It wasn't a perfect first half of the season, but I think before the year started most Cardinal fans would've welcomed a 6-2 record at the midway point. If Arizona goes 6-2 in the second half of the season, it will lead to an NFC West title, and perhaps a first-round bye. Before we move on, let's look back at the best of the first half. Here are my midseason award winners for the Arizona Cardinals:
Outside linebacker Markus Golden has really come on of late, leading Arizona with nine quarterback "hits." I don't know if he'll be the dominant one-on-one pass rusher that the Cardinals covet, but he does get pressure on the quarterback and he's been solid against the run. Golden should be a very good player for years to come. Defensive tackle Rodney Gunter has had a very good rookie season also, and a huge reason why the Cardinals are fourth in the NFL against the
run. Running back David Johnson has had a lot of feast-or-famine moments with dynamic touchdowns and also glaring mistakes. I'll go with Golden as the team's best rookie so far, although you could make a case for both Gunter and Johnson.
Deone Bucannon has become a terror for the Cardinals defense, leading the team in tackles, and tackles for a loss-despite being asked to play almost entirely in the "box." He's undersized for a "dollar linebacker," but will stick his face in there against the run. Because of Bucannon's play, nobody is asking where Daryl Washington is anymore. Along with Gunter, Bucannon has made the Cardinals strong up the middle. Other candidates for this award included defensive tackle Frostee Rucker and safety Rashad Johnson.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
This is a strange one. I'm going with cornerback Patrick Peterson simply because he is most the improved Cardinal from last year's team. As we all know, Peterson wasn't himself last year as he battled to get his blood sugar levels under control. This season, teams are afraid to throw at him. They should be. He's having arguably his best season, and has been as good as any cornerback in the NFL in 2015. Plus he has such good ball skills that when teams do take a shot at him, he will break up the pass or intercept the ball (he has two picks this season). When you have a guy that can cover like Pat, it makes up for the lack of consistent pass rush.
This is an easy one. The Cardinals are a Super Bowl contender because of quarterback Carson Palmer. He's second in the NFL in touchdown passes, trailing only Tom Brady. He's third in quarterback rating, behind Brady and Andy Dalton. He's tied for first in pass plays of at least 40 yards, along with Drew Brees and Nick Foles. To win in the playoffs, at some point, you will have to win a duel with the other team's quarterback. Arizona can do that with a player like Palmer. This Cardinals' offense -- at least statistically -- is on pace to be better than the Kurt Warner-led teams of 2008 and 2009. This offensive line is better, which has made the rushing attack more productive, and the play-action passing game more deadly. The Cardinals are perhaps the most balanced offensive team in the NFL, and so Palmer operates and thrives in a three-dimensional offense. Other candidates for MVP include Peterson, safety Tyrann Mathieu, tackle Jared Veldheer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.