Feb 25, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State Tigers linebacker Kevin Minter rests on the bench after finishing his on the field workout during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Arizona Cardinals Contend in the NFC West?


Dec. 16, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells (26) is congratulated by Larry Fitzgerald (11) after running for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the second quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals came out of the gates strong in 2012. It’s safe to say they didn’t end the season the same way.

Arizona went 5-11 in 2012 and finished the season by losing 11 of 12 games. The Cardinals beat the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in their first two games, but they weren’t able to win at the end of the season. Arizona’s quarterback play brought the team down, and its performance was abysmal at the end of the year.

However, the main problem was quarterback, and Arizona made an effort to solve that problem. The Cardinals brought in Carson Palmer, who is turnover-prone but can make plays. Palmer averaged 8.39 yards per passing attempt in 2012, and while he averaged a mere 7.11 yards per attempt in 2012 he still managed 4,018 passing yards in 14 games.

Palmer took the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, and he almost took the Oakland Raiders to the playoffs in 2011. Palmer can take the Cardinals to the playoffs in 2013, especially with Larry Fitzgerald catching passes. Fitzgerald was in an extremely hard situation in 2012 with John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Kevin Kolb struggling, but he still caught 71 passes for 798 yards.

In 2013, Fitzgerald will have much more to work with. Fitzgerald dominated when he was with a solid quarterback in Kurt Warner, as he caught 30 passes for 546 yards and seven touchdowns in four 2008 playoff games. If Palmer can give Fitzgerald opportunities to make plays, chances are Fitzgerald, who can go up and make a great play to catch a pass, will catch it.

Palmer has taken chances and paid for it in the past, but Fitzgerald will often bail him out and allow Palmer to take more chances. If Fitzgerald and Palmer develop good chemistry right away and Fitzgerald stays healthy, it could lead to a dominant quarterback-receiver duo. Palmer is still going to throw interceptions, but he’ll appreciate having a seven-time Pro Bowler catching passes.

Arizona’s new quarterback will also appreciate other offensive additions the Cardinals made during the draft. Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, two running backs who had their way with college defense, were picked in the fifth and sixth round, and Jonathan Cooper, a stellar guard from North Carolina, was added in the first round.

Ellington averaged 5.1 yards per carry (YPC) in 2012, while Taylor ran for 1,530 yards and managed to handle a heavy workload (Taylor carried the ball a remarkable 322 times in 2012). The two can combine to form a dominant running back tandem, complete with speed, durability and playmaking ability.

Neither has top-tier speed, but Ellington ran a stellar 4.52 40-yard dash. Ellington can make plays in space and can break tackles, which is also one of Taylor’s strengths. The two are similar, but they will both help the Cardinals in different ways. Taylor can get the ball in the end zone in goal-line situations, while Ellington, who didn’t have tons of carries in college, can break loose for big runs.

Oh, and both are extremely hard to bring down.

The two will be helped out by Cooper, Arizona’s first-round pick. Cooper, who weighs 311 pounds and is 6’2″, didn’t surrender a single sack in 2012. In addition, Cooper graded at least 90 percent for blocking consistency in 10 games, which was the most in the FBS. Cooper has faced and overcome adversity in the past, and the athletic guard should thrive in Arizona.

If the offense ends up doing well, the team will do well. Arizona’s defense ranked 12th in the NFL last season, and it was very consistent outside of one game against the Seattle Seahawks. Arizona’s defense stifled Tom Brady, allowed more than 31 points just once and didn’t allow more than 24 points until Week 9.

Daryl Washington was suspended four games and will probably miss more time due to the recent events going on in his life. Luckily for the Cardinals, they were able to draft Kevin Minter, another middle linebacker, as a potential replacement. Minter, who was a tackling machine at LSU (he registered 130 tackles in 13 games) could definitely do the trick.

Arizona has Patrick Peterson, one of the NFL’s most athletic corners and punt returners, anchoring the defense, and it has Tyrann Mathieu as well. Mathieu has had drug issues, but he is an impactful player who made it to New York City as a Heisman candidate in 2011. Mathieu intercepted passes, registered tackles and made big special teams plays, which was what made him so good.

Mathieu will play safety, and his athleticism will allow him to be a very good safety. Mathieu ran an unofficial 4.43 40-yard dash, and he showed his athleticism on the field all the team. Peterson and Mathieu are both special teams and defensive playmakers, and while the two play different positions they can team up to form a dominant secondary tandem.

