Kelvin Beachum remembers when people considered the Cardinals the best NFL team earlier this season.
The offensive lineman has noticed a change in excitement and optimism surrounding the franchise with the Cardinals losing four of its last six, but ahead of a key game Sunday in Dallas, Beachum said the Cardinals are focused on cleaning up a situation they created by returning to their winning ways.
"We've been on both ends of this thing," Beachum said. "We've had extended winning streaks, and we're on an extended losing streak. We understand how important these last two games are, considering the circumstances we put ourselves in. We made this bed, and now we have to dig ourselves out of it."
The chance to finish with the best record in the conference might be gone, but not the opportunity to win the NFC West title for the first time in six seasons. After holding the division lead all season, the Los Angeles Rams have risen atop the race amid the Cardinals' struggles.
After 16 games, the Rams (11-4) have a 77 percent chance to win the division while the Cardinals (10-5) sport a 25 percent chance. The Cardinals own the tiebreaker should the teams finish with identical records. It's a mission that begins with the Cowboys (11-4), second in the conference and winners of four consecutive games, on Sunday.
Aside from having one of the better quarterbacks in the league, a stout running attack, and loads of receiving talent offensively. The Cowboys' defensive ranks fifth in fewest points allowed and first in takeaways this season.
Linebacker Micah Parsons, who leads the team in sacks and is a frontrunner for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, highlights the defense alongside cornerback Trevon Diggs – the NFL's leader in interceptions and a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
The unit has also caught the attention of Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who saw a completely different (and poorer) defense last season with a different coordinator during the Cards' 2020 win in Dallas.
"When you break in a new scheme, it's going to look different," the head coach said. "But I think (new coordinator) Dan Quinn has done a tremendous part of his game planning week to week. They play hard for him; they fly around. They have tremendous athletes. It's a completely revamped unit."
Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green hopes the team's struggling offense can get back on track against one of the better defenses in the NFL and understands the excitement of powerhouse NFC teams squaring off.
"If you watch the film, no one is really stopping us," Green said. "We kill ourselves with penalties, turnovers, and little things like that. So, we have to clean some things up. We'll be fine.
"It's two playoff teams—one playing hot and one struggling a bit. But for us, we're just trying to get back on track. I know they're going to be ready; it's going to be a big challenge for us."