The Arizona Cardinals will compete for a playoff spot in 2013. Their offseason has been a breath of fresh air for Cardinal fans. The excitement really picked up when they acquired Carson Palmer for next to nothing. Without a franchise quarterback prospect staring you dead in the eye, the Cardinals, I believe, made the most impactful QB move of anyone. Yes, you heard me right. I know I am making bold statements, but at least May is the time to make these statements.
Let’s start with the offense. Carson Palmer will fling it for the Redbirds behind the seventh overall pick, Jonathan Cooper. Cooper will naturally slide right into the left guard spot next to Levi Brown. Daryn Colledge will be at right guard and Bobby Massie at right tackle. Massie improved exponentially over the final eight games of 2012. Some say that had he played that well in every game last year, he would have been considered a top-five right tackle in the entire league. The line should be improved overall and without any injuries be stable for Carson Palmer and the revamped Cardinals running back position.
That brings us to Rashard Mendenhall, a very successful NFL running back. He has the championship pedigree and he has done it before. More importantly he has done it before with head coach Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh, so there is familiarity there. Other backs like Stepfan Taylor, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington will be play key roles and provide a significant impact to the Cardinals backfield.
The wide receiver corps is largely unchanged and spearheaded by all-everything Larry Fitzgerald. I think Fitzgerald is going to have a breakout year (if that’s possible for him). Maybe a resurgent year is more fair to say. Fitzgerald is admittedly coming off the worst year of his career.
In my eyes, it is eerily similar to Reggie Wayne’s worst year of his career back in 2011. After that year, he bounced back under Arians with a rookie QB. Coach Arians knows it is important to get his playmakers the ball, and if he could do it with Wayne, a rookie quarterback and no run game, he will be able to do it with Palmer, Fitzgerald, and a much more talented slew of running backs. Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and rookie Ryan Swope should also make large impacts in their first year under Arians, as he likes to take shots downfield.
The Cardinals offense and mainly their run game should be much improved. After all, there is only one way to go when you are in the basement. I see a possible top 15 offense here talent wise.
The lone bright spot for the Cardinals in 2012 was their defense and even that has a new coach. The defense was strong all year. No one can blame them when consistent losing finally became too much and a few games ended up getting away. The horrendous offense and their mounting turnovers ultimately wore down a defense that always seemed to be on the field.
The secondary is completely revamped. Gone are Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. The only experienced returning players are Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson. A new but young slew of veteran CBs like Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas have been brought in as well.
NFL safety veterans like Yeremiah Bell, Jonathon Amaya and Curtis Taylor along with a crop of rookies headlined by Tyrann Mathieu will compete for playing time at the safety position. Mathieu is sure to make the most impact immediately of all rookies whether it is at safety or cornerback (in nickel packages).
The Cardinals defensive front seven remains strong anchored by Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. The linebacker core was shored up with Kevin Minter, a second-round pick out of LSU and the genius signing/reuniting of Karlos Dansby to the Cardinals.
Do not get me wrong, it will hurt losing Daryl Washington for at least the first four games of 2013, but Dansby will step right in and provide leadership to the young guys. Oh, and Dansby can still play. Last year he surpassed 100 solo tackles for the first time in his career.
Dansby will mitigate the loss of Washington. Book it.
The question mark to me for the defense is coaching. I am not sure what to expect from new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The rumor that Darnell Dockett will be used the way he should be sounds promising. The pressure is on Bowles, though. Everyone knows this defense is talented enough to win a championship. If the defense takes a huge step back, the Washington excuse will dwindle away and it will rest squarely on Bowles shoulders.
Of course injuries dictate everything in the NFL. What happens to this division if Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch is sidelined for any amount of time? Will DCs catch up to Kaepernick or Wilson’s games? Tides in the NFL can shift at any snap due to injury. I do not believe the Cardinals are that far away and I will say again, the Arizona Cardinals will compete for a playoff spot in 2013.
Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have been aggressive, but not reckless. They have addressed glaring needs and subtle needs that popped up along the way. I love everything they have done. Their offseason grade is easy; A+.