Sep 15, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; The Arizona Cardinals defensive line squares off against the Detroit Lions offense during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
A quarter of the Cardinals 2013 season is complete. The Cardinals are 2-2. and there is plenty to be happy about, but also plenty to complain about. After narrowly losing a good-looking battle against the Rams, being dominated by the Saints, and two surprising and lucky comeback victories against the Lions and Buccaneers, there’s a lot to talk about with the Cards. Here’s the major things to note from the Cardinals at the quarter mark
Note #1: The offense has improved, but needs to do more
The Cardinals offense was a joke in 2012, so an overhaul was required before 2013. The Cardinals traded for Carson Palmer to take the reins at quarterback, signed free agent Rashard Mendenhall to stabilize the ground game, and hired an offensive minded coach in Bruce Arians to run things. With star receiver Larry Fitzgerald grabbing three touchdowns in four games(after having four in all sixteen games last season) and the offense being able to drive down the field and pick up points when it matters, the current group is a clear improvement. However, there is more work to be done. The Cardinals have been downright awful on third down conversions, and Carson Palmer has thrown four touchdowns and six interceptions. Rahsard Mendenhall has also not been consistently effective. The Cardinals offense is far better than it was, but it needs to do more in order to win tough games.
Notes #2: Todd Bowles can be great or terrible
After Ray Horton was fired as defensive coordinator, former Eagles interim DC Todd Bowles was given the job of managing the talents unit in Arizona. With stars like Patrick Peterson, Darnell Dockett, and soon Daryl Washington, the Cardinals defense gives any coordinator the personnel needed to get things done. On some days, Bowles has done just that. In the Cards most recent win over the Bucs, Bowles cleverly exploited the opposing quarterbacks lack of experience. He brought pressure when rookie QB Mike Glennon needed to step up most. This led to an interception that translated into the Cardinals tying the game. On other days, Bowles seems to make terrible decisions. In a blowout loss to the Saints, Saints TE Jimmy Graham tore the Cardinals defense apart. Part of this was due to the fact that for much of the game, Cards safety Yeremiah Bell was covering Graham one-on-one. That would be a hard task for anyone, and Graham exploited the lack of attention by catching two touchdown passes. Bowles can come with great ways to turn the defense into a powerful force, but he doesn’t always seem to make the best decisions
Note #3: Catching the injury bug
The Cardinals have been hit hard with injuries so far. In preseason, the Cardinals first round draft pick in 2013, G Jonathan Cooper , who was supposed to help stabilize the weak offensive line, broke his leg and was put on Injured Reserve. Against the Saints, the Cardinals lost both starting outside linebackers, Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho, for the season. Rookie Alex Okafor was slated to be starting in their place, but a few days later, he tore his bicep and was lost too. Larry Fitzgerald has also had a nagging hamstring issue, but he hasn’t missed any time aside from stepping out for the second half of the game against Detroit. Injuries can really hurt a team, but in the first week without many of their linebackers, the group that remained was very effective. The return of Daryl Washington should help stabilize the situation, but let’s hope no other key players are lost.
Note #4: The risk-reward rookie is leaning to the reward side
When the Cardinals picked Tyrann Mathieu, it took some people by surprise. He was a playmaker at LSU, but did not play any football in 2012, after being dismissed from the LSU team from substance problems. He was a risky pick, but from day one at training camp, his dynamic ability and impressive instincts made him look like a potential steal. So far, he has shown that he still has the skills to make a fine player in the NFL. He has 29 tackles, including a game-sealing one against Detroit. In his first game, he miraculously forced a fumble right before Rams TE Jared Cook scored, and intercepted a pass by Drew Brees in the endzone. He has been all over the field, and seems committed to showing that he has turned his life around. If he keeps on the track he has been, he will be an excellent player in the league.