Offense is something the Arizona Cardinals did not possess in 2012. The lack of production forced owner Michael Bidwill to completely overhaul the coaching staff and front office. With a vacant general manager position that needed to be filled fast Bidwill elected to promote vice president of player personnel, Steve Keim, to the position.
Keim had been with the team for 14 years and worked his way up the ranks. As the new general manager for a losing team, Keim’s first task was to pick a head coach. It was apparent to him after the woeful 2012 season, the team needed to head in a new offensive direction with new leadership.
Opportunity presented itself in the form of Bruce Arians. Never has a coach won the coach of the year award, as Arians did with the Indianapolis Colts, and been available for hire the next league year. But with Chuck Pagano, the Colts head coach, fully recovered from cancer the Colts were thankful and happy to retain him as head coach, making Arians free to interview for head coaching vacancies.
The Cardinals had the worst quarterback production in the league in 2012 and desperately needed a coach who had experience developing quarterbacks. Arians, known for his offensive prowess, seemed the perfect fit for the Cardinals. Listing the successful development of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and, Andrew Luck on his resume, Arians dazzled in the interview.
With the new coach in charge Keim’s next task was to make changes to the roster. At first it seemed as if players were dropping off the team like flies. The team’s two leading rushers Beenie Wells, and, Larod Stephens-Howling were not asked to return. The team’s two quarterbacks atop the depth chart Kevin Kolb, and, John Skelton were also released from the team.
Thankfully the Cardinals still had some talent on the offensive side of the ball and did not need to start over completely from scratch. With that talent and some extra salary cap space from the departed players Arians, and Keim, had flexibility to build a solid offensive group without neglecting the needs on the defensive side of the ball.
On paper the additions that the organization has brought in to help the offense do nothing more than provide cautious optimism for the 2013 season. The key addition was Carson Palmer, who gives the Cardinals their first tested quarterback since the retirement of the great Kurt Warner. But, the Cardinals were missing a lot more than that one position on offense in 2012.
Anybody who saw a Cardinals game last season knows the offensive line was absolutely atrocious. The main concern for the team should be up front at the tackle and guard positions. They have made it impossible for any quarterback or running back to succeed the past few years.
Fans are so desperate for a good offensive line they are ecstatic to see the return of Levi Brown, the team’s left tackle who was hurt all of last season. Levi Brown in the past has been hailed as one of the biggest draft busts in the team’s history. The Cardinals are in dire need for Brown to gain form and become a dependable left tackle.
The two other tackles returning to the team this season have potential. Last season as rookies, Bobby Massie, and Nate Potter were the lone bright spots on the offensive line while preforming above their expectations set by their late round selections in the 2012 NFL draft. However, they both failed to consistently produce at a starter’s caliber and lack the experience for most teams to feel comfortable with as starters.
With no tackles left worthy of the Cardinals’ first pick in the draft the team selected Jonathan Cooper out of North Carolina to be the team’s starting left guard. On the opposite side of the line, former left guard Daryn Colledge will return to start at a new position.
The Cooper pick was a great selection and should provide some stability on the line. But, Colledge has never performed at the level he did with the Green Bay Packers for the Cardinals. While with the Cardinals he has been over paid and was plagued by an injury last year. If Colledge can stay healthy and return to form, the guard position should turn out somewhat reliable.
By bringing in no new tackles through the draft or free agency, Keim, and Arians, have left the team vulnerable to opposing defenses and have not given Carson Palmer or their running backs a supporting cast to guarantee success. They are playing a high stakes game of poker and are all in, leaving many spectators non-believers in the direction of the team.
At running back the Cardinals have two injury ridden players in Rashard Mendenhall, and, Ryan Williams. The other two running backs on the team Stepfan Taylor, and, Andre Ellington have never touched the football in an NFL game. However, each running back has a good pedigree and fans can hope that the Cardinals will strike gold with one of the four.
The receiving corps for the Cardinals’ offense is the strongest of any unit for the team. Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, and, Ryan Swope all have the ability to help make the team a high octane, energizing offense. There is no liability in any of the top four receivers which will go a long way in improving the team.
While the Cardinals may not have guarantees for success at any position on the field with the gamble the team has placed on the offensive line, the wild card at play for the team is head coach Bruce Arians. Last year he helped the Colts go from being the 30th ranked offense in 2011 to the 10th ranked offense in 2012. That colossal transformation is a pivotal reason Arians was named head coach.
Unfortunately for Arians the Cardinals play in the toughest division in football, the NFC West. Say goodbye to the four free wins against the horrendous Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans Mr. Arians and say hello to the ferocious mercenary defenses the Cardinals have to play six times every year.
The San Francisco 49ers defense puts more players on stretchers each season than paramedics do in a year. The Seattle Seahawks have a secondary that steal the ball like they are taking candy from a baby. The St. Louis Rams while in years past were considered the pit of the division are coming off of an up year and are never out of a game thanks to their defense.
Because of their schedule and lack of proven players at running back and offensive line it is hard to imagine the Cardinals finishing with a top ten offense. It is more likely the offense will finish in the twenty to fifteen league ranking, which would be a major success for Arians in his first year. With that production last year the Cardinals would have probably made the playoffs.
If Arians’ and Keim’s risks play out as they have been portraying them this off-season the Cardinals very well may be able to surprise everyone and become a top offense. Regardless, with Carson Palmer at the helm, and the new coaching staff, the Cardinals are better on offense than they were at any point last season.