Jun. 11, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA: Exterior view of University of Phoenix Stadium during Arizona Cardinals mini camp. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Cardinals a Top-15 Team?

This is a interesting question, considering that the Arizona Cardinals finished the 2012 NFL season with a win/loss record of 5-11. Cardinal fans will argue that the new regime, along with the additions of Carson Palmer, Jonathan Cooper, and other key additions is enough to make the Cardinals a sleeper for the playoffs; but is it enough?

On offense the Cardinals look much improved from 2012, it all starts with the coaching staff. Bruce Arians brings an aggressive approach to this offense that will be looking to run the ball and run play action off the run. The hiring of Tom Moore was a very good one, he brings decades of NFL coaching experience, as well as knowledge on pass protection and blitz pick up. The offensive line is also being coached by more than one coach, that includes Harold Goodwin who is serving as offensive coordinator.

On paper the Cardinals roster looks solid on the offensive side of the ball. The return of Levi Brown, the addition of Cooper, and the development of Bobby Massie could make the offensive line serviceable in 2013.

Obviously Carson Palmer is an upgrade over what that the Cardinals had at quarterback in 2012. Palmer appears to be a good fit in coach Arians’ offense and will be working with one of the more talented receiving core that he’s worked with in his career.

The running back position appears to have more depth than they had last year. Rashard Mendenhall at least brings some familiarity with Arians offense even if he isn’t the talent he once was. The return of Ryan Williams, as well as the additions of both Stefan Taylor and Andre Ellington bring young talent to the backfield.

At the receiver position the Cardinals are expecting Michael Floyd to break out and Larry Fitzgerald to return to being the dominate receiver we are use to. Andre Roberts will continue to be a solid contributor from the slot, and at tight end Rob Housler is expected to be a receiving threat.

Overall the offense looks good, it’s up to the players to make it happen.

The Cardinals offense looks poised for a break out season in 2013; but what about the defense, can they maintain the high level play that fans became use to under Ray Horton?

I really like what the Cardinals have on the defensive line and at inside linebacker. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett can play multiple positions on the defensive line and are also scheme versatile. Matt Shaughnessy was a great addition, and can play defensive end in a four man front as well as some outside linebacker when the Cardinals choose to play base 3-4.

The depth at inside linebacker is good even when Daryl Washington misses the first four games of the season. Once Washington returns to the field, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will have plenty of options as to what base scheme he prefers to play. Karlos Dansby has experince playing all three line backer positions behind a four man front and is familiar with some of Bowles’ schemes.

Jasper Brinkley and Kevin Minter will be the “thumpers” of the defense. Both players have experience playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense, which could be vital considering that we don’t really know what the Cardinals plan to do on defense.

Outside linebacker appears to be the biggest question mark on this side of the ball, there is no proven player at this position. Lorenzo Alexander was brought in free agency to create compition for young players Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield. Acho is still a developing player, but make no mistake, if both him and Schofield continue to struggle, the Cardinals will look for replacements.

Alex Okafor was solid draft selection, he could bring some much needed pressure off the edge for the Cardinals. I think the Cardinals realize Okafor’s strengths and will allow him to put his hand on the dirt as a sub-package rusher.

The secondary has one star player in Patrick Peterson, but also has more depth than in the past, especially at the slot cornerback position. Javier Arenas and rookie Tyrann Mathieu will be integral parts of the nickel defense that tries to defend the likes of the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Note: Here is a great article by football analyst Cian Fahey about how the Cardinals plan to counter their rivals off-season additions.

The safety position was remade this off-season and both Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell appear to be the starters at this point. This doesn’t mean that rookie safety/slot corner won’t push for playing time, I expect him to see the field plenty for the Cardinals in 2013.

This defense has talented players, but in reality it will come down to coaching and the ability to create pressure on the edge.

The Cardinals roster appears talented but still lacks some integral parts such as: a dominant pass rusher, depth at safety and tight end, as well a future franchise quarterback, which coincidentally has been haunting this team for some time.

I know the Cardinals talk about winning now, but there’s a reason they cleared cap room and moved on from aging players. There’s a reason they where conservative in free agency and smartly did not overspend. This team is building for the future, as they should and quite frankly this is something Cardinal fans should appreciate.

 

 

 

 

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