Underachieving Cardinals face overachieving Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — For the Arizona Cardinals, the numbers don’t add up to 5-6-1.

That’s their record, and it’s a head-scratcher. The Cardinals rank second in the NFL in defense and ninth in offense.

They’ve outgained opponents by 72 yards per game, best in the league. They have a three-minute advantage in time of possession, and they’re in the plus column in turnovers.

So how can a team that went 14-4 last season be below .500?

“Watching them play, it’s definitely interesting to see what their record is,” Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said.

The Dolphins know that the record is misleading, and they’re braced for a difficult matchup when the teams meet Sunday. Here are things to know:

UNDERACHIEVERS: Coaches often say opponents are better than their record, and in this case Miami coaches are likely speaking the truth about the Cardinals.
“It’s hard to believe they’re not on the winning side of things,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “They’re explosive and scary.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians blames turnovers as the primary culprit for his team’s disappointing season. They’re tied for ninth in the NFL with 19 turnovers, but are plus-1 in turnover differential.

While Arizona’s season is a puzzle, the Dolphins (7-5) have perhaps overachieved. They rank 25th in both offense and defense and have been outgained by 45 yards per game, fifth-worst in the league.

They’ve also been outscored by 23 points, and they’re coming off their worst game of the season, a 38-6 loss at Baltimore that cost them control of their playoff fate.

“We got punched in the mouth,” tackle Branden Albert said. “We’ll see when you get punched in the mouth how you react. Are you going to continue to get punched in the mouth, or are you going to do something about it?”

The game will push one of the teams much closer to elimination from wild-card contention.

“December football is special,” Arians said. “It’s excitement more than pressure. Pressure is when you’re not prepared.”

JOHNSON & FITZGERALD: Arizona running back David Johnson and receiver Larry Fitzgerald are finding their names mentioned among the elite in NFL history.

Johnson is the second player to accumulate 100 yards from scrimmage in each of a season’s first 12 games. Edgerrin James did it in the first 13 games of the 2005 season.

Johnson, a third-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa a year ago, has 1,005 yards rushing and 704 receiving.

“That’s Marshall Faulk-type numbers,” Joseph said.

Fitzgerald, in his 13th season, is climbing the ranks of the greatest receivers. With his 10 catches for 78 yards against Washington, Fitzgerald passed Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into third in career receptions. He also is the youngest player to reach 1,100 receptions.

Fitzgerald has caught a pass in 191 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NFL history.

SUPER SUB: With Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso nursing hamstring and thumb injuries, second-year pro Mike Hull might again see significant action. Hull played well when given his most extensive opportunity yet last week.

“He did a great job,” coach Adam Gase said. “His instincts are off the charts. You see how quickly he reacts compared to everybody else. Everybody is going one way, he’s going the other way, and he’s usually right. It’s very impressive.”

Hull signed as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State.

ROAD WOES: The Cardinals were 8-1 away from home last season but are 1-4 this season, with the lone win at woeful San Francisco.

Sunday’s game starts at 11 a.m. Arizona time, which doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals. Three of their losses came in the Eastern time zone — at Buffalo, Carolina and Atlanta. The other road defeat was at Minnesota.

BALL HAWK: The Dolphins’ Byron Maxwell has four forced fumbles, the most by an NFL cornerback since Charles Tillman had 10 in 2012.

“I’m just trying to find a way to get the ball for my team, and that’s one of the ways,” Maxwell said. “That’s what this game is about — playmakers.”

Maxwell said his eagerness to knock the ball loose can’t interfere with making the tackle, however.

“I got in trouble the last couple of the years because I was thinking, `Ball, ball, ball.’ I had to switch it up. You’ve got to secure that tackle, too. That’s what I learned. But I love having the ball in my hands.”

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