Arizona Cardinals 2013 Season Preview

10:10 AM, Aug 29, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - The ax fell quickly on the Arizona Cardinals following their disastrous 2012 campaign.

A nine-game losing streak will do that.

When a 1-11 finish wiped out every last good taste of the Cardinals' season- opening four-game winning streak, the cupboard was bleached bare. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves were the first to go and a number of underachieving and aging players eventually went with them.

Defensive veterans Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes were not brought back, nor were offensive disappointments Beanie Wells and Kevin Kolb, the poster boy for what has gone wrong for the Cardinals.

Kolb was just the latest slinger to try and lock down the position that had been left a mess since Kurt Warner's retirement.

Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer and Kolb all started games for the Cardinals since 2010. None found success.

Kolb was supposed to be the guy after he was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick. A new contract followed, but victories did not and Kolb was unable to stay healthy.

He was released in March, leaving a void under center for new head coach Bruce Arians, former offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 after having served the role with both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The hole was filled in early April, when Arizona again hit the trade market for a quarterback, getting the more established Carson Palmer from Oakland.

"Since the beginning, when I first got here ... all of you have asked me about the quarterback position. I am here to introduce our starting quarterback and put it to bed. I'm really excited about it," Arians said at Palmer's introductory press conference on April 2.

Arians is one of 18 new coaches for Arizona this season and that includes fresh faces at offensive and defensive coordinator in Harold Goodwin and Todd Bowles. And the Cardinals also parted ways with 25 veterans from the 2012 club, truly making this Arians' team.

Less of a concern was the defense, which ranked fifth against the pass and 12th in total yards allowed a season ago. The offense, however, came in dead last in total and passing yards while ranking 28th on the ground.

So Arians and the front office added the likes of Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason and Yeremiah Bell to the secondary while also taking linebacker Kevin Minter and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the second and third round, respectively, of the 2013 draft.

That came after the Cardinals used the seventh overall pick to upgrade a woeful offensive line by selecting guard Jonathan Cooper, but a fractured fibula suffered in the preseason will sideline him for a good part, if not all, of the regular season.

Not a great start for Arians in his new job after leading one of the best feel-good stories of the 2012 campaign. However, there is still time for 2013 to have a happy ending.

2012 RECORD: 5-11 (4th, NFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2009, lost to New Orleans Saints in divisional round

HEAD COACH (RECORD): Bruce Arians (first season)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Harold Goodwin (first season with Cardinals)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Todd Bowles (first season with Cardinals)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Carson Palmer (from Raiders), QB Drew Stanton (from Colts), RB Rashard Mendenhall (from Steelers), WR Mike Thomas (from Lions), G Jonathan Cooper (1st round, North Carolina), G Chilo Rachal (from Bears), T Eric Winston (from Chiefs), DE John Abraham (from Falcons), DE Frostee Rucker (from Bengals), DE Matt Shaughnessy (from Raiders), LB Karlos Dansby (from Dolphins), LB Lorenzo Alexander (from Redskins), LB Jasper Brinkley (from Vikings), LB Kevin Minter (2nd round, LSU), CB Jerraud Powers (from Colts), CB Antoine Cason (from Chargers), CB Tyrann Mathieu (3rd round, LSU), S Yeremiah Bell (from Jets)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Kevin Kolb (to Bills), QB John Skelton (to Bengals), QB Brian Hoyer (to Browns), RB Beanie Wells (released), RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (to Steelers), WR Early Doucet (released), G Adam Snyder (to 49ers), G Rich Ohrnberger (to Chargers), T Pat McQuistan (to Jaguars), T D'Anthony Batiste (from Steelers), DE Nick Eason (free agent), DE Vonnie Holliday (free agent), LB O'Brien Schofield (released), LB Paris Lenon (to Broncos), LB Stewart Bradley (to Broncos), LB Quentin Groves (to Browns), CB Greg Toler (to Colts), CB William Gay (released), CB Michael Adams (to Buccaneers), S James Sanders (free agent), S Kerry Rhodes (released), S Adrian Wilson (to Patriots)

QB: Of the four quarterbacks who took snaps for the Cardinals last season, only Lindley returns. However, he is likely the third option on the depth chart behind Palmer and Drew Stanton.

The first overall pick of the 2003 draft by Cincinnati, Palmer has thrown for nearly 30,000 yards and completed 189 touchdown passes while getting selected to a pair of Pro Bowls. His 10th NFL season, and second with the Raiders, was one of his best as he threw for 4,018 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He competed 61.1 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 52.3.

In other words, the Cardinals are getting a known quantity under center, one that will hopefully lock down the position for the next few years and absorb some of the pressure that sits on the team.

