The Cardinals obviously felt they were a quarterback away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender because they spent a 2nd round pick and a starting cornerback to get Kevin Kolb. However, Kevin Kolb is not Kurt Warner and their supporting cast is not the supporting cast it was in 2009 when they won the division and made the playoffs.
Kevin Kolb has had average stats in Philadelphia in his career and is just a former 2nd round pick from 4 years ago. Andy Reid has made many quarterbacks look better than they were before (Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, AJ Feeley). However, he’s still a huge upgrade over Derek Anderson/Max Hall/John Skelton and they somehow won 5 games with those quarterbacks.
That doesn’t mean they can’t win the division. In case you haven’t noticed, this division isn’t very good. They have the 2nd best quarterback in the division and a much easier schedule than Sam Bradford and the Rams. They play four playoff teams from 2010, Seattle, a “playoff team” twice, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. They also have games against the Giants, the Cowboys, and two against the Rams that could be hard, but this is the easiest schedule in the league and if they can win 5 games, albeit with a point differential of minus 145, 2nd worst behind Carolina, last year with that terrible trio at quarterback, they can certainly win 8 games this year.
Kolb’s #1 receiver is Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was the one who specifically requested the Cardinals bring in Kevin Kolb. That’s why the Eagles got so much for him. They knew Fitzgerald wanted him and could leave in a year without the possibility that the Cardinals could slap him with the franchise tag. They had the Cardinals by the balls.
Fitzgerald has been working out with Kolb all offseason and the two are very good friends. That continuity will help them coming out of a lockout. Fitzgerald seems primed to have a bounce back season after a “down” year of 90 catches for 1137 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2010. Opposite him, 2010 3rd round pick Andre Roberts and 2008 3rd round pick Early Doucet will battle for the starting job with Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston gone (technically Boldin was gone last offseason, but this just shows how they’ve lost wide receiver depth in the last 2 years). The loser of that competition will line up in the slot. Roberts seems to have the upper hand right now over Doucet, who has disappointed in 3 seasons in the league. Roberts had 5 catches for 110 yards and a score week 16 last season.
The Cardinals have not had good pass catching tight ends over the years. However, they signed Todd Heap, a declining, but still decent player in the offseason. Heap will be a solid stopgap for Rob Housler, a rookie 3rd round pick who will come in on 2 tight end sets. Both will have an impact this season and the Cardinals envision Housler like the Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez.
The Cardinals quarterbacks took 50 sacks last season. In 2009, Kurt Warner took 24 sacks. Given that, it remains to be seen if the reason behind the 50 sacks allowed in 2010 was poor offensive line play or simply just poor quarterback play. One thing is for sure. Levi Brown sucks. He allowed 10 sacks and 50 quarterback pressures in 2010, but he also allowed 9 sacks in 2009, and committed 11 penalties. In 2008, he allowed 11 sacks and committed 8 penalties. I don’t know why Ken Whisenhunt continues to defend Brown. Brown will once again line up on the left side and “protect” Kevin Kolb’s blindside.
On the right side, Brandon Keith is a mediocre player who allowed 6 sacks in 2010, his first year as a starter. He was still an upgrade over Mike Gandy, their right tackle in 2009 who allowed 9 sacks and committed 8 penalties. Incumbent left guard Alan Faneca retired. They signed Daryn Colledge to replace him. He was a mediocre guard for the Packers last season and won’t be much better next season.
Deuce Lutui was their right guard last year (and according to Derek Anderson, he was quite the jokester). He signed a 2 year deal with the Bengals, but failed a physical when he showed up at 381 pounds. He then resigned with the Cardinals. Looks like someone didn’t stay in shape during the lockout. He’ll have to earn his starting job back from Pork Chop Womack, who isn’t very good. Center Lyle Sendlein has outgrown his days of frequently stepping on Kurt Warner’s foot and botching snaps. He’s now, somehow, their best offensive lineman.
The Cardinals spent a 2nd round pick on Ryan Williams just 2 years after spending a first round pick on Chris Wells. Wells has dealt with injury problems in his 2 seasons in the league. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie and showed promise, but that number dropped to 3.4 yards per carry in 2010. A lot of that has to do with how bad their quarterback situation was.
