Aggressive. Unconventional. Fearless.
Pick any of those words, and you will have an apt description of Bruce Arians' offensive philosophy. You will also have an indirect explanation for why Cardinals players love competing for their head coach.
Arians' football machismo was on full display in Week 12 versus the Seahawks. Arizona pushed the pedal to the metal, and only downshifted when the Seattle defense least expected it (see below). More importantly, Arians' club delivered a resounding salvo across the proverbial NFC West bow that this division didn't belong to Russell, Marshawn, Kam, and the Legion of Boom anymore. To quote the late, great Glenn Frey, there's a new kid in town.
The personification of that kid, and Arians' full throttle approach, was a third-year wideout from Notre Dame. The oft injured, oft forgotten Michael Floyd was feasting on the L.O.B. like a vegan on soy beans.
With a mere 5-0 lead following a Frostree Rucker safety, the Cardinals faced a third-and-a-mile from the Seahawks 27. Great time to have Chris Johnson plunge up the middle and get kicker Chandler Catanzaro closer, right? Nope. Palmer went up top to Floyd, who got behind Richard Sherman, for a touchdown strike in the back of the end zone.
Floyd wasn't done. This time the Arizona attack went uber Rambo, throwing deep to Floyd on a first-and-10 from the Seahawks 34 yard-line. Floyd won the hand-fighting match with Cary Williams, creating enough of a window for Palmer, before stretching his arms out to make the grab. It was another touchdown for Floyd that provided the Cardinals a 19-0 edge, against the bully of the division, at their place.
Outside of the push-it approach from Arians, it should be noted that both scores were the result of fantastic efforts from the ever-tough Floyd. On the first touchdown, he toe tapped in reverse to ensure both his feet were inbounds. On the second, Floyd stretched over the pylon while simultaneously heading out of bounds to prevent Arizona's short yardage offense from having to take the field.
None of this came without a fight. Russell Wilson dabbles in brilliance sometimes and managed to do that in helping his club rally back from that 19-zip deficit in the first half. The defense then took its cue, flustering Palmer on multiple possessions while forcing two strip sacks that led to a 29-25 lead for the Seahawks.
That's when Arians and that little headset took over ... mixing and matching calls, directed by Palmer, that inspired a 10-play, 83-yard drive to regain the lead. After Seattle punted, Arians and friends were back at it, leading to the ...
Play of the Game
The more apt phrase here might be the play call of the game. Up 32-29, and facing a third-and-4 at the Seahawks 48, you know Arians wanted points. Given that Seattle had come back from a three-score deficit, he needed points. Pete Carroll still had the two-minute warning and a timeout in his hip pocket. So Arians went bombs away right?
Wrong. He didn't even throw the ball past the sticks. Unpredictable, again.
The play call was a delayed handoff to Andre Ellington. Not Chris Johnson, the team's leading rusher, nor David Johnson, the dynamic rooke. The Cardinals banked on right defensive end Frank Clark rushing straight up the field. This was a clear passing down, after all. Palmer had already dropped back 50 times. So Arians knew the pass rush would be over aggressive. Ellington scurried past the traffic behind the line, before suckering Kam Chancellor into a bad angle while he bounced outside. Then Ellington pulled a tightrope act staying inbounds ... 48 yards later he had a touchdown, and the Seahawks comeback was kaput.
How Floyd slipped under everyone's radar in fantasy most of the season is inexplicable -- he scored six touchdowns in one five-game stretch. In fact, Floyd posted double digit fantasy performances from weeks six through nine. Of course, that last game was this shootout in Seattle that he had to leave early. Once Floyd came back at full strength, he rattled off double digits in three of the next four games.
Nobody wanted to start him against the Seahawks, despite the fact he had scored in three straight games. So all Floyd did was snag seven balls for 113 yards and two touchdowns despite having to leave the game with a bad hamstring!
The way the news cycle works these days, it's easy to forget the biggest blowout of recent NFL history. In the light of the Cardinals beating the rival Seahawks in Seattle, you could consider this historical asymmetry, but it wasn't long ago that Arizona lost 58-0 in the Paul Allen palace. That's right ... 58-0.
It was 2012. Russell Wilson's first year. Ken Whisenhunt's last. That loss, late in the season, was as much of a reason as any that Whisenhunt was relieved of his duties. Which, of course, led to Arians' getting hired. These chain of events are responsible for building this budding faceoff in the NFC West, a matchup that surely beats Nicolas Cage vs. John Travolta.
Why This Game is No. 12
Arizona at Seattle was a contest that my colleague Alex Gelhar (author of part of this series) pushed for, and I couldn't agree more. Alex loves his fantasy ... OK that sounds weird ... loves his fantasy football, and this game was packed with it. Yet it was indicative of how this matchup has morphed into the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry 2.0, with this version expected to be fun for years to come. In fact, Arizona has won in the Pacific Northwest two of the last three years.
Most importantly, our 12th top game of 2015 featured the explosive Cardinals offense showcasing its talents, only to see a multi-score lead evaporate in a second half Seattle blitzkrieg. Then, with the outcome still in doubt, a brilliant play call sealed the deal. Oh, and it was in front of a national audience with no other football to turn their attention to ... here's to Arizona-Seattle being THE rivalry that captures every fan's attention for the next several years.