No one would confer elite status on either of these teams coming into a week 10 contest in Glendale, AZ. Both teams are in uphill battles just to have a shot at the playoffs. Neither team has a top-flight quarterback to spearhead a charge to the top of their respective division, but both teams have good defenses that can help then win games where the offenses would otherwise fall short.
While this game may or may not have playoff implications, we did learn some interesting things by the time all was said and done.
1. Case Keenum is the future of this franchise.
Not expected to contribute much in the 2013 season, Keenum has been thrust into a difficult situation with the onus of turning the fortunes of a struggling team. While he is having his share of growing pains, the rookie QB has shown signs of potential, perhaps even brilliance, even though his position was intended to be developmental.
Like many rookies this year, Keenum has had his timetable accelerated due to the sudden ineptitude of starter, Matt Shaub. His accuracy needs some work, but he throws the ball well untill the pressure gets to him. That will improve over time.
2. Carson Palmer's best days are behind him.
All other factors (like poor protection) aside, Palmer looks slower and less confident than his prior body of work would indicate. He was a very, good QB in Cincinnati, and struggled in a poor system in Oakland, but even with some good weapons in Arizona, his play has been spotty at best. His 61.3 completion percentage is overshadowed by three more interceptions than touchdowns. That's just not a tenable situation. I don't see him carrying this team past the regular season.
3. As mentioned above, these defenses give their teams the chance to win.
The Houston Texans have the No. 1 ranked defense in the league. The Arizona Cardinals have a Plus-1 turnover ratio. Houston is led by 2012 defensive player of the year J. J. Watt. Arizona has a host of playmakers on defense, including rookie phenom Tyrann Mathieu. Arizona's pressure turned out to be the difference in the face of a late rally by Houston. Houston won the turn-over battle, but Arizona applied more consistent pressure across the defense, thwarting the effort to come back by the Houston offense.
4. Andre Ellington gives the Cardinals the best chance to score and win.
Why don't they hand the ball to Ellington more? Eight rushes for 52 yards (that's a 6.5 yard average) through three and a half quarters is a criminal offense. You would think Bruce Arians knows the value of a good running option, having been the offensive coordinator for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.
With a per carry average of 7.7 yards on the year, he is the closest thing the Cardinals have to a sure thing. He also presents a potent weapon for Palmer out of the backfield. He has accumulated two TDs on the ground and another via the pass. Plus, Arizona seems to block better for the run than the pass.
5. Arizona played a full 60 minutes of football to secure the win.
Despite a nearly catastrophic fumble by Rashard Mendenhall in the fourth quarter allowing the Texans to threaten with a comeback attempt, Arizona hung tough enough to hold them at bay. Relying on defensive heroics and superior special teams play swung the advantage to the Cardinals. Houston may have won the turnover battle in this one, but failed to capitalize more than Arizona did.
Carson Palmer did just enough to not lose the game, but that is not the prescription that the coaching staff wanted when they brought him over from the Raiders. He has the targets to succeed, but can't stand the heat that his offensive line tends to allow. As mentioned above, Ellington should be given the weight of this offense with 20 carries every time this team takes the field. He has shown that he can do what the passing game cannot.
Houston just needs to weather this year of adjustment to give Keenum the time to become more consistent and smarter. He has the tools to morph into the leader they need to again compete in the south. Losing Arian Foster for the year didn't help their cause much either.
Despite what I said earlier, the Cardinals find themselves only one game out of the wild card race with the win today. If they continue to find ways to win, and either San Francisco, New Orleans, or Carolina falter, the door will be wide open for a surprising spot in the post season for Arians' crew. Things could be worse.