Veteran Cardinals scribe Darren Urban writes that receiver Michael Floyd’s season “will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.” There are other desert mysteries, like the large sliding stones of “The Racetrack” in Death Valley, or the massive Nazca Lines–the Pre-Colombian geoglyphs of monkeys and spiders and hummingbirds etched into the desert sands of Southern Peru, which can only be comprehended from the air. Arizona fans would settle for simply solving the Floyd Enigma.
After his consecutive sparkling seasons at Notre Dame, the Cardinals selected Floyd 13th overall in the 2012 draft. He and Larry Fitzgerald were to be the double-barreled weapon flanking an Arizona touchdown machine, but too often this year Floyd has misfired. From 65 catches and over 1,000 yards in 2013, Floyd has regressed to 28 grabs and 410 yards this season. Most troubling are the dropped balls and the difficulty in creating separation, and now he has a balky hamstring.
But Floyd has not struggled alone. After 1,003 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last year, speedy wideout John “Smokey” Brown has managed just 399 yards and one touchdown this season, due largely to being slowed by leg pain from battling the Sickle cell trait. Without the disruptive zip and deep threat that Brown can provide, routes have been shorter and defensive coverage has been more focused on Fitzgerald, who has had to scuffle to get open enough for QB Carson Palmer to try to thread balls into tight windows. And due to injuries and shuffling of the offensive line, Palmer has had less time to throw. Less time, less separation and dropped balls are not a potent cocktail for NFL offensive success.
This was not in Arizona’s plans. In the glow of the off-season following a 13-3 record, there were visions of Palmer and Fitzgerald hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this year amid a swirl of confetti, bathed in a cascade of cheers, savoring a moment on the mountaintop before the twilight of their careers was snuffed out by the talents and desires of younger men. Instead there are retirement murmurs and the Cardinals sit at 4-6-1, needing a winning streak like Secretariat’s just to make the playoffs with five games left.
Any run for the postseason must begin this afternoon at 1:25 p.m. PST, when the Cardinals square off against the visiting Redskins. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is the second biggest story to come out of Washington since November 8th. At 28 years old and in a contract year, Cousins has quietly emerged as one of the best QBs in the NFL. He’s thrown for over 3,500 yards, and he’s just 47 yards from surpassing Drew Brees for the NFL lead. He’s also just a tick behind Brees with 322 passing yards per game, and has one of the best QB ratings in the league. The ‘Skins are 6-4-1 despite losing their first two games, and Cousins dropped 449 passing yards on Dallas last week. Sporting News writes that we should not be surprised if Cousins becomes the highest paid player in the game next year.
The Cardinals’ defense has performed admirably, and they know they must stop Cousins today and operate at peak efficiency the rest of season. This stat leaps off the page: they’ve allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL. Impressive, but a closer examination reveals that Arizona has allowed 20.7 points per game, which ranks a more pedestrian 11th. The Cardinals’ offense is averaging just over 22 points per game, and even the math-impaired can discern that at this rate, every win will be hard-earned.
Whatever the result today, with 19 yards Larry Fitzgerald would move into the NFL’s top ten in all-time receiving yards—and with eight catches, he would stand third in receptions. Those close to Larry will tell you he’d gladly trade those personal milestones for a win. Same goes for the gathered throng in University of Phoenix Stadium today. With a loss, the Cardinals’ playoff hopes would die along with the late afternoon light in the Sonoran desert.
This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation