The Arizona Cardinals won their fifth game of the season and for the second-straight time at home survived an opponent's game-winning field goal attempt and won in overtime with a walk-off big play. The "Cardiac Cards" might not be all the way back, but they sure did make an appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium these last two games.
The big picture story of the win over the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday was the Arizona defense and the confidence they gave Kevin Kolb not to feel like he had to make all the plays. Early in the season, he seemed to try and do too much where as now he seems much more comfortable taking a sack and living to fight another day.
Kolb admitted to being rusty in the first half and to a certain degree overwhelmed by the speed of the game, but he still made good decisions and was patient until things settled down for him. The defense kept the game close until the offense could get going. They put up 287 out of a total 336 yards and scored 16 of 19 points once Kolb as able to settle in and clean up some mistakes.
While the second half is where the numbers stand out, the first half demonstrated his maturity and understanding of the situation. The key was not forcing throws and risking turnovers. He took four sacks for 21 yards in the first half and just one sack for two yards in the second. Several of those sacks came late in the play after the initial protection stood up and he had held the ball too long.
"You know our defense is playing great," Kolb said. "You try to keep all those things in your head as you're going. As I become more comfortable, as I did in the second half, you can try and make a few more plays. The defense has told us on the offense, 'Hey, just don't turn that thing over, we're playing good right now.' You don't want to get out there and try to do too much."
It was a very positive game for Kolb and he showed his maturity and confidence in the way he "managed the game". His teammates certainly seem to trust him which is very important.
Defense turning legit
The Cardinals' defense allowed just 13 points to a Dallas team that's averaging 24 per game and held the Cowboys to 54 yards below their season average. Over the past five games the Cardinals have allowed an average of just 17 points per game which would be in the top three in the league if spread out over the full season.
Making that number even more impressive, they did it despite ten turnovers from the offense in a three-game span. You can see why they would tell Kolb to take care of the ball and give them a chance to win the game.
The credit for the improvement on the defensive side is nothing sexy. Like many things, it's a combination of hard work and having the right people in place.
"I think time; getting more comfortable with the defense and being able to play faster...It's a shame earlier in the season we didn't have a little bit more success in some of those games. This speaks a lot of our players that we are able to finish the the last four or five games the way our defense has played, so it's really good to see our guys believing in what we are doing and playing good ball."
It's helped having the impressive rookie Sam Acho playing in-place of Joey Porter at OLB but but the biggest difference has been the cohesion of the front seven in stopping the run and the communication in the secondary that's prevented the big plays that haunted the team early in the season.
It's a bit too soon to say, but it appears the Cardinals are finally developing an identity as a football team that relies on their defense and strives to control the ball and not make mistakes on offense. The big play might still be there at times but team isn't dependent on winning shootouts like they used to be.
Arizona has won four of their last five games playing that way and will get another crack at the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers next week. The Niners have already clinched the NFC West but there's no doubt the Cardinals will be amped up for another shot at them.