The Arizona Cardinals are under new management. Ken Wisenhunt coached this franchise to its greatest heights, winning back-to-back NFC West titles in 2008-09 and reaching the Super Bowl in 2008, but Wisenhunt couldn’t succeed once Kurt Warner retired and now it’s Bruce Arians who will get the chance.
Arians became an inspirational figure in the 2012 season, thrust into the Indianapolis Colts’ head coaching job after Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, and then overseeing the team’s improbable ride into the playoffs. Now, the new head coach’s world will have a little more normalcy, but he has to find a way to win in what appears to be the NFL’s toughest division.
Carson Palmer has been brought in at quarterback, and while Palmer’s had his consistency issues over his career, there’s no question this is a huge upgrade over what Arizona has messed around with post-Warner. Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards in Oakland last season, and his arrival will get Larry Fitzgerald’s statistics more befitting that of the most talented receiver in the league.
I really like the Arizona defense, up and down the line. They ranked 17th in the NFL in points allowed last year, and when you consider that was with an offense that was a complete train wreck—unable to keep the defense off the field, set them up with points, or even avoid just giving away points directly through turnovers. Palmer’s presence can allow the defensive talent to shine through a little more clearly.
Calais Campbell is a solid defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, and though Darryl Washington will miss the first four games with a suspension, he provides a solid interior presence at linebacker. What the Cards need is for one of the linebackers on the outside to become a pass rushing force. Sam Acho showed some flashes in that regard, and Lorenzo Alexander was brought in from Washington to man the other OLB spot.
It’s the job of the front seven to make the opposing quarterback a little flustered, because any mistakes mean that Patrick Peterson has a chance to make a play. The corner picked off seven passes a year ago, and combined with his special teams skill, he’s one of the most dynamic young players in the league. Peterson keys a secondary that was third in the NFL last year in forcing incompletions and they were also in the top half of the league in yardage allowed per play.
What’s going to hinder the Cards is the running game. They drafted two good rookies, in Stephan Taylor and Andre Ellington. I think the latter has more potential as a pass-catcher and Ellington could make an immediate impact. And I really like Taylor’s physical toughness, but for the short-term, Taylor’s going to find out that this Cardinal offensive line is, at least relative to its level, not in the same class as that which he ran behind in Stanford. Until the front five gets beefed up, Arizona is going to have problems.
But “problems” doesn’t mean that respectable football can’t return to the desert. TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis uses the Las Vegas Over/Under win prop as a measuring stick, and the Cards are posted at just 5.5. I’m going Over, and can see Arizona making a run at .500.