Wells had all but been assured the lead back job even with Williams coming in and that was before Williams went down with a season ending injury. Tim Hightower was recently traded to Washington for a late pick and a veteran defensive lineman, so Wells is all they really have at the position. LaRod Stephens-Howling figures to be the #2 back, coming in on clear passing downs, unless they can find someone in free agency. Either way, Wells figures to get a lion’s share of the load.
With a better quarterback, it’s very possible Wells could have a very good season. Joseph Addai had a big season after the Colts selected Donald Brown in the first round. DeAngelo Williams had a big season after the Panthers selected Jonathan Stewart in the first round. Thomas Jones had a big season after the Bears selected Cedric Benson. The Williams selection could have been the motivation he needed to get his career back on track.
Quite possibly the biggest difference between the supporting cast of the 2009 Cardinals and the 2011 Cardinals is the rush linebackers. They had 43 sacks in 2009, but 33 sacks in 2010. Their starting rush linebackers are Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are 34 years old and on their last legs. They drafted Sam Acho in the 4th round this year, a steal, and they drafted O’Brien Schofield in the 4th last year. Schofield only fell because he was hurt. He’s healthy now and the organization is high on him. Acho, however, won’t have a huge impact as a rookie because of the lockout. Acho and Schofield are the rush linebackers of the future, but as for the present, their pass rush won’t be great.
Given that, it’s very possible that Calais Campbell, who led the team in sacks last year with 6, could lead the team in sacks once again this season. Campbell is not just a great pass rusher. The talented 3-4 defensive end is also a stud against the run. He plays alongside former Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett and 2010 1st round pick Dan Williams. Dockett had 5 sacks last season, but Williams is reportedly out of shape. He’s still a starter, but he might not have the breakout 2nd season that everyone was predicting from him because he’s out of shape. He was called a “disappointment” by his coaching staff. If he struggles, he could even be benched for Nick Eason, a mediocre nose tackle and career backup.
At middle linebacker, Daryl Washington, a 2nd round pick in 2010, looks poised for a breakout year. At the very least, he should have more of an impact than he had last year. He wasn’t bad or anything. In fact, he was far from that. He was very good, but he wasn’t a starter until late in the season. Next to him, free agent acquisition Stewart Bradley should be an upgrade over Paris Lenon. However, Bradley has missed 20 games in the last 2 seasons. If he misses any games this season, the very mediocre Paris Lenon would step in again.
The Cardinals drafted Patrick Peterson 5th overall in April’s draft. He’ll be hurt by the lockout and cornerbacks tend to struggle as rookies anyway, but he’s so talented that that might not matter. He is my pick for defensive rookie of the year. I was intrigued to see Peterson and Dominique Rodgers Cromatie play opposite each other.
DRC struggled last season, but he was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and he’s still just 25. He could have easily had a bounce back year with a more talented cornerback opposite him, with a little bit better of a pass rush in front of him, and a better overall team. He lacked motivation last season on a terrible 5-11 team. Assuming this team was in contention this year, he probably would have tried much harder and had a great season. However, the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia in the Kolb deal. I think they gave up on him too soon.
To replace DRC, the Cardinals signed Richard Marshall in free agency. Marshall had a down year last year, allowing 75.3% completions and 4 touchdowns to 3 interceptions on an overall terrible team in Carolina, but he’s been better in the past. He should be a capable #2 opposite Peterson. He’ll definitely be an upgrade over Greg Toler, their #2 cornerback last year.
At strong safety, Adrian Wilson is an above average player who will miss at least the start of the season with a torn bicep. The Cardinals are hoping that they can get him back at some point this season, but you never know with things like this. Starting in his place will be veteran journeyman Matt Ware, obviously a huge downgrade. Free safety Kerry Rhodes is a very overrated player. There’s a reason the Cardinals were able to get him for so cheap last offseason from the Jets, who didn’t appear to miss him. He was solid in coverage, but terrible against the run, totaling the 2nd most missed tackles in the league last year with 14.
The Cardinals might not be the best team in the NFC West, but that might not matter given their ridiculous easy schedule. They have enough talent to blow through that easy schedule at 9-7 or 10-6 and I think that wins this division. This division won’t be as bad as it was last year when Seattle won it with 7, but I think the only competition for the division title that Arizona has is St. Louis, who has a much tougher schedule.
Running backs: C
Offensive line: D
Receiving corps: B-
Run defense: B
Pass rush: C-
Pass coverage: B-
Projection: 9-7 2nd in NFC West