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How bad are the Arizona Cardinals?

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There are only three winless teams left in the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks play two of them over the next three weeks. The first of those is the Arizona Cardinals, who are set to host the Seahawks this coming Sunday. Seattle avoided an 0-3 start by beating the Dallas Cowboys last week and are surely capable of dropping a road game to the Cardinals — this is not a personal attack on Arizona, regardless of what some fans may say after reading a tweet and evaluating for themselves what the entire content of the post is meant to be — instead, it’s just a simple, realistic question worth asking:

How bad are the Cards, really?

Ok, they actually are really bad. Or at least, the version we saw over the first three weeks has been. Maybe that version will change with the rookie Josh Rosen replacing veteran Sam Bradford as the starting quarterback, but this is one of the worst offensive performances we’ve ever seen to open a season.

Arizona is the first team since 2002 to score 20 points or less over their first three games. The last to do so was the Cincinnati Bengals, en route to a 2-14 finish that put them in place to draft Carson Palmer the next year. Before that was the 2001 Detroit Lions, they also finished 2-14. However, that same year, Washington scored just 16 points — and gave up 112 — over the first three games, and they finished a shockingly-better 8-8. One of the key changes for that Washington team?

They benched starting quarterback Jeff George after two games and replaced him with Tony Banks.

Only 21 teams have accomplished the “20 or less” marker since the 1970 merger, and of course most of them were terrible, terrible teams. The Cardinals entered the 2018 season as a candidate for worst team in the league, but had some positive markers in their favor, like a defense that finished fourth in DVOA last year. That’s not nearly enough to save the NFL’s worst offense, and the defense hasn’t been that solid either.

What do they really struggle with?

Arizona ranks 32nd in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, rushing yards, yards per pass attempt, and rushing touchdowns allowed. They are 29th in rushing yards allowed and 27th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Opposing QBs are completing 71.1% of their attempts for 829 yards (almost double what the offense has thrown for), three touchdowns, two interceptions, 8.5 Y/A (compared to 5.0 for the offense), and a rating of 98.7. Those three passing touchdowns allowed would look a little better if not for the 394 yards and five touchdowns allowed on the ground.

FootballOutsiders has the Cardinals ranked a more respectable 14th on defense, including 18th against the pass and 11th against the run. They got a huge boost with their near-win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, but an abysmal offensive performance made it a moot effort; the Cards rank 32nd overall, 31st in passing, and 29th in rushing by DVOA.

David Johnson, who signed one of the richest contracts in NFL history for a running back prior to the season, has carried it 34 times for 116 yards and caught 10 for 63. That’s a full season pace of 955 total yards from scrimmage, a far distance from the 2,118 that Johnson had in 2016. The blame for that could fall on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and/or the offensive line, but it doesn’t really matter where the blame is: Arizona’s offense isn’t one you so much fear as an opposition as it is something that is loathed by the locals.

Sam Bradford was the game’s worst starting quarterback through two weeks but he actually got off to a great start vs the Bears, opening the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive. A turnover led to another early drive that started at the 21 and resulted in Bradford’s second score of the game, but that’s where things got ugly:

Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception, Interception, Fumble, Interception, End of Game

That last pick came courtesy of Rosen, who head coach Steve Wilks thought would be in the best position to make his NFL debut in the fourth quarter of a two-point game just moments after the other team just took their first lead and less than five minutes to go. To his credit, Rosen immediately had the Cardinals at the Chicago 42 for third-and-two — close to field goal range — but a three-yard loss forced a fourth-and-five, which is where the pick came in.

Famously, Wilks and McCoy pulled Johnson from the field before that play.

The defense did play well, but it was against Mitchell Trubisky and a week earlier they were awful against the LA Rams.

After punting on their first two drives (though the Rams didn’t have a single drive go for less than 20 yards on the day), this was the result for LA: Touchdown, Field Goal, Touchdown, Interception, Touchdown, Downs, Downs, Touchdown

The two drives that ended in loss of downs went for 44 and 50 yards, respectively. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals gained 25 yards on their first drive, and that was their longest of the day until a 35-yard garbage time drive to end the game; 7 of their 10 drives went for less than 10 yards. LA won the game 34-0.

Facing Washington in Week 1, Arizona allowed 31 yards on the first drive but then forced a punt. The next three drives for the Cards defense went like this: 80 yards, touchdown. 73 yards, touchdown. 92 yards, touchdown. Washington went up 21-0 before halftime and won 24-6.

Call me a biased hater if you’d like, but this is arguably the worst Cardinals team we’ve seen since the 2000 season, when they went 3-13. That team had Jake Plummer at QB, Michael Pittman and Thomas Jones at running back, David Boston as the number one receiver, and some notable defensive players like Simeon Rice, Aeneas Williams, and Pat Tillman. But they were 29th in scoring and 30th in points allowed (remember, there were 31 teams in 2000) and fired head coach Vince Tobin after seven games.

I don’t think they’ll be firing Wilks this year, but this team could be worse.

Barring some immediate changes that spark remarkable dividends, this is a roster with an exceptional amount of holes. The top receiver is a 35-year-old who hasn’t really been more than a possession guy since 2011. (Leave me alone, I know Larry Fitzgerald is a Hall of Famer who is still good.) The number two guy is a rookie. The number three guy doesn’t exist. The quarterback is a rookie. The offensive line has been ranked as the worst in the league. The running back doesn’t stand a chance with these players and even then we are giving Johnson an immense amount of credit for his one season as an All-Pro player.

The defense has Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson ... and then what? Budda Baker is a budding young star, but still budding and young. Even if he’s great, bringing him up on this list so soon is an indictment on the rest of the defense. What is Haason Reddick? Or Deone Bucannon? Maybe they have something with Robert Nkemdiche (two sacks) now and even Benson Mayowa (also two sacks), who is only 27, but what’s a long season going to look like for this defense after they find themselves spending 35+ minutes on the field every single week?

We’ve seen that wear down the Seahawks in the fourth quarter in the past and I don’t see how the Cardinals are going to figure that out any more easily.

How bad are the Arizona Cardinals? Well, imagine the New Orleans Saints defense and then think of the offensive version. The Saints can’t stop anybody. The Cards can’t start anything. That’ll give opposing teams short fields to work with and far less to travel down the field against an average defense. Barring immense success from Rosen to open his career, this does look like the worst team in the NFC, if not the NFL.

Does it mean that Seattle, a team that tied Arizona 6-6 not long ago, will win? No, of course not. This is not a hater piece. This is a realistic view of a very bad team. More change is coming, sooner or next February.