Arizona Cardinals: A Closer Look

Get to know the Chiefs opponent on Sunday

The Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) take on the Arizona Cardinals (9-3) on Sunday as both teams look to pick up a crucial win after dropping two straight games.

Both teams also feature second-year head coaches, and both orchestrated the best single-season turnarounds in their franchises' history in their first seasons with their respective teams.

The Cardinals, led by coach Bruce Arians, who actually began his NFL coaching career as the Chiefs' running backs coach (1989-92), went from a five-win team in 2012 to a 10-win team in 2013, Arians' first year in the desert.

That five-win improvement from one year to the next is the best in Cardinals history.

Arians remembers his time in Kansas City fondly.

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HC Bruce Arians

"It was fantastic," Arians said. "It's still one of our favorite places to go. It was a time that my son was a ball boy so we had a lot of bonding time in that locker room and over at Arrowhead Stadium. We used to have cords back then and he was a guy that held my cord so I had great memories of Arrowhead.

"It was my first time in the NFL coming out of college so it was a great learning experience. [Offensive coordinator] Joe Pendry (1989-92) and [offensive line coach] Howard Mudd (1989-92) are two of the finest coaches I've ever worked with. I got to learn from them. The relationships with the running backs with Christian (Okoye) and Barry (Word) and Todd (McNair) and Billy (Jackson) and James Saxon, it's crazy how many of those guys ended up coaching."

For the Chiefs, it was a two-win season in 2012, followed by an 11-5 mark last season, which was Reid's first in Kansas City, that was the best turnaround in franchise history,

For the Chiefs to pick up their eighth win of this season, they'll have to contend with a Cardinals defense that has been impressive this season.

"They have great size and speed," Reid said. "I'm talking at all positions. You go into the secondary and they have large corners and they've got large defensive linemen and linebackers.

"They've got a really good scheme. [Cardinals defensive coordinator] Todd (Bowles) has done a really nice job out there and he's got those guys playing well."

One of the players the Chiefs will have to always account for is 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive lineman Calais Campbell (No. 93). He's a rare 3-4 defensive end who can excel against the run as a five-technique defensive end, but then slide inside in passing situations and use his tall, athletic frame to disrupt passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks.

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DL Calais Campbell

"I watched him come out of college and you look at the improvement he's made over the years," Reid explained. "I had teams play against him since he was young and you see that improvement every year. He's added some body, some bulk and he still maintained his quickness.

"He's a big man. He's able to play low and strong and has a good base to him."

Campbell has 42 tackles and six sacks for the Cardinals defense this season and ranks as the third-best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has spent plenty of time playing against Campbell, who is in his seventh season with the Cardinals (2008-14), from his time with the San Francisco 49ers (2005-12).

"He's a good player," Smith said. "I know him well from my time in that [NFC West] division. He's a mountain of a man, just looking at him, then plays like it as well. He does a good job. For as tall as he is, he plays with great leverage. He does a great job batting balls down, just a good football player."

Besides just Campbell, Smith is impressed with what the Cardinals defense showed him on tape. 

"I see an aggressive defense," Smith said. "They do a lot—very unorthodox. They're not what you see week to week because they do a lot of different things. They really get after it up front. Aggressive play calling, aggressive mentality.

"They like to get after the quarterback and they like to pressure. It will be a big test for us."

The Cardinals rush defense ranks sixth in the NFL, surrendering just 89.3 yards per game, while their pass defense has struggled, ranking 27th at 263.3 yards per game.

Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, better known as the "honey badger," won't play on Sunday after undergoing surgery on his thumb.When healthy, Mathieu has been a standout performer for the Cardinals defense.

Photos of the Arizona Cardinals starting roster

On the outside, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson will be players to watch for the Cardinals defense.

When quarterbacks have thrown in their direction this season, Cromartie is allowing a quarterback rating of just 66.6 as Peterson is allowing a rating of 113.7. 

On the offensive side of the ball, the Cardinals are led by veteran quarterback Drew Stanton, who began the season as the backup to Carson Palmer, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in Week 10. 

Earlier this week via conference call, Arians explained what he likes about Stanton as the Cardinals have recently faced their own adversity, dropping two straight after a 9-1 start.

"Drew's a winner," Arians said. "He's handling it just like any quarterback that loses a game because it's always their fault. It's either the coach's or quarterback's and so far they're not blaming me but they should be because I'm not giving him enough to work with.

"He's a tremendous competitor. He's smart, tough and he's working on his accuracy. He's had a couple balls that got away from him. We didn't turn the ball over early in the year and we turned it over three or four times in the last two weeks so that's the thing that's hurting us."

In seven games this season, Stanton is 4-3 as a starter and has completed 105 of 190 (55 percent) passes for 1,363 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.

But when looking at the Chiefs defense, which has given up 597 yards rushing combined to the Seattle Seahawks (204), Oakland Raiders (179) and Denver Broncos (214) over the past three weeks, the blueprint is there for the Cardinals to try the same recipe.

But Arians says it's not that simple to just line up and mirror what teams have done to the Chiefs defense over the past three weeks.

"Sometimes teams will hit a run and it's either a missed tackle or a guy just got out of the gap so you really can't count on those types of things," Arians said. "I see them as one of the best defenses we've seen all year.

"The fact that they've given up some yards rushing the last two weeks, we haven't run the ball very well so that's not really an advantage to us but they are the number one pass defense in the league and that's a huge advantage for them."

The Cardinals rank 31st in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging just 74.8 yards per game through the first 13 weeks of the season.

Andre Ellington, the Cardinals' top running back, will be a game-time decision as he's dealing with a hip-pointer injury.

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RB Andre Ellington

With 201 carries this season, Ellington accounts for 69 percent of the Cardinals' total rushing attempts, as second-year player Stepfan Taylor, who ranks second on the team in carries, has just 25.

But it's not just the running game that would be affected with his possible absence; Ellington is also tied for the team lead with 46 receptions coming out of the backfield, so it would be a huge blow for the Cardinals offense to be without him on Sunday.

Veteran running back Michael Bush, who was signed just last week, is supposed to be in the mix starting this week for the Cardinals according to Arians, but the Chiefs might also see Taylor or rookie Marion Grice on Sunday.

Grice has 11 carries for 29 yards this season while Taylor has 25 for 83.

On the outside, veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald is also a question mark for Sunday's game as he deals with a MCL sprain that's forced him to miss the last two games, which were both losses, although he's reportedly back at practice this week for the Cardinals.

The other player to watch out for is rookie receiver John Brown, who hails from nearby Pittsburg State University, where he dominated the MIAA conference before becoming the No. 91 overall pick in last April's draft.

Brown is leading the Cardinals with five receiving touchdowns and 76 targets, which has resulted in 39 receptions for 569 yards.

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