If the Arizona Cardinals lose on the road to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, they'll finish the season with an abysmal 5-11 record. Due to the fact that the Niners need to win to get a first-round bye in the playoffs, most don't see much of a chance for the Cardinals to win a sixth game.
The offense has started four quarterbacks and the line has given up more sacks than any other team in the NFL by nine. The Cardinals are dead last in the NFL in total offense, which is why the team has only won one game since Week 4. It's not like their defense has checked out, though. Defensively, the Cardinals are ranked at No. 12, giving up an average of 333.2 yards per game. They're especially good against the pass, as they only give up 195.7 yards per game, only behind the Steelers and Jets. Against the run, they're ranked at No. 28, allowing an average of 137.5 yards per game on the ground.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who could replace Ken Whisenhunt as head coach after the season, has decided to give his defense a grade of B+ heading into the final game of the regular season. He noted that if his team had made into the playoffs, the grade would have been an A, but his unit isn't too far off.
"It shows what we are about," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "Obviously we want to win, we want to go to the playoffs, we want to go all the way. But that's not reality for us. A goal underneath that is to be one of the top defenses in this league
"Overall, we have done a great job. We had some games where we didn't play the way we wanted to play, but we are still right up there. To finish on a strong note and be recognized as one of the top defenses in the NFL, that's a big deal."
Since the Cardinals don't have much to celebrate as a whole team, due to the lack of anything resembling an offense, they have to celebrate the smaller victories. Those would include being tied for 10th in sacks, being first in opposing passer rating and second in completion percentage.
"Within the grand scheme of things, there are your small victories," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "Going into the season it was important for this defense to take a step. We took a step last year, but I think before Ray got here, the defense was ranked pretty low.
"When you put that kind of work in the offseason, in training camp, the season, and you have those stats to back up what the coaches are saying, it makes the defense better. You have a lot of young players growing up in this defense, Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, guys who have taken this defense from where we were to where we are now. It's a gauge of where we have come from and how much better we can be."
If the Cardinals can shore up the offensive line and keep a single quarterback under center for an entire season, who plays well, Arizona could have a massive turnaround in 2013. If that doesn't happen, though, the Cardinals could be doomed to be a strictly defensive team that can't score points on offense.