Arizona Cardinals: Can They Contend in 2013?


May 14, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) runs drills during organized team activities at the Cardinals Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Some people believe that Arizona Cardinals are on the verge of contending with their new roster. Others believe that nothing will be better for the Cardinals.

New head coach Bruce Arians uses a simple playbook that’s user-friendly, and when I hear that I think of is Denzel Washington as Coach Boone in the movie Remember the Titans when he says “I run six plays, split veer. It’s like Novocain, just give it time, it always works.” We all know the rest of that story.

So, maybe it won’t work out like that. But it’s worth noting that Arians went 9-3 with the young Indianapolis Colts after taking over midseason.

New general manager Steve Keim and the front office traded for quarterback Carson Palmer, who can still play and put up good numbers (he was 16th in passer rating in 2012 and averaged 8.39 yards per pass attempt in 2011). If Rashard Mendenhall, another free agent pickup, and Ryan Williams can stay healthy they should make a good one-two punch with Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor settling in.

The Cardinals have depth at running back, and it’s realistic to expect one of the players to break out and carry the ground game. With all of them competing for a roster spot, it’s only going to bring out the best in all of them.

We all know about the receiving corps, so I won’t waste any time talking about that area besides the addition of Ryan Swope, who could end up being a more athletic Brandon Stokley. Stokley was rated the best slot receiver in the NFL (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required), so if Swope can perform that well, he will help the Cardinals. Swope will join a receiving corps consisting of Andre Roberts and Larry Fitzgerald, who, despite horrific quarterback play, combined for 135 receptions and nine touchdowns in 2012.

When it comes to tight end, I know Bruce Arians wants two that can catch and block, so I’m not sure who the staff is going to keep on board. If Swope can work his way into the regular receiver rotation, the Cardinals will likely use just one tight end.

As for the offensive line, the Cardinals could sign Max Starks, move Levi Brown to right guard and Daryn Colledge to right guard (unless some can steal his roster spot. Lyle Sendlein would start at center, and Jonathan Cooper would start at left guard. If they can stay healthy that should be a nice line to open holes and keep Carson Palmer clean and up right. Plus, even with an injury, Bobby Massie could step in.

Now for the defense. In the box is Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, Calais Campbell, Sam Acho, Daryl Washington (not going to play the first month), Karlos Dansby, and O’Brien Schofield. As long as Washington doesn’t do any jail time, they should have good depth to keep everyone fresh. Arizona will likely run a 3-4 defense, which will allow Acho and Alex Okafor to start at outside linebacker and Dansby and Jasper Brinkley to start Week 1 at middle linebacker.

Alex Okafor is best as a 4-3 defensive end, but I expect defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to utilize his skillset by sending him on blitzes and not forcing him to play in pass coverage much. Acho is a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end, but he should be fine making the transition as well.

For the defensive backs, I’m sure Bruce Arians has a group of guys itching to prove their worth to secure playing time and make their mark on the NFL. Don’t be surprised if you see a no-name in the backfield at the beginning of the season, but also don’t be surprised if someone like Antoine Cason steps up and does a great job complementing Patrick Peterson.

With Patrick Peterson, who has returned four punts for 80 yards or more during his two-year career, special teams will be fine. It has always been good and can win games so there isn’t much Bruce Arians needs to do to make them great.

Now, can the Arizona Cardinals contend in 2013? I don’t see why not as long as they come together as a team and a “family.” The team has the talent, and things have been going well. As long as everyone does their job, there’s no reason not to believe in the Cardinals. Hey, the NFC West went from the worst division in the league to the strongest, so who’s to say Arizona can’t be good.

Just a few years ago, when Arizona was in the midst of its magical Super Bowl run, people said the Cardinals shouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Then, they went to the Super Bowl. This hints the saying, “Anything can happen on any given Sunday.” All the players have to do is believe.