Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out for Redemption: Arizona Cardinals Season Preview

2008 Record: 9-7

The Arizona Cardinals were the darling of the NFC Playoffs. To be honest, we didn't see it coming. Going into the playoffs, we all knew Arizona had a vaunted passing attack. But they hadn't shown any ability to run the ball. Nor did they display particularly good tackling on defense. However, they keyed on mistakes, using their turnover-fueled defense to run all the way to the Super Bowl.

Ken Whisenhunt has done a fantastic job out in the desert, and Arizona finally got over the hump last year, claiming the division from Seattle's talons. As long as Chris "Beanie" Wells can stay healthy (which is a big question), Arizona should boast a better rushing attack than they did last season with Edgerrin James. Wells went down on the second day of practice with an ankle sprain and hasn't been back on the field since. Second year back Tim Hightower showed impressive abilities in short-yardage situations, but one has to wonder if he'll be able to hold up as a feature back over the course of an entire season. Arizona's success in the playoffs came from having a balanced offense. Yes they put up a lot of points through the air. But they were also able to take the air out of the ball and kill Atlanta's comeback hopes with some quality contributions from the run game.

Arizona got itself in trouble last season when they focused solely on the pass. There are some that think they should have come out passing against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. The problem there is that once Arizona starts passing, they don't stop. They tend to go on long stretches without any rushing attempts, which makes it hard to get a rythym going later in the game when you need to run the ball.

Arizona's defense was plagued by inconsistency last year, giving up over 35 points 5 times, including 48 to Philly, 47 to New England, and 56 to the Jets. On the other side, they held teams under 14 points 4 times. Their biggest loss on defense, DE Antonio Smith, will be replaced by Bertrand Berry who led the team with 5 sacks last season. Arizona continued their reputation as "Pittsburgh West" bringing in CB Bryant McFadden in free agency and former Steelers FB Dan Kreider. McFadden will pair wit Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to form a solid young cornerback tandem very adept at picking the ball off. DRC had a team-leading 4 picks last season as a rookie and has outstanding speed to make up for broken coverage.

Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle are two solid safeties, with Wilson in the physical mold of Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders. Rolle finished second on the team in tackles last season, and has excellent range. Karlos Dansby, whose contract is up after this season, is the anchor of the linebacking unit, but he has been relatively quiet thus far about his contract.

Even Anquan Boldin, who made a big fuss at the end of last season, has shut his yapper and decided to play football this season. We all know what Larry Fitzgerald brings to the game. Is he the best receiver in the game right now? Well, it's between him and Andre Johnson from Houston, and if Johnson is #1, then Fitz is 1a. Both are special players, but Fitz has the advantage of having Anquan Boldin on his team to take some of the pressure off. Boldin is very good in his own right, but doesn't possess the speed of Fitzgerald. Of course, one can't talk about the Cardinals offense without mentioning BSK who put up over 1,000 yards last season and is always a threat on punt returns.

Kurt Warner remains the starter this season, and after a fantastic season last year, should be in top form again. Matt Leinart is slowly shaking off the "party boy" image and is now entrenched in a battle with Brian St. Pierre for the #2 job behind Warner. While we have a soft spot for BSP, there's no way he wins this job from Leinart. He looked terrible in the preseason game last week. Looking for more former Pittsburghers to cheer for on Arizona's roster? They brought in former Pitt QB Tyler Palko, and he may see some time in the preseason (and may challenege BSP for the #3 spot).

Ian's Prediction: 12-4

Arizona didn't win a game in the Eastern Time Zone last year until they went to Carolina in the playoffs. They have 3 games in the EST this year, at Jacksonville, NY Giants, and Detroit. If you're looking to circle some dates on your calendar, September 27 and October 11, against Indianapolis and Houston respectively, should be highly entertaining. The Indy game will be an all-out aerial show, and the Houston game will pit the two best receivers in the league against each other. Arizona's defense has made some improvements, and their run game should be better if Beanie stays healthy. All in all, I think this season will be even better for Arizona than last year, and The Whizard of Az holds on to the NFC West division crown.

John's Prediction:

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