In early March, the beginning of a new NFL league year, every team (upper management) will evaluate their club to identify team needs. As there are always obstacles to overcome in order to have success on the football field.
Every year always brings a new set of problems teams will need (or attempt) to address after their previous seasons disappointments. As you know, every year there are 31 disappointed teams that face obstacles in order to try to achieve their ultimate goal; to win the Lombardi Trophy.
For that matter, even if you were Super Bowl Champions from the previous season, there are still (always) a whole new set of problems or obstacles that teams will need to overcome in preparation for the upcoming season. Sometimes it is a loss of key players on your roster through free agency. Or perhaps it is glaring weaknesses that were exposed from last season’s disappointments and so on and so forth.
After last season’s disappointing 5-11 record for the Arizona Cardinals, (to me) it is extremely easy to identify the biggest obstacle that will need to be addressed (or overcome) this season.
If we were to take a look at the big picture, the easy answer would obviously be to win the NFC West. As it is now regarded to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Most pundits predict or believe the Cardinals will be cellar dwellers this upcoming season. After the last few seasons, it is not too difficult to see why they feel this way.
Therefore, perhaps the real question should be; what are the Biggest obstacles the Cardinals need to overcome, in order to win the NFC West?
In order to have a successful season and win their division, the Cardinals need not look any further than within. So here are four crucial and glaring obstacles the Redbirds must achieve to win the NFC West.
The first obstacle the Cardinals must overcome is team chemistry. After a huge makeover with a new GM in place, a new head coach (and staff) as well as a slew of new players on their roster, questions remain. How quickly can coaches install their new system and gain chemistry with the players on their roster?
With a new offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator in place, it usually takes time for players to grasp the new system in place. It also takes time for the coaching staff to find the strengths and weaknesses of the players on their roster and put them in the best position to be successful.
Even if the coaching staff are successful in achieving the goal of installing their new regime very quickly; will they have enough talent on the roster to win the NFC West?
The second obstacle the Cardinals will have to achieve in order to win the NFC West is a much-improved offensive line.
Do the Redbirds have enough talent up front on the offensive line to finally have a solid running game and of course protect the quarterback? As Cardinal fans know, this has been a glaring issue for many years. In fact, it was an issue even when Kurt Warner was at the helm during their Super Bowl run (2008-2009).
Warner was able to mask the issue (offensive line) by his intellect and his quick release. However, the Cardinals cannot always rely on finding a (future) Hall of Fame quarterback to mask this issue on the offensive line.
Perhaps with the help of this year’s seventh pick (first round) in the draft Jonathan Cooper at left guard, along with the return of Levi Brown (injured last year) at left tackle, will really improve the line. Also, hopefully second year right tackle Robert Massie will continue the huge strides that he made in the second half of last season.
Without a much improved offensive line in this very physical division, the Redbirds will have no shot at capturing the NFC West. If last year was any indication of how good defenses will be in this division, then a much improved offensive line will be paramount. If their offensive line play is not much improved, there simply will be no chance to win this season.
The third obstacle the Cardinals must resolve in order to win their division is of course improved quarterback play. Bottom line, is Carson Palmer the answer? Will he be the QB that they so desperately need, to be able to compete in the west.
As we all know by now, the NFL has become a passing league. If the Cardinals do not have, at minimum, an above average QB, there is very little chance to compete in the west. The majority of time in today’s NFL, if you don’t have an elite quarterback, it is extremely difficult to consistently win in this league.
It remains to be seen if head coach Bruce Arians and staff can bring Carson Palmer to elite status; or at minimum above average. We shall see very soon.
The fourth and final obstacle the Cardinals will have to overcome in order to win the NFC West is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and the defense. Can Bowles’ install his defensive scheme (philosophy) successfully without losing the momentum the defense had gained in the last couple years under Ray Horton?
Under Horton and his 3-4 defense, the Redbirds made huge strides towards becoming one of the better defenses in the NFL. If the Redbirds take any steps back from the momentum gained in the last couple years under Horton, there will be no chance to win in the mighty NFC West.
There will be so many questions marks in the new defensive scheme under Bowles’. For instance, will his 3-4 schemes have the same success as Horton? Will we even recognize any similarities in the 3-4 defensive schemes that Bowles brings to the table that Horton had created? Will it even be a 3-4 scheme?
If the speculations are true from Cardinals camp (OTAs), then perhaps the Cardinals will initially continue with the 3-4. However, some of the verbiage tells me otherwise.
For instance, if they allow (mentioned during OTAs) Darnell Dockett to utilize his strengths, which will allow him to use his (first step) quickness to get to the quarterback instead of holding the point of attack (typical for a DE/DT in the 3-4 alignment). This tells me that they will perhaps mix in 4-3 schematic concepts at least some of the time, which is Bowles defensive philosophy. Bowles coaching background indicates that his schemes have been more towards the 4-3 alignment.
Finally, without great success in any one of these four obstacles, the Cardinals will have no chance of winning the NFC West this year. It will be very interesting to see how all this will play out, starting in the preseason and of course when the real season starts, September 8th.