A day after enjoying a massive 37-20 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Rams, pushing the Cardinals into first place by themselves in the division, the question is simple: Are the Cardinals the best team in the NFC West?
It's a question coach Kliff Kingsbury is not thinking about. His mentality – along with the players -- is solely on whoever is next on their schedule.
"We're just trying to focus on ourselves," said Kingsbury. "We're just looking at the teams in front of us and start preparing for them."
"We're not sending any messages at all," said safety Budda Baker. "We're just going to keep taking it day by day, week by week, one game at a time."
The possibility is warranted behind their spot in the standings, given how impressive the Cardinals have looked at every angle of the spectrum. The Cardinals have a top-five passing attack and an offense that ranks first in the NFL in total yards, touchdowns, and points per game. Quarterback Kyler Murray is on track to be in the MVP discussion. Through four games, Murray has completed 76 percent of his passes for nearly 1,300 yards (which ranks second in the NFL) and 12 touchdowns (along with three rushing). Murray is the first quarterback in franchise history to accumulate a 120-plus passer rating three times in the first four games of the season.
The offensive line has been good this season, which was expected with the offseason addition of center Rodney Hudson. The Cardinals have allowed just five sacks this season, fifth in the NFL. Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, was held to the lowest pass-rushing rating in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.
The defense is among the top 10 in the NFL in points allowed. In the secondary, Marco Wilson and Byron Murphy – the latter who just became the first Cardinals player to make at least three interceptions through the first four games of a season since 1980 – are coming into their own. The front seven was boosted by J.J. Watt's best game of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. Their combined effort had Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and one of the best offenses in the league seem discombobulated.
There is a reason many call the NFC West the toughest division in football. The Seahawks rallied to beat the 49ers Sunday, evening each of their records at 2-2, and the Seahawks now play the Rams Thursday night while the Cardinals wait to host the 49ers Sunday. Winning division games are crucial in the Cardinals' quest for the playoffs -- they have not had a winning record within the division since 2016.
Yes, the 2021 Cardinals are a different team. Yes, it's encouraging to see the Cardinals hold sole possession of first place in the division after a month. But the players know it's a long season and want to avoid getting too high with five NFC West games to go.
"As far as being 4-0, I'm trying to go 1-0 each and every week," said Murray. "But we've got another good team this week."
The Cardinals officially signed veteran safety Chris Banjo to the active roster Monday, releasing offensive lineman Koda Martin to make room. Banjo had played in three games already on the practice squad, but ran out of flexibility after two standard elevations and one as a Covid replacement, but to continue to play for the Cardinals he needed to be on the active roster going forward.
The Cardinals also cut offensive lineman Shaq Calhoun from the practice squad. ...
Kingsbury said cornerback Byron Murphy (ribs) is day to day, although after the game, Murphy said he was OK. ...
Defensive lineman Jordan Phillips remains on injured reserve. Kingsbury only would say that while he is progressing, his status to return is week-to-week.