Overall, the Cardinals are a very good team. The NFC West is a very difficult division, and based on 2012 records the Cardinals have the seventh-toughest schedule in the league. San Francisco and Seattle gave Arizona trouble in 2012, and it’s going to be hard for the Cardinals to get past the Seahawks and Cardinals.

Arizona isn’t going into rebuilding mode. Palmer is 0-2 in the playoffs, but he can take the team there. As long as Arizona’s offensive line doesn’t allow 58 sacks like it did in 2012 and as long as the defense can step up around Washington’s absence, the team will be fine. It’s unlikely that the Cardinals sneak into the playoffs, but a season with seven or eight wins isn’t unrealistic.

But if things go better than expected, the Cardinals could shock everyone by contending in the NFC West and making a strong playoff push.


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Tags: Arizona Cardinals Carson Palmer Daryl Washington Jonathan Cooper Larry Fitzgerald NFL

  • Ricky Bobby

    Arizona lost 4-5 games by less than 7 points because they had no QB or RB and a few more by 13-14 or less.. If the team has KK type QB play they are easily a 10 win team last year. Yes our schedule is tough but it is tough every year. Look at Palmer’s numbers last year. In 2011 he got off the couch played in like 7 games and still almost hit the 3k yard passing mark. He has thrown over 4k yards a season like 4-5 seasons in his career. Every season he has played he has put up playoff caliber QB #s, he is always on a shitty team. This year AZ will have all their starters back , I think massie stays at RT, Brown@ LT , Cooper@ LG Sendlein@C and Colledge, Potter, or Watford at RG. He will have a good line this year. Historically palmer doesn’t give up sacks, behind a horrid line in Oakland n 2012 he was 6th in the league in sacks per drop back, Palmer Will have the best receivers in the NFC west to throw to in Fitz, Floyd more than likely will have a break out year,Andre Roberts in the slot who on any other team would be a #1 or #2 WR, and our new slot guy Ryan Swope who ran the second fastest 40 time at the columbine, I think he definitely get snaps , he will be great for the cards. In BA’s vertical offense , which is very QB friendly, this combo of guys makes for a very lethal high scoring offense. Palmer will also have a Running game this year, to keep defenses off balance and guessing, and Keep the Chains Moving. Mendenhall healed all last year but before his 2011 injury , he ran 982 yards and 1000+ in 09,2010. He will have Mendenhall, A healthy Ryan Williams, and the two rookies who are very good Stephan Taylor and Andre Ellington. If Williams isn’t careful Taylor could take the #2 spot from him. This offense if they play to there potential , with this Defense behind them, the cardinals can very easily see a 10+ win season. Its being Predicted 3 teams from the NFC west make the playoffs I can definitely see the Cards taking a WC slot.

    • Baily Deeter

      I completely agree. Palmer is underrated and will thrive with Fitzgerald. With an improved line, RB group and a solid replacement for Washington, I think the Cardinals will at least be in the PO hunt. Thanks for commenting!

      • Nathan Kearns

        Living in the clouds…

        Palmer is underrated, but not that underrated… maybe a fringe Top 15 quarterbacks that can put up big stats playing against defenses laying back in “prevent” or a soft zone nursing their team’s lead.

        There was little to no improvement on one of the worst offensive lines in NFL history. Jonathan Cooper cannot play all five positions at once. As long as Bobby Massie has a starting spot on the offensive line, the Cardinals offense will not succeed.

        There is a reason Rashard Mendenhall was overtaken in the depth chart in Pittsburgh by nobodies and then “let go” at the end of the season. Fumbles and injuries, same ol’ thing Arizona has had forever. Even is he was an upgrade, still the worst run blocking offensive line in the NFL, returning mostly the same players.

        Still do not have a cornerback opposite Peterson and are going to play Matheui (an undersized cornerback known for big plays but also for his inability to cover) at safety. Plus, no depth on the defensive line, and no real upgrades at outside linebacker…

        Yes, you are still in rebuild mode. Wipe those playoff hopes away…

        • Baily Deeter

          Playoffs aren’t likely, but it’s possible. Their line is much better, the running game has improved and the Cardinals have a QB. The last time they had that, they went to the 2nd round and SB 43. The defense is already fine, and Dansby and Minter will do a fine job replacing Washington.