"That's the game in this league. I'm used to that. I've been playing quarterback my whole life. I'm used to the pressures that come with the position -- the good, the bad," said the 33-year-old Palmer.

Stanton has a leg up over Lindley after having been coach by Arians last season in Indianapolis, where he backed up Andrew Luck.


RB: LaRod Stephens-Howling led the Cardinals with 356 rushing yards a season ago. Wells was second with 234.

Adrian Peterson ran for 212 yards in one game last season.

Though Stephens-Howling and Wells did combine for nine rushing touchdowns, neither are back and the ground game doesn't look much more promising this year either. The Cardinals took a one-year flyer on former Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall, who owns 29 career touchdowns and a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons, but suffered a torn ACL at the end of the 2011 campaign and played in just six games last year.

The Cardinals are hoping for more progression from Ryan Williams, assuming he can stay on the field. He missed all of his rookie campaign in 2011 because of a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee and also sustained a season- ending shoulder injury in Week 5 last year.

The two will also need to show blocking skills as Arians' system does not use a fullback.

Rookie Stepfan Taylor has good ball control and could be the third back on the depth chart.


WR: Arians and Palmer luck into a good situation in that they already have one of the league's top receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, whose numbers took a huge hit during last year's miserable campaign.

Fitzgerald has five seasons of at least 90 catches and his 1,411 receiving yards in 2011 were the second-highest total of his career. He also owns 77 touchdown catches over his nine-year career, but just four came in 2012 as he was held to 71 receptions and 798 yards.

Arians will try to move the 6-foot-3 receiver around on the field to get him involved.

"I wouldn't use (the word) challenge," Fitzgerald said of lining up on different parts of the field. "I would just say it is different. You play one position your entire career, but it would be different if it was a coach that I knew didn't have success throwing the football. You put (Arians') statistics against any offensive coordinator the last 10 years, it's right up there.

"It's not like we've got some guy who doesn't know what he's doing. He knows how to get footballs into his playmaker's hands."

That should also include second-year wideout Michael Floyd, poised for a breakout year after getting taken 13th overall in the 2012 draft, and Andre Roberts (64 receptions, 5 TD), while Kerry Taylor and rookie Charles Hawkins also battle for roster spots.

The group behind Fitzgerald will need to produce to take some of the coverage away from the receiving machine.

"I think Andre and Michael both, and (tight end) Rob Housler, should create some freedom for Larry. They're skill set can't be overlooked to double Larry all the time," noted Arians.

An interesting wrinkle is Arians' use of speedy cornerback Patrick Peterson as a receiver at times. He's run routes, taken pitches and reverses and even worked the run-pass option in camp.


TE: The Cardinals will use a lot of two tight-end sets under Arians and Goodwin, with Housler (45 receptions) having a role in the down-field attack.

Jeff King is a decent red zone target and caught three touchdown passes in 2011 before his numbers dropped in 2012.

Kory Sperry, Jim Dray and Alex Gottlieb are battling for roles as well.


OL: Arizona quarterbacks were sacked 58 times last year and both Kolb and Skelton were knocked out of games due to injury.

The line was shaping up to be better with the drafting of Cooper, but will still be improved despite the injury to the first-round pick. That's because left tackle Levi Brown returns after missing all of last year with a left triceps injury.

Lyle Sendlein returns to for center and Daryn Colledge will shift back to left guard to replace Cooper after originally being slated to move to the right spot. Paul Fanaika, who did not play in the NFL last year, is slated in at right guard, but could be pushed by free agent signing Chilo Rachal.

"That's a natural fit," Arians said of moving Colledge back to the left spot. "I like it more that Paul has played right guard so we're only moving one player. You never want to move two. And I like the fact that Paul has played extremely well the whole time."

Eric Winston, owner of a 105 straight starts, was signed as a free agent after spending last season with Kansas City. He's blocked for three straight Pro Bowl backs.


DL: The Cardinals will stay in the 3-4 under Bowles and return their front three of nose tackle Dan Williams, end Calais Campbell and tackle Darnell Dockett.

Campbell led the Cards in sacks for three straight years from 2009-11, including a career-high eight two seasons ago. He had 6 1/2 sacks in 13 games last year, ranking second on the club.

Docket, a three-time Pro Bowler is a disrupter who likes to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and Williams sits firm at 327 pounds.

Former Bengal Frostee Rucker has posted 92 tackles and eight sacks in 32 games over the last two years, spending last season with the Browns before signing with the Cards. He'll work into the rotation along with David Carter and Ronald Talley that will try to improve versus the run.


LB: A number of new players were brought in to fill out the linebacking group, but the Cardinals lost their top player for the first four games of the season when Daryl Washington was suspended for violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. The fourth-year inside linebacker had a breakout campaign in 2012, making a team-high 134 tackles and nine sacks while getting selected to the Pro Bowl.

