Let's take a look how the Red Birds shape up this season:
OFFENSE: The key to Arians' down field passing attack will be the offensive line, which needs to protect quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer still has a strong arm but he is your classic pocket passer. The Cardinals allowed a league-high 58 sacks last season. That can't happen again. The additions of Eric Winston and Paul Fainaka along the offensive line will certainly help, as will the return of Levi Brown. Larry Fitzgerald should enjoy a fine bounce back season now that he has a real QB throwing to him. Michael Floyd gives them a dangerous second WR. Another key will be how well the running attack behind Rashard Mendenhall and rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington progresses. Mendenhall, who has been dealing with a knee issue in training camp, needs to stay healthy. So does tight end Rob Housler, who will miss today's game with a sprained knee. Arians likes to use his tight ends in his offense so a speedy return by Housler is important.
DEFENSE: Todd Bowles takes over for Ray Horton as defensive coordinator but the Cardinals should still have one of the most aggressive units in the NFL. They forced 10 turnovers during the preseason so hopefully that trend will continue. Linebacker Daryl Washington is suspended for the first four games of the season so rookie Kevin Minter will have to step up and help fill the void along with starters Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley. The Red Birds need to get more sustained pressure on opposing signal-callers from their 3-4 base and stop the run better. Patrick Peterson and rookie Tyrann Mathieu should give Arizona two of the most dynamic defensive backs in the league. Mathieu seems like a natural at stripping the ball away while Peterson should enjoy another Pro Bowl season at cornerback. The Cardinals ranked second in the league with 22 interceptions in 2012 and they should rank near the top again. Overall, the Cards ranked 12th overall in total defense last year. Expect that number to improve this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Peterson and Mathieu should provide Arizona with two of the most exciting punt returners in the league. In addition, Arians is happy to have Justin Bethel back as one of the best special teams players in the NFL. Bethel is a gunner on punt coverage and generally reeks havoc on the field – he had a blocked field goal, punt and extra point in Arizona's first two preseason contests. Punter Dave Zastudil was superb last season and easily could have made the Pro Bowl. He returns as does veteran kicker Jay Feely. Feely is now in his fourth season with the Cardinals and at 37 years of age still has power in his right leg. He booted a 61-yard field goal last season and converted 25 of 28 field goal attempts overall.
Prediction: 8-8, third in NFC West.
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