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The Arizona Cardinals and Pythagenpat Records

The secret to Arizona's success

The secret to Arizona’s success

At 8-1 — but with just a 0.668 Pythagenpat winning percentage — I wrote about the good fortune of the Arizona Cardinals. Fortune is relative: the Cardinals have lost both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries, and just about every key contributor you can think of along the way. But the team’s good fortune when it comes to Pythagenpat winning percentage has continued. (For the uninitiated, you can read more about how to calculate Pythagenpat records here.)

Since that article, Arizona has gone 3-2 despite being outscored by 10 points. That is both a fact and doubles as the most 2014 Arizona Cardinals sentence you could ever write. The 11-3 Cardinals are definitely not the worst 11-3 team ever, but they aren’t too far from the top of the list. If we look at all teams with at least 11 wins in their first 14 games, Arizona checks in as the 8th biggest overachiever. Given that the 2004 Falcons had a worst points differential *and* were fortunate to face an easy schedule, Arizona can’t match Atlanta when it comes to worst 11-3 teams. [click to continue…]

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New York Times, Post Week-3 (2014): Arizona Magic

This week at the New York Times, I take a look at the most underrated GM/HC combo in the league: Steve Keim and Bruce Arians. Keim probably should have been the GM of the Year in 2013, while Arians has been dominant against the spread.

In 2012, the Arizona Cardinals won only five games, prompting the organization to make significant changes. Steve Keim was promoted to general manager on Jan. 8, 2013; nine days later, Bruce Arians was hired as Arizona’s next coach. Keim and Arians immediately helped turn around the Cardinals: Despite being in the N.F.L.’s toughest division, Arizona surprisingly won 10 games in 2013. And with a 3-0 start this season, Keim and Arians are again exceeding expectations.

Entering this season, the focus in the N.F.C. West was on the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, a team that has played in the N.F.C. championship game in each of the past three years. Las Vegas set Arizona’s projected wins total at only 7.5, a result of a difficult schedule and the significant roster turnover experienced by the team in the off-season. The Cardinals were replacing four of the team’s defensive starters from 2013 — Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and Yeremiah Bell — while a fifth, Tyrann Mathieu, is still limited as he recovers from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. A sixth defender and the team’s best pass rusher, John Abraham, is already lost for the season after playing only one game.

You can read the full article here.

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New York Times: Post-Week 12, 2013

This week at the New York Times, I analyze the Cardinals, the Steelers, and some record-setting points and yardage numbers.

Bruce Arians is doing it again. A year ago, he helped turn the Indianapolis Colts from the worst team in the N.F.L. in 2011 to a playoff team in 2012. Hired as the team’s offensive coordinator, he was named the Associated Press coach of the year for his work as the interim head coach after Chuck Pagano, who was found to have leukemia, took a leave of absence. The Arizona Cardinals hired Arians as their head coach after firing Ken Whisenhunt, and now Arians is a viable candidate for the same award with a different team.

After Kurt Warner retired in January 2010, Arizona’s passing attack crumbled. From 2010 to 2012, the Cardinals completed just 54.0 percent of all passes, the lowest rate in the league. Also, no team was sacked more often or threw more interceptions than Arizona. Arians was hired to fix an attack that was among the worst in the league, and while the team started slowly — Arizona began the year 1-2, then 3-4 — the Cardinals (7-4) have been red hot over the last month.

Over the last four games, quarterback Carson Palmer has completed 69.0 percent of his passes, averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and thrown 8 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Over that time, the team is averaging 30.25 points a game and is 4-0. And while Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald remain the stars in the desert, two young players have provided the missing spark to the offense.

You can read the full article here.

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A comforting image

A comforting image.

Last night, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 34-22. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals trailed 31-13, and faced 4th-and-goal from the Seattle four-yard line. Bruce Arians elected to kick a 22-yard field goal in that situation, which cut the lead from 18 to 15 points. On opening night, John Harbaugh made a similar decision trailing by 18 on 4th-and-4, although there was only 5:33 remaining (making it even less acceptable) and the ball was not at the four, but at the twelve-yard line (making it more acceptable).

Kicking a field goal down by 18 this late in the game is a poor decision unless it’s fourth and impossible. Since 1940, do you know how many teams have kicked a field goal, when trailing by 18 or more points in the second half, and went on to win the game? THREE. The “They Are Who We Thought They Were” game, when Chicago kicked a 23-yard field goal down 20-0 midway through the third quarter. After that field goal, Mike Brown, Charles Tillman, and Devin Hester scored touchdowns for the Bears, which doesn’t seem like the best model to follow in the future since none of those players played offense.

