2012 record: 5-11
Strengths: One of last season’s biggest liabilities for the Cardinals was the quarterback position. During the 2012 season they played four different quarterbacks and none of them saw more than seven games. Today Ryan Lindley is the only one that remains on the roster as the third string man under center. The new regime in the desert managed to make some moves this offseason and acquired veteran Carson Palmer. While he’s not Hall of Fame caliber, he is an average talent which is a major improvement over anything they had last season. When you pair an average quarterback with a star wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, a quality slot man like Andre Roberts, and an emerging tight end like Rob Housler, you can end up with a pretty good passing game.
On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Patrick Peterson is someone you absolutely must plan for. He is truly an all-around threat to opponents. This past season alone the second year man had sixteen blocked passes (five more than any other defender) and seven of the team’s twenty-two interceptions. He also has four career punt returns for a touchdown.
Weaknesses: In 2012, Arizona finished dead last in the league when it came to their ground game. While they did acquire four new running backs this off-season, there has been little to no change in the quality at the position. The only truly recognizable name on the list is Rashard Mendenhall. While he does have talent he has also proven to have durability issues. Since joining the league in 2008 Mendenhall has suffered both a broken shoulder and a torn ACL. He was suspended for one game at the end of the 2012 season by the Pittsburgh Steelers for failing to show up for a game where he had been deactivated due to inconsistent play. He also has 11 career fumbles.
Another big issue for the Cards is the offensive and defensive lines. Despite having significant issues along both lines very little was done to fix either. While they did use their first-round pick on offensive guard Jonathan Cooper as well as bringing in Eric Winston from Kansas City, the rest of starting linemen on both sides of the ball are holdovers from last season. Projected starting center Lyle Sendlein is coming off a torn MCL and right guard Daryn Colledge will be transitioning into the position following a career spent at left guard, while the starting left tackle position belongs last-year’s would-be starter Levi Brown who is coming off of a torn tricep. Now with Cooper out for the year with a broken leg, Arizona is settling for free agent acquisition Paul Fanaika. With only three games worth of experience in four seasons, Fanaika has no starting experience. As for the defensive line, all three primary starters from last season will be returning despite being the front line of the fifth worst run defense in the league.
As for their pass defense, the safeties seem to be the weak link. This year’s starters are Yeremiah Bell and Rashad Johnson. Bell is a veteran who spent the first eight years in Miami before spending last season with the Jets. His production has been on a steady decline since peaking in the 2008 season. Johnson has done little with his four years in the league with only three interceptions in that time. He also tied his lowest tackle total of his career this past season and posted only two passes defended.
Keys to the game: Shut down the run game early and force them to pass. Keep constant pressure on the left side of the offensive line (the weaker side) to pick up sacks later on. Focus the pass coverage on Fitzgerald and Roberts in particular. Give their defense a heavy dose of the run, especially to the right side of the defensive line (Darnell Dockett’s production is in decline). Once they get drawn into the run, go with the pass over the middle.