As dawn broke on Christmas morning, 1914, entrenched British troops on the Western Front of World War I heard singing from the German side, across no man’s land, accompanied by a brass band. Soon after, German soldiers rose and walked toward the British side, calling out “Merry Christmas.” Eyeing them with suspicion but noticing the troops were unarmed, British soldiers lowered their rifles and took to the field themselves, their linguists calling out “Fröhliche Weihnachten.” Plum puddings and cigarettes were exchanged, carols were sung, and a soccer game broke out. The “Christmas Truce” was a welcome respite from the brutality of the Great War.
The Arizona Cardinals are coming off their much-needed bye week, a ceasefire in the hostilities of a long NFL season. The Cards sit at a disappointing 3-4-1, but some wounds are healing, such as speedy WR John Brown’s achy legs after treatment following diagnosis of the sickle cell trait. All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu was expected to be out several more weeks with a shoulder injury, but the Honey Badger was observed prowling the practice field this week. He’ll miss today’s home game against the 49ers, but his progress is encouraging.
Another beneficiary of the week off may have been Chandler “The Cat” Catanzaro, the Cardinals’ beleaguered placekicker. Cats are not known for their kicking, except perhaps for certain European breeds, but Catanzaro performed well last year, converting every kick from 46 yards and in. This season he missed game-winners in weeks one and seven, the latter a chip shot against rival Seattle that now surely visits his dreams. Arizona GM Steve Keim could be forgiven if over the break he had auditioned former NFL kickers, a couple of Rockettes and a mule.
To clear his head, Catanzaro retreated home to South Carolina during the break to visit family and friends and to “self-medicate.” No word on the nature of the medication but Cardinals Nation is praying for its potency.
Coach Bruce Arians and his staff settled in over the bye week to review game video, noshing and gnashing and trying to solve the puzzle of an underperforming offense. The films are unlikely to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but they may reveal clues to a team that has fallen from number one in offense last season to 16th this year.
Even to the naked eye, the receiving corps has vastly underachieved after being one of the league’s most feared units last season. Michael Floyd has declared himself a top receiver in the NFL, but his numbers (19 catches, three TD’s, multiple drops) have yet to reflect that in the last year of his rookie contract. Larry Fitzgerald has gone 15 games without a 100-yard effort, his longest such streak since 2004.
Field General Carson Palmer simply hasn’t looked like himself all year. He’s been slowed by ailments and he hasn’t connected on the big plays that lit up scoreboards last year. The Cardinals aim for at least five “explosive” plays per game—22 yards or more—but that feature of their attack has been muffled so far. It doesn’t help that 6’8”, 321 pound offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is on injured reserve with a torn tricep, giving Palmer a tick less time to throw.
Arizona continues to lean heavily on running back David Johnson, the only player in the NFL with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season. And despite its share of injuries, the defense has sparkled, allowing the fewest yards in the league.
Arizona hosts the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers today at University of Phoenix Stadium, which may be just the tonic to settle the nerves. It’s a must-win game for a team still stocked with talent and with playoff aspirations. After today, the Cardinals set off on a lengthy road peppered with land mines—three early games in the Eastern Time Zone, a looming skirmish in Seattle, and five of their last seven contests away from the comforts of home.
After a welcome break, it’s back to business for Arizona today at 1:25 p.m. PST for the season’s second half. Cardinals Nation is hoping it only faintly resembles the first.
– Eric Forgaard
This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation