The Arizona Cardinals were supposed to be the hot team heading into 2016 after improving from 5-11 in 2012 to 10-6, 11-5, and 13-3 and reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2015. RB David Johnson was expected to be the breakout star to boost an already potent offense and the Cardinals defense was one of the best in the league.
The Cardinals never made the leap in 2016, instead falling flat on their face with a disappointing 7-8-1 record. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has an idea of why Arizona failed to reach its potential- and he points a finger at the New England Patriots.
“I think the biggest reason was losing the opener on Sunday Night Football to the Patriots on that missed field goal,” Arians said on the PFT Live podcast. “That took a lot of swagger out of our football team, then we came back and lost to the Rams in another close game. We didn’t win the close games we had won in the past but it all goes back to that first one.”
The Patriots, led by back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, “took a lot of swagger out” of the Cardinals in a surprise 23-21 road victory. The Patriots were without QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, LT Nate Solder, and EDGE Rob Ninkovich, while RG Shaq Mason played only a handful of snaps due to a broken hand.
And yet New England marched into Phoenix and took down the Cardinals in what was clearly a foundation-shaking moment for Arians.
Arians also joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Wednesday morning and shared a nugget of insight on his perception of the Patriots.
“The Patriots get not enough credit for how well they play defense,” Arians said, “and probably too much credit for how they play offense.”
I thought it would be interesting to break down this perception by looking at the Patriots offensive and defensive rankings by points and comparing that to the general perception of the team (which I’m going to make up on the spot).
When I think of the Patriots, I think of the best offenses in the league- with only the Green Bay Packers able to hold a candle over the past few years- and a defense that ranks in the lower top 10 of the league- not on the Broncos or Seahawks level, but certainly above average. I’ll just look at the Patriots over the past five years under both coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia.
Points Against: 250, 1st.
The Patriots defense certainly didn’t get the credit of the Seahawks or Broncos, but New England was the best in the league. It certainly helped that the Patriots faced one of the weakest slates of quarterbacks in recent memory, but the defense stepped up when it mattered most, allowing a combined 1.81 points per drive to the 1st ranked Falcons offense and 10th ranked Steelers offense. For reference, the Miami Dolphins scored 1.81 points per drive in 2016, good for 20th best in the league.
Points For: 906, 2nd; behind the Cardinals.
Points Against: 565, 1st.
In 2015 alone, the Patriots ranked 3rd on offense and 10th on defense, but if we look at the combined past two years, the Patriots are clearly the best and most well-rounded team in the league. I could see this two-year span as the reason why Arians thinks the Patriots offense is overrated and the defense is underrated.
Points For: 1,374, 1st.
Points Against: 878, 2nd; behind the Seahawks.
Over the past three seasons, the Seahawks have the best defense in the league, but the Patriots crush the competition on offense, scoring 88 more points than the second-ranked Packers over that time frame.
In 2014 alone, the Patriots offense ranked 4th and the defense ranked 8th.
Points For: 1,818, 1st.
Points Against: 1,216, 3rd; behind the Seahawks and Chiefs.
The Broncos close the gap on offense with their excellent 2013 season, but it’s not enough to jump the Patriots, while the Chiefs squeak ahead of the New England defense. The Patriots ranked 3rd on offense and 10th on defense in 2013.
Points For: 2,375, 1st.
Points Against: 1,547, 2nd; behind the Seahawks.
Over the past five years, the Patriots have dominated the league with the most points scored- followed by the Broncos (2,257 points), Saints (2,153 points), and Packers (2,136 points)- and they trail only the Seahawks dominant defense (1,299 points allowed) over that time frame. In 2012 alone, the Patriots ranked 1st on offense and 9th on defense.
2012 was actually the only year over the past five where the Patriots ranked first in points scored on offense, which could lead to Arians’ perception of the New England offense. While they might be the most consistently great, they haven’t really been the best in each individual year.
Of course, the Patriots ranked 9th, 10th, 8th, and 10th again on defense from 2012-15 before jumping up to 1st in 2016, despite ranking 2nd overall over the combined five seasons. So just like on offense, the Patriots have been consistently good on defense, even if they’ve never been the best.
I don’t think anyone really thinks the Patriots defense is mediocre, unless they moved under a rock in the middle of the 2011 season, so I’m curious as to how Arians thinks people perceive the Patriots defense.
The New England offense certainly carries the team and has ranked in the top four of the league every year since 2010. They are understandably considered the class of the league; unless Arians thinks people expect the 2007 Patriots to show up every year, I’m not sure how he perceives the New England offense, either.
The Patriots are simply the most well-rounded team in football, with a top 3 offense and a top 10 defense, year-in and year-out. No swagger needed.