x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Cards come up trumps in Arizona

Arizona has opened with three wins for the first time since the 1988. Wind things back to last year and the Cardinals, who finished 7-2 last season, just may be the league's hottest team, writes Mike Tierney.

Kevin Kolb is playing up to the level Arizona anticipated when they first acquired him.
Kevin Kolb is playing up to the level Arizona anticipated when they first acquired him.

NFL teams are not supposed to win consistently with an unsettled quarterback situation.

In the pre-season, the Arizona Cardinals dubbed John Skelton as the starter over Kevin Kolb, upon whom they had lavished a lucrative contract. Then Kolb slid in after Skelton was hurt. Coach Ken Whisenhunt will not commit publicly to either, when Skelton returns.

NFL teams are not supposed to win consistently with inexperienced cornerbacks in this pass-happy era, yet Patrick Peterson and Jamell Fleming started the season with one year between them in Arizona.

NFL teams are not supposed to win consistently if you are the … Cardinals. They last opened with three wins in 1988, 14 years before the franchise moved to the Arizona desert. Today, they can taste 4-0 with the rebuilding Miami Dolphins visiting their home, the site of seven consecutive Arizona victories.

They could eventually become the least likely team to reach a Super Bowl since the runners-up from the 2008 season, because of the three unbeatens through three weeks, none seems more far-fetched than the Cardinals, if only because their second game was at New England. Seattle fell before, and Philadelphia after, the three foes scoring a collective two touchdowns.

Whisenhunt imported Ray Horton from Pittsburgh to coach the defence. Blitzes involving five and even six players, disguised by considerable movement before the snap, are common from Horton's hybrid alignment that has generated the second-most sacks in the league.

Heavy blitzing might leave cornerbacks vulnerable in one-on-one coverage, but Horton, who coached the Steelers' secondary, felt confident enough to install the rookie Fleming opposite Peterson, a shutdown second-year man

Of no small comfort is knowing that the five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson backs up both youngsters.

It is unclear if Kolb, who has received little support from the ground game, is Skelton's placeholder or whether the Cardinals will continue to seek value from the man they gave a US$64 million (Dh235.1m) contract to a year ago.

Little-noticed last season because of their woeful start was the Cardinals closing with a 7-2 rush. Factor in this season's impressive breakout and they could be considered the league's hottest team.

Whisenhunt is trying to keep a lid on expectations.

"I don't think, by any stretch of the imagination, we think we have arrived," he said.

Not at week four, at least. Let us check back at week 19.