Arizona Cardinals Even Record at 8-8 and Look Towards Next Year

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1) What can you say about Larry Fitzgerald that has not been said already.  He is the Cardinals team leader, and so far has made the Cardinals look very good in signing him to that huge long-term contract.  The final game was indicative of the kind of player he is.  Held to only 1 catch for 1 yard in the first half against the Seahawks, he took the game into his own hands and basically willed the Cardinals to a victory, ending up with 9 catches for 149 yards, including several critical catches down the stretch that kept scoring drives alive.

2) Beanie Wells established himself as one of the NFL’s best rushers, but he struggled to stay healthy.  Still, he gained over 1,000 yards this season, and it will be interesting to see how he does next year when paired with Ryan Williams to help him shoulder the rushing load.

3) For the first time in a long time, the Cardinals started the season with a Pro Bowl tight end (Todd Heap) and two other strong players at the position (Rob Housler and Jeff King).  Unfortunately, all of the tight ends combined to be on the injury list more than the active list, and the excitement of having these three players help out on blocking and on third and short situations never materialized the way it had been planned.

4) Darryl Washington and Calais Campbell emerged as the Cardinals two best defensive players.  The hope is that the Cardinals will lock up Campbell–a rare specimen who combines, speed, strength, and pass blocking ability–to a new contract.  I think he certainly earned it, as he led the team in sacks this year.  Washington seems to have a knack for being where the ball carrier is, and led the team in tackles.

5) Darnell Dockett didn’t have a huge number of sacks, but quietly made his presence felt on the defensive line.  And you would never have known that Adrian Wilson was playing with an injury, as he demonstrated the same intensity that he always has displayed and leveled some of the hardest hits on opponents this year than he has in his entire career.

6) The offensive line was absolutely miserable the first half of the season, but seemed to settle down in the second half of the year.  They did a much better job in protecting the quarterback and opening up holes for the running backs in the final nine games.  Still, this continues to be the Cardinals weak spot–and should be the Cardinals primary focus come draft time and free agent signing time.  My guess is Levi Brown may have played his final game as a Cardinal.

7) Patrick Peterson certainly was the Cardinals story of the year, and with his four punt returns for touchdowns earned a Pro Bowl appearance in his very first year in the league.  More important was his improvement as a cornerback.  It will be very interesting to see how Peterson plays against the NFL’s top receivers next year.  He will only get better as he gains more experience.

8) Three other rookies were very pleasant surprises this year.  Anthony Sherman did a marvelous job blocking for Beanie Wells and protecting the quarterback on play action passes.  David Carter showed flashed of brilliance when he got a chance to play.  And Sam Acho moved into the starting lineup midway into the season and played very well, registering seven sacks.  This past year’s draft as a whole might have been the Cardinals best draft ever, in terms of the number of players who have made an impact early.

9) Early Doucet stayed healthy all year, and caught some key passes, several for touchdown scores.  Unfortunately, he will be remembered for the one he did not catch against the Bengals, a potential game-tying score where he was wide open but tripped over his own feet.  Expect Doucet to be back next year, though, and continue to make an impact for the Cardinals.

10) LaRod Stephens-Howling didn’t return any kickoffs for touchdowns this year, but he is a player who does everything right.  His big moment in 2011 was a game winning touchdown score in overtime against the Cowboys.  And I love how he covers kickoffs and punt returns.

11) The Cardinals secondary picked off only 10 passes this year, compared to the 23 interceptions thrown by Cardinals quarterbacks.  Part of the reason was Kerry Rhodes being injured a majority of the year. However, this is a ratio that neds to improve next year.

12) Kevin Kolb will be the Cardinals starting quarterback next year…make no mistake about it.  But if he doesn’t perform at a high level, the Cardinals may decide to write off their investment and cut their losses.  Would John Skelton then become the Cardinals quarterback of the future?  Maybe.  However, as admirably as he has performed as a replacement, Skelton still has not proven that he has the capability to play four solid quarters and avoid making costly and silly mistakes.  Time will tell as what will happen at quarterback, but with an improved offensive line and a healthy Kolb, I still see the potential for this offense to be among the elite, given all of the other weapons (Fitzgerald, Wells, etc.) they have in the offensive arsenal.