If this isn't a mirage---this is the desert, mind you---the Arizona Cardinals' defense could be the reason why the team becomes a Super Bowl contender again this season.
The Cardinals' offense, ranked fourth in the NFL last season, has sputtered. Arizona's first-team offense has scored a total of six points in two games. In Saturday's 17-3 loss to the San Diego Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona's offense failed to score a touchdown after three first-half trips into the red zone.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the defense played a starring role against the Chargers, holding them scoreless in the first quarter and compiling four sacks.
The Cardinals looked quick, fast, athletic and aggressive.
In a 3-4 look, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, lined up over the center, blew into the backfield and sacked San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers in an instant. Pressure was coming from all areas. Linebacker Karlos Dansby collected a sack on a blitz, lineman Bryan Robinson beat his man for a sack and second-year defensive end Calais Campbell flashed by his defender, scooped Rivers up and put him on the ground.
It seemed during the regular season, the Cardinals won nine games and a NFC West division title despite of their defense. Ranked 16th in the NFL, the Cardinals' defense was less than impressive. In fact it was going to be the reason the Cardinals were going to live a short life in the postseason. Arizona had surrendered 30 points or more five times, including 56 points to the New York Jets in Week Four, 48 points to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13 and 47 points to the New England Patriots in Week 16. All losses, of course.
Arizona's defense made a transformation and forced 13 turnovers in the postseason, helping send the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
The defense held the Pittsburgh Steelers' running game to just 2.8 yards per a carry and three first-half points in Week One of the preseason. Arizona backed up that performance with another gem in the second game. The Chargers were held to 3.8 yards per a carry. Though he managed to complete five of seven passes, Rivers was pressured constantly. LaDainian Tomlinson was held to 18 yards on eight carries and Darren Sproles managed just five yards on two carries.
How has this happened?
The Cardinals are playing with more confidence and it's showing in the intensity and play-calling. The blitzes are more aggressive and exotic. Arizona is confusing offenses and getting good play from its defensive line. It's making every player's job easier.
Athletic ability and speed is this unit's calling card and the coaching staff is allowing the players to use those skills. Their making plays, forcing turnovers and gaining confidence.
Super Bowl letdown? It won't happen if the Cardinals' defense is playing at this level.