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Don’t Count Out the Arizona Cardinals

July 27th, 2013 at 11:26 AM
By Sports Media 101

Rams 101 writer David Schlager makes his debut today. David will be covering the NFC West beat as well as keeping tabs on what's going on around the NFL and how St. Louis Rams players might fare in Fantasy Football. 


 'Rams vs. Cardinals' photo (c) 2010, Chris Yunker - license: Louis Rams' fans believe that it could be a three-team race for the NFC West crown and jockeying for postseason position. Sleeper status should also be given to the team that used to call St. Louis home.
The Arizona Cardinals stunned the league last season starting 4-0 before nose diving.  An intriguing draft class to go with the signing of proven veterans, including a quarterback once destined for greatness, could make the Cardinals very tough.
Most analysts have Arizona as a lock for fourth place, but a breakdown of the team will prove otherwise.
The key contrast between the undefeated Cardinals and the winless group that followed was quarterback play.  It's a quarterback-driven  league and when there's an absence, it's remarkable.  
In the first quarter of the season, Kevin Kolb completed 62% of his passes, while throwing six touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Maybe not Pro-Bowl numbers, but enough to win.  In those games, Arizona scored over 22 points per game.
The Cardinals failed to score 20 points a single time in the 12 games that followed.  With a revolving door of quarterbacks shoveled off the turf, the team scored just 95 points in the last 12 games, averaging fewer than eight points per game.  With an offensive tailspin like that, they finished second to last in the league with 15.6 points per game.  After Kevin Kolb went down, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer combined for 3 total touchdowns.  That is it.  Three touchdowns to go with 20 turnovers from the most pivotal position in pro sports.  
If not at quarterback, the unit that could provide the most impactful upgrade is clearly the offensive line. If the upgraded offensive line can keep Carson Palmer in the game, the passing offense will improve vastly over last year.  
Before the season even began former first round pick Levi Brown tore his left triceps and missed the year.  There's so much competition now that his spot is not guaranteed. Tackles Bobby Massie and Nate Potter improved throughout their rookie years.  General Manager Steve Keim recently added Eric Winston to the mix. Winston played well in Kansas City before being replaced by Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in April's draft.
The Cardinals addressed the line by drafting guard/ center Jonathan Cooper seventh overall from North Carolina.  The pieces appear to be in place for massive improvement.  It won't take much for this unit to improve after giving up 58 sacks and rushing for 3.4 yards per carry, both worst in the league.
The defense should be helped if the offense can improve.  Improvement shouldn't be hard considering their average drives lasted 135 seconds!   The average drive also consisted of just five plays for 20 yards.  All three of those statistics were the worst in the NFL.  
The offensive unit was so putrid it really took away from how great the defense played.  Third in the league in takeaways, yards per possession, and second in third down percentage.  The defense also led the league in defensive touchdowns with eight.  Those eight touchdowns compare to the 11 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns the offense put up.
Perhaps the biggest weakness for Arizona lies in the secondary.  Former All-Pro safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes both left the desert.  Veterans Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell project to start.  Both are solid in run support but could be questionable in the passing game.  Aside from Patrick Peterson, the other corners just aren't there yet.  Antoine Cason, Javier Arena, and Tyrann Mathieu all have potential to make an impact.
On paper, the defensive front seven looks to be the strength of the team.  Calais Campbell is a underrated player, while three-time Pro-Bowler Darnell Dockett plays great on the other side.  Both 3-4 ends do well in stalling lineman and drawing double teams.
John Abraham was recently added wide of tackling machines Daryl Washington (suspended for first four games) and Karlos Dansby.  Rookies Kevin Minter and Alex Okafor provide good depth, either could step up this season.
Despite just five wins, the Cardinals were competitive last season.  Only two losses came by more than two scores.  It wouldn't be an Arizona Cardinals' article without mentioning distinguished star Larry Fitzgerald.  For the first time since Kurt Warner, Fitz will have a guy that can get him the ball.  He has proven capable of changing the game and will surely bounce back from his worst season.
New head coach Bruce Arians is able and ready to improve this team and perhaps put them ahead of a team or two in the toughest division in football.

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