In 1998, the Rams kicked a field goal in Buffalo to make it 28-13 in the third quarter, ultimately winning 34-33 on a touchdown run in the final seconds. And in 1996, in Bill Parcells’ return to the Meadowlands to face the Giants, Adam Vinatieri kicked a third-quarter field goal down 22-0, and then Terry Glenn, Dave Meggett (on a punt return), and Ben Coates scored fourth quarter touchdowns.

You know what hasn’t happened? A team kicking a field goal, down by 18 or more points in the fourth quarter, and going on to win the game. Including the two teams this year, 117 teams since 1940 have kicked a fourth quarter field goal when trailing by more than 17 points, and none of them have ever won. I know, trailing by 18, it’s so comforting to kick a field goal and think “hey look, all we need to do is stop them, score a touchdown, stop them again, score a touchdown, convert a two-point conversion, and then win in overtime.” But that’s never, ever happened before.
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Who should win Coach of the Year in the NFL?

Let’s get this out of the way. Bruce Arians, or an Arians/Pagano ballot, is going to win Coach of the Year. Period. But who should win it?

Coach of the Year is one of the most difficult awards to predict each year. The award often goes to the coach who most outperforms expectations rather than the coach who does the best coaching job, which is how you end up in situations where Dick Jauron and Jim Haslett were named the best coaches in 2001 and 2000, respectively.

There are no standards or guidelines to help voters determine the Coach of the Year, so every voter is left to his own devices. Today, I’m going to run down my rankings of the top 8 coaches of 2012.

8. John Fox, Denver Broncos

Having Peyton Manning makes coaching easy, but Fox still deserves credit for guiding the Broncos to an excellent season. Denver is going to finish the year on an 11-game winning streak and the Broncos are in the top five in points allowed, yards allowed, net yards per attempt allowed, rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns allowed, and rushing yards per carry allowed. Fox has helped turn Von Miller into one of the best two defensive players in the NFL and his hiring of Jack Del Rio to coach the defense has worked beautifully. And while Manning is having a phenomenal year, let’s not forget that it was only three months ago that people were questioning his arm strength and the Broncos were 2-3. Many coaches are doing wonderfully with less, but Fox deserves credit for helping lead Denver to the 2 seed in the AFC.

7. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak

Gary Kubiak wishes COTY voting took place after the end of November.

It was only three weeks ago that the Texans were 11-1 and the class of the NFL. I wrote earlier this season that Kubiak’s done an excellent job resurrecting his coaching career, and much of that remains true. He’s built this team for half a decade, and he oversaw the additions of J.J. Watt and Wade Phillips to the defense to complement Kubiak’s formidable offense. The Texans are likely going to earn the top seed in the A.F.C., an impressive accomplishment considering Matt Schaub isn’t on the same tier of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Even with a little luster off the team right now, Texans fans could hardly ask for more than home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

So why isn’t Kubiak ranked higher? I’m not sure the Texans are as good as their record and they’ve had a relatively easy schedule. Kubiak’s done an excellent job, but he also hasn’t had to face as much adversity as some other coaches this year. Houston is now one of the most talent-laden rosters in the league, and that makes Kubiak’s success just slightly less impressive.

6. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers

The Packers are 11-4 — they’d have the same record as the Texans if not for the Golden Taint play — despite facing a more difficult schedule than Houston. As is seemingly an annual tradition, the Packers have placed a large number of starters on injured reserve, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga, linebackers Nick Perry, D.J. Smith, and Desmond Bishop, and Cedric Benson (along with two other running backs). Charles Woodson has only played in 7 games, James Starks and Alex Green have been banged up most of the year, and injuries have limited Greg Jennings to just 246 receiving yards this year.

Alex Green is the leading rusher with 464 yards, and he’s plodded to the tune of 3.4 yards per carry, narrowly trailing what Benson (3.5) and Starks (3.6) have produced. An anemic running game, a banged up offensive line, and injuries at receiver and tight end have resulted in Aaron Rodgers having a down season and having taken 46 sacks. Clay Matthews has missed four games and he still has 8.5 more sacks than anyone else on defense.

Yet after all that, the Packers are in line for the #2 seed in the NFC. McCarthy’s team is ranked 7th in both points and points allowed, and Green Bay has responded well in the face of adversity this season. After the painful loss to the Seahawks, would other coaches have been able to keep this team focused? After an emotional loss to the Chuckstrong Colts, you didn’t hear about grumbling in the locker room: instead, Green Bay won five straight games. Since a 38-10 shellacking against the Giants, where they looked lost, the Packers have won four in a row. If McCarthy isn’t a household name, that’s just because he’s the most underrated coach in the NFL. Despite facing numerous setbacks this season, he’s got the Packers right where everyone expected they would be.

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