          • Nathan Kearns

            Again, you say the line in better and the running game has improved but there is nothing really to support that at this point. Yes, Jonathan Cooper is a massive improvement on the interior, but the real weakness on the line last season was the bookends, which gave up more combined sacks than any OT pair in the last decade.

            No problem with the defensive line or the linebackers, but there is currently no viable replacement for Wilson on the roster, and no upgrade at the other corner spot, opposite Peterson.

            Weakness in the secondary, no run game (unless Mendenhall somehow comes too his own behind one of the worst running blocking offensive lines in the league), and a solid quarterback playing behind a line that likely will not be able to edge rushers off is not a good look heading into the regular season.

            I do love the optimism though! And while I am a loyal, card carrying member of Rams Nation, I cannot help but hope the Cardinals play well this season… preferably in Week 6, 7, 16, and 17!

          • Ricky Bobby

            Again you need to read my Above comment on your first hack job post, again for a writer your a MORON. No Viable replacement for Washington? they just signed Dansby who is very strong at ILB n can play the outside as well. There is no evidence at this point we wont have Washington come week 5. They cardinals also have Brinkley who is a very strong run blocker,perfect 3rd down ILB, and vet Walker as well as the 2nd rd Minter who is very Promising. At Cornerback they are absolutely stacked , PP is one of the best CB’s in the NFL, Power, Cason, arenas, flemming, and Mathieu who is very accomplished a Heisman finalist and among other great achievements will play corner as well as FS.
            The Cards Running game will be light years ahead of stl’s in 2013, every expert has the rams 4th in the division in the run. Mendenhall, Williams is back the two rookies Taylor set school records at Stanford and in the PAC12 as well as ellington at Clemson. Bobby massie at RT gave up zero sacks after week 9, in fact in 9-17wks the OL ranked 13th in the NFL. Levi Brown is a above average LT he will be back, He is a beast in the run blockin game as well as cooper both on the Left side. They signed Watford who will likely start at some point, between potter, Colledge and Watford the best one starts RG, our OL will be much improved.
            The Cardinals are all around better than the Rams on Offense, WR’s typically don’t put up great numbers till YR 2-3, the Rams are counting heavily on Austin and Bailey everyone else is a Scrub. Bradford has 1 season he hit a 60% comp rating, never put up playoff caliber #s, Palmer has done more with a lot the past 3 years than Bradford. Puts up Playoff caliber #’s every year he plays, Always over a 85 passer rating and 60% comp, Career stats better than smith and eli mannings, 62.5 comp rating, almost 30k passing yards, 190tds-130ints and 86.3 passer rating, and he will have the most talented WR group he has ever had (Bradfords carrer comp % is like 58%and a passer rtg of 81) with Fitzgerald, 2011 1st rd pick M. Floyd, Andre Roberts who is a very explosive slot receiver, the new rook Swope who ran the second fastest 40 time of 4.3 , bigger faster version of Welker, Very accomplished WR at A&M will definitely get snaps in the slot, All of this in BA’s ( last years head coach of the year who turned the less talented colts around) Vertical Offense, that is very QB friendly, with a run game to keep pressure off palmer n D”s guessing, and last years 12th best D n the NFL n 5th in Pass D, That did nothing but get stronger in FA and the Draft. With this year Explosive offense they will definitely contend. Your not gonna be happy week 1 and all your talk will quickly silence how are those facts for you??? The Cards were better than the rams last year, They lost like 4-5 games by less than 7 because they had no QB,noRB other wise they are a easy 10 win squad. You need to look at AZ’s roster and check facts , your the worst wanna-be rams sports writer ive come across. Whens the last time the rams were n the post season?? How Many NFC championships and Divisions have the Cardinals won Compared to the rams n the last 5 years?? Exactly!!! Cards will stomp the rams both games watch

          • Nathan Kearns

            Was I replying to your post? No I wasn’t…

            Go b*tch to someone else, I am not going to read through another one of your whiney books (i.e. comments)

          • Ricky Bobby

            Everytime someone call’s your punk ass out and makes you look like the idiot you are with FACTS , that’s all you can u say is ” o im not going to read your long comment” because you have already read it and you can’t dispute facts, your a little punk that doesn’t know how to fact check before you open your mouth.

