Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger covers Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin in Week 7.
The statistics say one thing. The Cardinals defense believes another.
There's no room to ascend when it comes to total defense rank, as the Cardinals enter Week 10 allowing fewer yards per game (297) than anyone else in the NFL. They are also among the best in scoring defense, giving up 17.5 points per contest, which is tied for fourth with the Cowboys.
While the numbers look nice, the Cardinals have given up crucial late scores to the Patriots, Rams and Seahawks. A 3-4-1 record has resulted, and that's the statistic they are concerned about.
"It's pretty much one-to-three plays that dictate the ballgame," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "We can't give up those plays, point-blank period. If we want to be the team we want to be, we can't let teams score. We can't let them have those games where we let teams drive 60, 70 yards for a touchdown or a field goal that could decide a ballgame. For the most part, we are satisfied statistically but it just seems we are playing so much worse than what the stats actually say because of those games that we gave up those bonehead plays."
While the unit is ruing missed opportunities, defensive coordinator James Bettcher believes there has been noticeable progress since the start of the season. Communication has improved while effort and talent have not been a problem, and a continuation down that path would be fortuitous.
"I think our guys have played some exceptional football defensively at times, and I think we've played some defensive snaps that aren't good enough," Bettcher said. "The only way we're going to get to where we really want to be – and that's winning games every single week – we've got to continue to work on our consistency defensively. Sure, if you're a stats guy you love it, but all we want to do is win games."
While the defense has proven to be the best of the Cardinals' three phases thus far, Peterson doesn't think it needs to carry the offense in the season's second half. The Cardinals are 19th in the NFL with an average of 22.4 points per game, but there is still hope for a turnaround.
The team led the NFL in total offense a year ago and has the pedigree to improve.
"We still have the utmost confidence those guys can get the job done," Peterson said.
FITZ CLIMBING CAREER RECEPTIONS LADDER
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is 29 catches away from third place on the all-time receptions list. He has 1,074 catches and is on pace to pass Terrell Owens (1,078), Tim Brown (1,094), Cris Carter (1,101) and Marvin Harrison (1,102) in the next few games.
Fitzgerald said he admires all of the wideouts in his sights and appreciates the accomplishment, but it's hard to concentrate on individual accolades when he's still playing -- especially when the team is under .500.
"The numbers are great to have," Fitzgerald said. "When I am done and retired, I'll look back and say I had a great career, but right now, being in this position right now, it's not something I'm too concerned about."
Jerry Rice leads the NFL with 1,549 career receptions. Tony Gonzalez is second with 1,325.
MIDSEASON ACCOLADES FOR CARDINALS
While the Cardinals' record is subpar, there have been some individual standouts, and national websites have recognized them.
Running back David Johnson was named the midseason Offensive Player of the Year by FiveThirtyEight.com as he leads the league with 1,112 yards from scrimmage through nine weeks.
Defensive tackle Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson were named to Pro Football Focus' midseason All-Pro team. Johnson and linebacker Chandler Jones were given second-team honors.
MATHIEU SITS OUT
Safety Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) missed practice again Thursday, and the chance for him to play on Sunday against the 49ers seems to be dwindling. Cornerback Tharold Simon (ankle) sat as well. Quarterback Carson Palmer practiced fully after a rest day on Wednesday.
Fitzgerald (ankle), linebacker Alex Okafor (calf), tight end Darren Fells (ankle), wide receiver John Brown (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) were limited.
For the 49ers, linebacker Aaron Lynch (ankle) did not practice while safety Eric Reid (knee) was downgraded to limited participation.
Also limited were running back Carlos Hyde (shoulder), cornerback Rashard Robinson (knee), linebacker Nick Bellore (shoulder), defensive tackle Quinton Dial (knee/neck), defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (knee), wide receiver Torrey Smith (back) and center Daniel Kilgore (hamstring).
Twenty-six Cardinals are on the ballot for the 2017 NFL Pro Bowl. Vote for them through December 13.