BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – For the last couple of seasons before Bruce Arians and Steve Keim got their new positions in the Cardinals organization, they were always the hunters, looking to take down the Seahawks and the 49ers in the NFC West.
Things have taken a turn in the Cardinals favor over the past three years, as Arians, Keim and the Cardinals have had double digit win seasons in 2013 and 2014, and look well on their way to a third straight this season.
Quarterback Carson Palmer says the team is beginning to embrace the role of the hunted, instead of the other way around.
“It’s nice to have a bulls-eye on your back and know that you have to bring your A-game week in and week out, whether you’re playing a team that’s 8-1 or a team that’s got a couple victories,” Palmer said. “It’s definitely the position you want to be in, and we’ve been on the other side. We were kind of sleeping on a lot of teams last year, and we snuck up on a lot of teams. You definitely would prefer to have everybody gunning for you.”
Running back Chris Johnson agrees with Palmer’s assessment. He says when the W’s rise on a consistent basis, the wolves come out of the forest looking to strike, which forces them to raise their level of play.
“It’s crazy,” Johnson said. “You’re gonna get their best. Anytime you’re doing well as a team, you’re gonna get every team’s best, so that’s even more reason why we gotta be on top of our game, and worry about the little things, and cut out a lot of the mental mistakes.”
Inside linebacker Kevin Minter is a hunter himself. As the voice of the defense, and the one who gets everyone lined up in their proper positions, he has to be on top of his game, whether it be by doing more film study, or working that much harder in practice to make sure it’s all aligned and as perfect as humanly possible.
Minter’s done a fantastic job in that role, so he’s good when he sees guys coming hard at him. It means he and the team’s done things the right way.
“You kind of prefer to be the hunted, because you’ve done stuff up to this point, but at the same time, I feel like we got a target on our back; a big target on our back,” Minter said. “We just gotta keep going and play our ball.”
The San Francisco 49ers will be the next ones hunting for the Cardinals, as Arizona will hit the road this weekend to take them on.
San Francisco’s a city where Arizona’s had some bad luck in over the years. They haven’t won there since the 2008 season (a 23-13 win on 9/7/08). Even though the 49ers are having a horrific season, defensive tackle Calais Campbell says this isn’t a trap game by any stretch of the imagination. Campbell says the Cardinals are treating this game with the 49ers like it was the NFC Championship Game. They’re taking no chances this weekend.
“I’ve won there one time in my long career,” Campbell said. “This will be another tough task. The games in November are very important. This is how you set yourself up for the playoffs. Every game is critical, especially division games. (They’re) very critical.”
“It feels good having a lead in our division, but there’s still a lot of football left to be played. We don’t have it locked up at all. We have to go out there and execute games,” Campbell said. “This is a very important game for us to get to where we want to be, if we want to win our division. It’s a quality game that we need to have. Going up there doesn’t change anything. It’s just part of the plan.”