EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The odds seemed stacked against the Cardinals when the 2019 regular season began.
They were coming off a league-worst 3-13 campaign, and while coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray brought hope, growing pains in their first NFL season seemed certain.
Any plan for early reliance on the defense disintegrated, as cornerback Patrick Peterson was suspended for six games, defensive linemen Darius Philon and Robert Nkemdiche were released, and cornerback Robert Alford broke his leg.
But a month-and-a-half later, on the eve of Peterson’s return, the Cardinals have exceeded expectations. They are 2-3-1 on the season and have a chance to reach .500 with a road win on Sunday against the Giants.
“We’ve made the most of what we’ve got, so being where we are right now, I think everybody feels good on a two-game win streak,” Murray said. “But none of that matters. We just have to go up to New York and play well and execute well if we want to win the game.”
To be fair, everything isn’t perfect. Both of the Cardinals’ wins have come by a field goal or less, their negative-37 point-differential is seventh-worst in the league, and the schedule is a beast down the stretch.
But considering the 2018 season was almost over before it began, the current outlook is downright rosy.
The Cardinals are on the right track because Kingsbury and Murray have acclimated quickly to the professional level. The 2018 offense was among the worst in recent NFL history, and this year’s version is already comfortably in the middle of the pack.
Murray is fresh off an NFC Offensive Player of the Week nod after throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons, and is up to No. 11 in ESPN’s Total QBR metric, which accounts for a quarterback’s running, passing and situational performance.
If a team has a quarterback, it has a chance. The belief was that Murray may not become a total threat until he got a season’s worth of games under his belt, but thus far, he’s been more Patrick Mahomes than Jared Goff.
“He puts in a lot of time, I know that,” Kingsbury said. “He want to kind of come across like he doesn’t, but when you look at hours logged on our (virtual playbook), he’s one of the top ones. He’s passionate about the game. His recall on the field is really, really good. He can tell me why he did things and what he saw, and it’s always accurate.”
Even if the Cardinals’ offense continues to ascend, the defense must do more to help. It is 30th in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rankings, and the pass defense, especially, has been an issue.
Peterson’s return is a huge boost, and he is excited to get back during the team’s upswing.
“The second quarter of the season we’re 2-0, so therefore we’re finding something,” Peterson said. “It hasn’t all been perfect, but we can definitely continue to grow off the positive that we had in these last two games. If we go out there and finish, execute the game plan, communicate, we can be right where we want to be, probably, at the end of the second quarter of the season.”
Second-year running back Chase Edmonds didn’t experience much success in the first 20 games of his career, winning only three of them. He’s excited about the team’s trajectory, but took to heart recent advice from a coach: the opponent this week is the Giants, and that’s all that matters.
“The Patriots didn’t go 16-0 (in 2007),” Edmonds said. “They went 1-0 16 times. That was something that really stuck with me. We are building something pretty decent right now, but we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to continue to find ways to make it work.”
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders performing on Sunday at State Farm Stadium