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Midseason report: Arizona Cardinals

If you had the Cardinals at 7-1, leading the NFC West and sitting comfortably atop the conference, raise your hand.

Anyone?

Anyone?

Even after Arizona finished 10-6 last season, its start to 2014 comes as a surprise, especially with some of the teams the Cardinals have beaten. The theme of Arizona’s first half was injuries, from losing John Abraham for the season to Carson Palmer going down for three games to Matt Shaughnessy being put on IR/designated to return. But even as decimated as the defense was, it still managed to reach the No. 1 ranking against the run and put together an impressive string of wins.

Midseason MVP: Usually this award goes to an individual player, but without defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and his ability to adapt his scheme to his personnel, Arizona wouldn’t be where it is at the midway point. For two weeks during the first half, Bowles had just one starter on his front seven from a year ago, yet he was still able to produce a run defense that was ranked No. 1 in the league for a week. The Cardinals’ defense, especially its blitz, has been a major reason the team has only one loss.

Biggest disappointment: This would’ve been easy to give to guard Jonathan Cooper because he’s a former seventh overall pick and is not starting in the NFL. But coming off an impressive 2013, expectations were high for wide receiver Michael Floyd and he hasn’t lived up to them yet. He’s caught less than half of his targets, and has 23 catches for 389 yards and two touchdowns. But he also has a career-high two fumbles. He’s on pace to finish this year well short of his breakout season in 2013. He was expected to solidify his role as Arizona’s No. 1 receiver, but he’s fourth on the team in receiving.

Best moment: John Brown's 75-yard touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 didn’t just give the Cardinals their sixth win of the season, it gave them legitimacy after beating one of the top NFC teams. Brown’s speed has always been his calling card, but that pass from Palmer not only put his quickness on display, it also was a good example of his football acumen. That play also sent Brown running into the national spotlight, which will make it tough for the Cardinals to keep him hidden in the second half of the season.

Worst moment: The play on which Palmer suffered his shoulder nerve injury doesn’t stand out because he jumped right back up and continued playing, so the worst moment for the Cardinals this season was when, with Palmer on the bench, backup quarterback Drew Stanton was knocked out of the Denver game and third-string rookie Logan Thomas was given the ball. Because of all the uncertainty with Palmer’s injury, the short-term future of the Cardinals' quarterback position was in jeopardy and hearts collectively skipped a beat when the realization that Stanton was out set in and Arizona was forced to rely on an inexperienced rookie.

Key to the second half: There are two: Getting the offense on the right track and staying healthy. If the Cardinals can find a way to efficiently utilize all of their weapons, this team will be almost impossible to stop. But that means getting Larry Fitzgerald more involved. While it’s impossible to predict injuries, they can derail a season. The Cardinals showed the fortitude to overcome injuries in the first half, especially on defense, but they won’t have the luxury of a midseason bye to get healthier.