Veteran Karlos Dansby, cut after three solid seasons in Miami, returns for his second stint with the Cardinals and will replace Washington in the starting lineup after making a career-high 134 tackles last year with nine passes defensed. He offers versatility and leadership to the defense.

"It's going to be fun," Dansby said of the defense. "We're going to be fast. A lot of energy. It's going to be exciting. Very aggressive."

Former Minnesota Viking Jasper Brinkley signed a two-year contract after making a career-high 15 starts last year. He logged 99 tackles and forced three fumbles. He'll be pushed by Kevin Minter, a second-round pick out of LSU and had 130 tackles, four sacks and an interception in 13 starts last year.

Sam Acho returns for his third year and starts at the SAM, having logged 11 sacks over his first two years. The WILL will be filled by a trio of new players, including John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy and special teams standout Lorenzo Alexander.

Abraham has 32 1/2 sacks over the past three seasons and is a situational pass rusher at this stage in his career, while Shaughnessy started all 16 games for the Raiders a season ago with just 3 1/2 sacks. However, he'll be an upgrade on the run defense.


DB: Peterson has emerged as perhaps the best young corner in the game and is looking like a talent in all three phases. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 as a kick returner and got a return selection last year as a corner, ranking fourth in the NFL with seven interceptions while recovering five fumbles. He became the first Cardinals player since Aeneas Williams in 1994 to record an INT in four straight games.

Powers and Cason will battle to start opposite of Peterson, though both should see plenty of time on the field. Powers was a member of Arians' Colts for the last four seasons, while Cason had 12 picks in five seasons with the Chargers.

Javier Arenas was acquired from the Chiefs for fullback Anthony Sherman, adding depth.

Rashad Johnson (20 tackles, 2 INT) is one of few Cardinal defensive backs to return and he'll start at free safety ahead of third-round pick Mathieu, a talent with a ton of baggage.

Mathieu was a former standout at LSU and was in Heisman Trophy talks in 2011, but was kicked off the team in August of 2012. He withdrew from the school and entered drug rehab.

It wasn't a huge surprise that it was the Cardinals who took a chance on the DB formerly known as "The Honey Badger." Peterson, a former LSU standout himself, took Mathieu under his wing before the draft and has vouched for his new teammate.

He could be a steal if he stays out of trouble.

The other new piece is Bell, a nine-year veteran who logged four straight 100- tackle seasons with the Dolphins from 2008-11. He had 89 tackles in 16 starts last year with the Jets and adds valuable experience.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Peterson is one of the top punt returners in the game and as a rookie in 2011 tied an NFL record with four punts returned for a touchdown. However, he was unable to break one to the house last year.

Arenas and running back Alfonso Smith are in line to return kicks.

Jay Feely enters his 13th year in the league and fourth with the Cardinals. He didn't have a lot of chances to do damage last year, making just 28 field goal attempts but hitting 25 of them with a long of 61, a career high. Since entering the NFL in 2001, Feely has scored 1,310 points, the second-highest total in the league in that time period.

Veteran Dave Zastudil was also solid in 2012, setting an NFL record with 46 punts pinned inside the 20-yard line. That surpassed the previous mark held by three kickers by four. He also showed off a big leg with nine punts of 60-plus yards.

Mike Leach enters this season having played in 168 straight games, the second- longest active streak among NFL long snappers.


COACHING: Though this is technically Arians' first head coaching job, he is coming off an amazing season in which he led the Colts to a 9-3 record as the interim coach. He took over on Oct. 1 of last year when Chuck Pagano left the club to undergo treatment for leukemia. The Colts matched an NFL record for the most wins by an interim coach and Luck thrived under Arians with an NFL rookie-record 4,374 passing yards.

Arians' chance at this job is well deserved.

Goodwin worked under Arians in Indy last year as the club's offensive line coach. He'll try to strengthen that unit while Arians calls the plays.

Bowles joins the Cardinals after taking over as the Eagles' defensive coordinator last October. He had spent the first six games as the team's secondary coach and inherited a mess he was unable to do much with.


THE SKINNY: The Cardinals were able to add a number of impact players this year, but it might not be enough. Losing Cooper certainly hurts and even if he plays this year, he'll still lack some needed experience going into 2014.

Palmer should improve the offense tenfold, but the Cards are once again slanted on talent towards the pass. The defense has gotten younger and should be a strength, but will be tested by the talented offenses in the rest of the division.

"I think the sky is the limit for us. We will not ever use talent as an excuse. We've got talent. It's just doing the little things everyday, getting better one day at a time, one play at a time," said Arians.

The playoffs are a reach, but Arizona is headed in the right direction.

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