          • Nathan Kearns

            I actually took the time to translate your entire, barely-legible argument in my rankings, and posted a reply to each and every point… still waiting to hear back, princess

        • Ricky Bobby

          For a Writer on Here you are a Complete Moron, Literally one of the Dumbest I’ve Come Across. At Corner Back off the top of my head, The Cardinals Have Powers, Cason, PP, Arenas im sure the Honey badger will Play corner as well a FS the Kid is a Huge Play Maker. No Depth at Line Backer? Off the top again Big Dan Williams, Darnell Docket, Calais Campell at ILB Washington, Dansby , Minter our 2nd rounder this year, Brinkley and Welker, Dansby can play outside as well, at OLB Acho and Schofield, Lorenzo Alexander , New Draftee Okafor, Shaunessy and Rucker , You need to look at their roster before you open your mouth there D is stacked this year , there is a reason they were 12th in the NFL last year and 5th in Pass D.
          On there OL they had 4 out of 5 guys gone , you run your mouth about Massie, why don’t u do some research, after week 9 Massie didn’t give up a Single sack at RT, after week 9 the Line gave up 19 sacks and ranked 13th in the League. They Went and got the best LG to come outta the draft in 20+ Years who has Multiple Pro-Bowl potential in J. Cooper. They got Watford in the 4th. Levi Brown will be back he is a beast at Run Blocking and Above Average in Pass Protection. It will most Likely Be Brown@LT Cooper@LG Sendlein@C and Massie@RT. College, Nate Potter and this years 4th rounder Watford competing for RG. That is a Devastating RB line and Above Average in Pass Protection. Add n the Fact Palmer Played behind a HORRID line in Oak, Worse than AZ’s in the second half of the YR, Still he ranked 6th in the League in Sack Per drop back because he gets rid of the ball very quickly and reads Ds as good as any QB which ill help the OL greatly, there Line will be fine.
          At RB you Act like Mendenhall is the only guy. Compared to the Cards Run Game the rams is Pittiful this year. Mendenhall Didn’t play last year because he was healing his knee, still he was on his way to his 3rd 1K+ yard season in 2011 with 982 then he was injured , he will be back 100%. He is also a great pass blocker. The Cards have Ryan William back 100% who is a very promising rookie, he suffered a season ending injury last year. The Cars also Drafted Stephan Taylor who can very easily be there #2 and Andre Ellington, both of these guys have set school and conference records , and are great pass blockers.
          What was the other stupid a** comment that came outta your mouth , o ya about Palmer. You Act is if that was the first 4k yard season Palmer has had , he has multiple 4k yard seasons and a lot of 3900k yard seasons. Palmer came into the season mid year in 2011 into a offensive system that didn’t fit his skill set and still won games for them throwing almost 3k yards in 7 games, if there Defense had held up there end they would of been in the playoffs. IN 2012 he had no WR’s , guys running routes wrong and dropping balls and still put up great numbers. Every year he has played he has put up Playoff caliber #s , His career stats a completion % of 62.5 , almost 30kpassing yards, 86.2 passer rating , and 190-tds-130ints,playoff caliber. Sam Bradford career stats are pitiful , Palmer has done more with less than Bradford has the past 3yrs. Bradford has ONE SEASON he hit 60.0% completion rating, his career is like 58.0% with a 81 passer rating. You add in the fact WRs typically don’t put up good #s for 2-3 years , and the rams our in for A LONG YEAR. Palmer has Fitzgerald who can catch anything in his vicinity, a 20111st round pick set for a huge year in M. Floyd, a explosive slot receiver in Andre Roberts who on any other team would be a #1 o # 2 WR, and Ryan Swope who was awesome at texas A&M, the Burner WR hc ba wanted, ran the second fastest 40 at the combine,and TE housler who has Great Hands.
          All of that in Last Years HC of the year , New HC Bruce Arians vertical offense that fits palmer and ours WRs to a T. Add in the cards have a stacked runnin game as well , and they will have a explosive offense, they lost 5 games last year by 7or less because they had no QB or RB or they are easily a 10 win squad last year. they have remedied that. This Year there D has done nothing but get stronger, and they have a offense to match it. What was the rams record in 2011 by the way before last year ?? o ya 2-14, in 2010 when the rams went 7-9?? the cards were 8-8. How many NFC championships have the Rams won the last 5 Years 0. The Cards 1. The cards have won the division 2 times the last 5 years. Rams? 0!!!! The Cardinals have a way better offense than the rams this year, a way better group of WR’s the best in the west in fact n and a Better run game by far thanSTL has. One D the Cardinals are on Par, n 2013 the division is gonna be realigned and your going back to the cellar where u belong. Next time u open your mouth about a team check your facts first dumb ass