowns and Chubb one that was for 52 yards.
"It's fun to watch because it's old-school football, and it's winning football. It burns clock and with our offense his (head coach Kevin Stefanski) goal should be to burn the clock and keep Kyler (Murray) off the field. That should be his plan . . . so I'm expecting that. It's going to be a huge challenge, so we'll see."
When it comes to stopping opposing offenses, the Cardinals have made it clear all they care about is eliminating as many points as possible.
"Obviously third downs, red zone, quarterback sacks, passing yards per play, all those things equal to keeping the points to a minimum, and that's our goal on Sundays," said Joseph. "I mean, it can look ugly at times, (but at the) end of the day, it's about keeping points to a minimum. So that's the ultimate goal this Sunday."
Defensive end J.J. Watt acknowledged not every play will show up on the stat sheet, but every small amount of impact reflects on the scoreboard.
"I think that those types of plays are just as important as any other. Any time that you are ruining what the other team is trying to accomplish, whether it's a DB locking down a guy and then not even throwing it that way because that guy's got them locked down, that's never gonna show up on the stat sheet," said Watt.
"But you just took that guy completely out of the play, or it's a D-lineman knocking off a pull or coming around, and then a linebacker makes a clean tackle. That's never going to show up in the stat sheet . . . There's plenty of different things like that, that make a team go. I think that's one of the beauties of our team is nobody cares who gets the credit. Nobody cares who's making the plays, we just want plays made. And it's been a beautiful thing to watch that there's no egos, that it's all about how can we all do it together."
The Cardinals have indeed faced their own share of adversity this season. Whether it be escaping with a narrow win over Minnesota, having to fight against a winless Jaguars team or the offense stalling last week against San Francisco, Arizona's defense knows what it's like to taste a hard-earned victory.
"As long as we end up with more points than they do, we're in a good spot," said Watt, accompanied by a smile.
The Cardinals will see the league's toughest test in terms of stopping the run on Sunday, while the Browns offense also possesses former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield at quarterback and wildly-athletic receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
It's set up to be a tough battle on both sides of the ball. Yet as long as the Cardinals have more points than Cleveland when the clock hits zero, the battle will have been won.