Today I start my breakdown of all 32 NFL Teams going into the 2013 season by dissecting the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals made a Super Bowl appearance in the 2008 season, and have gone 28-36 since. Coach Bruce Arians has taken over for Ken Whisenhunt, who was under a lot of pressure to get Arizona back to the Promised Land. Whisenhunt had trouble getting a Quarterback that could play up to the standards Kurt Warner set, and it cost him his job. Bruce Arians will attempt to fix the same issue and get the offense rolling in 2013.
Offense: The Cardinals have one of the best Wide Receivers in the game in Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz is the 2nd fastest to 1o,000 receiving yards, behind Randy Moss, and has put up 10,413 yards with 77 touchdowns over his 10 years. He’ll be looking to build a good rapport with newly acquired Carson Palmer. Palmer has seen better days, but is looking to rejuvenate his career behind the offensive mind of Coach Arians. Receivers Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and rookie Texas A&M standout Ryan Swope, will try to make life easy for the former USC standout. Swope will be an interesting person to watch in the slot; he put up big numbers in college (over 2,900 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in the last 3 seasons), but his past concussion problems have some worried. Arizona needs better production from their Running Backs to relieve some of the stress on the passing game. They were worst in the league last year averaging only 75 yards a game. Ryan Williams, the former second-round pick out of Virginia Tech, is coming back from injury as is newly acquired Rashard Mendenhall. If Mendenhall can prove to be the threat he was in Pittsburgh from 2009-2011, putting up 7 or more touchdowns per season, they should be a formidable 1-2 punch and get Arizona out of the ground game rut they’ve been in since 2002; when they last finished inside the Top 20. In bigger flux than the Running Backs are the Tight Ends. The team is hoping Rob Housler can take his game a step forward this season. He started playing well during the 2012 campaign, but was far from stellar by any means. They drafted D.C. Jefferson out of Rutgers but his production in 4 years only totaled 47 catches, 560 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’ll probably begin the year on their practice squad. The Offensive Line got a lot of criticism throughout last season as well. Arizona drafted a very impressive and highly talented Guard, Jonathan Cooper, out of North Carolina, who will make an immediate impact along the line. Cooper can play any position, whether it be Guard, Tackle, or Center, and will probably start out at Guard. Bobbie Massie had a very strong ending to his rookie year after starting out pretty questionable. In the last 8 games he did a total 180 in his play, and that will be something to build off in 2013. Levi Brown, although coming offseason with a torn triceps injury, will be a relief to have back at Left Tackle. Nate Potter played decent at Tackle in 2012, but there has been talk of kicking him inside to the Guard position. As you can tell, Arians has his hands full remolding the last ranked Offense in the league. One thing for sure, the goal will be to get the ball in the hands of Larry Fitzgerald as much as possible.
Defense: Patrick Peterson has really come into his own over the past few seasons. He led the 2nd ranked Defense in interceptions, with 7 as well as 17 pass deflections, and is legitimately becoming one of the best Cornerbacks in the NFL. The 21st overall Defense from last year will be looking for Rashad Johnson to fill in at Safety with new acquired Yeremiah Bell and Tyrann Mathieu. I can see Bell starting at Free Safety, with Johnson at Strong, to start out the 2013 season. At some point during the year however, The Honey Badger (Mathieu) will take over at the Free spot, and whoever is playing better (between Johnson and Bell) will be the Strong. Bell is on his last leg in the NFL, as the 35-year old isn’t quite what he used to be. The Cards best un-drafted free agent was Safety Tony Jefferson from Oklahoma; I expect them to let him sit and learn. Jefferson was projected by many to be a mid-round pick, but questions of work ethic saw him drop. One spot Arizona has great depth in is the Linebacker position. They already had Daryl Washington at Inside Linebacker, playing out of his mind with 108 solo tackles, 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception. Following a 4-game suspension by the league, Mr. Washington was demoted to second string behind newly acquired Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby. As if those last 3 names weren’t enough at Inside Linebacker, Arizona drafted LSU standout Kevin Minter, who should see his way into the starting lineup a lot sooner than later. That might not be until the 2014 season as the Cardinals have an opportunity to groom him under a vast set of wily veterans. Outside Linebacker, Sam Ocho, wasn’t as impressive as he was his rookie season, but still had a pretty good year for the Cards last season. They added Lorenzo Alexander in free agency, which should be an immediate impact on special teams, as well as the pass rush specialist from Texas, Alex Okafor, in the draft. Alexander will probably swap in and out, with Okafor and Ocho, as he is more of a liability in the pass game, and his pass rush isn’t as good as the other two. The Defensive Line starts with the well-known Darnell Dockett. Dockett had a rough 2012 season, which didn’t live up to his typical type of production. The Cardinals are going to try and move him to Defensive End in their 3/4 scheme, in an effort to try and get him back to the old Dockett the Arizona fans know and love. Being at end, Dockett will make life easier on the Outside Linebacker who is going to be rushing off his side; he’ll eat up double teams and command an Offensive Line’s attention. On the other side is D-End Calais Campbell, who has always been a steady producer for Arizona. Campbell, Frostee Rucker, and Matt Shaughnessy will be mainly responsible for spelling the two D-End’s throughout the season. The anchor in the middle of the Defensive Line will be Dan Williams, who plays a better role for the team than a lot give him credit for. He lost weight this year in an attempt to be in better physical condition. Williams does a good job verses the run, and will be the key to the line and the Inside Linebackers blitzing going forward. New Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles has a good array of talent, and anything less than a top 15 finish for this Defense would be a disappointment in my opinion.
End Result: It was tough for me grading the season for the Cardinals and predict they’ll finish with a record of 3-13. They just have too many holes in the offensive game to compete and put up points. Playing in a division with the Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers doesn’t help them much either. Arizona will have a Top 5 pick, I think, in next season’s draft and will need to use that on their Quarterback of the future.