Bruce Arians suffered his first losing record as head coach in Arizona last season. His 7-8-1 return was by no means a reflection of the talent at his disposal, especially given that the Cardinals made it to the NFC Championship game the previous year. Heading in to the new campaign, there is a very real sense that this Cards team are drinking in the ‘last chance saloon’ with regards to making a run at the Superbowl. They have plenty young talent on their roster, sure, but quarterback Carlson Palmer is about to begin his 17th season in pro football and star receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a 14 year veteran who flirted with retirement in the off season. With the shelf life of this talismanic pair fast approaching their expiry date, it may be a while before we see Arizona at the pointy end of things again after this year.
They came out on the wrong side of too many close games in 2016. In fact, were it not for the Chargers astonishing ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory last year (it seemed that every other week they could find a new and exciting way to lose), then more would have been made of Arizona’s poor showing in even contests going in to the fourth quarter. However, when you have a shrewd operator in Arians at the helm, the mistakes of last season are rectifiable. It helps to have the Rams and 49ers as division rivals, too.
They may have lost key personnel to free agency (particularly on defense) in the summer hiatus, but expect a much better showing from Arizona in 2017.
Carson Palmer may be an old warhorse but he is still very much a serviceable QB in this league… at least he is when he gets suitable protection. Palmer was let down by an Offensive line who underperformed last year, exposing his lack of mobility under pressure. If he is to extend his pro career he needs to be given the opportunity more effective in the pocket. Too many balls were thrown in tight and unfavourable circumstances. Tackles D J Humphries and Jared Veldheer have switched sides in the off season. The form of Humphries and centre A Q Shipley will go a long way to determining how while this line perform in 2017. There are more question marks over this group than Offensive Coordinator Harold Goodwin is comfortable with.
Palmer replaced Hall of Famer Kurt Warner to continue a vertical offense. The arms strength is still there to deliver the ball deep. However, with superstar RB David Johnson who can play slot as well as he pounds on the ground at their disposal, the Cards have a varied attack. Johnson has 32 TDs in his first 32 games in the NFL (24 rushing, 8 receiving). With him in the backfield, Arizona have a potential all-time great who can impact on any and every game. Backing him up is veteran former first round pick, Chris Johnson. CJ has been plagued with injuries recently, but is now healthy. A potential starter in his own right, he has prolonged his stay in Phoenix as more two-back sets are expected in the coming season.
At wide out, Larry Fitzgerald still has 100 catch a season capability. However more reliability from a talented, but inconsistent supporting cast is a must if they plan to go deep into the post season this time round. John Brown, the most credible no2 option is struggling with a quad injury and was side lined last season with a sickle cell illness. His lack of reps is a concern. Jaron Brown (they love a namesake in these parts) has performed well in camp but he and J.J. Nelson are under pressure to perform to the exacting standards of their Head Coach.
When it comes to Tight Ends, Arizona are in a time warp. The position is still primarily untilised as a blocker. Jermain Gresham averaged over 50 grabs and nearly 550 yards a season. In two years playing in Phoenix they have managed to cut those stats in half. In fact, the last time a TE had more than 40 receptions was 14 years ago. This problem spans numerous coaches and systems. Back up Troy Nicklas has talent but barely been on the field due to injury.
Ultimately, though, with an upright QB, Fitzgerald and David Johnson on the field there is always match winning and post season potential in Phoenix.
Expect the Defense continue to operate a 3-4 , system with plenty of blitzes dialled up by Coordinator James Bettcher. Also expect an initial drop off in quality for the NFL’s second best defense (in yards given up) last term.
The Cards lost stand out performer in DE Calais Campbell to the Jags in free agency in the off season. As such, there are more question marks hanging over the D line, too. Last year’s first round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche has plenty of potential, but this year that really needs to translate that into strong performances up front. There is depth in terms of numbers here, but it’s a mix of upcoming but unproven talent (Olsen Pierre, Rodney Gunter) and experienced guys who are on their way down (Frostee Rucker). It is a group that needs to prove itself individually and collectively this coming year. Don’t be surprised to see plenty of rotation on the D-line.
LB Minter, and S Jefferson have also left the ball club this summer. However, the front office will be hoping any drop off from the Defense will be short lived. The reinforcements brought in, particularly LB Karlos Dansby and Safety Antoine Bethea, are solid if unspectacular signings, but the Cards have drafted well. Playmakers Haason Reddick (LB) and Budda Baker(S) will make a big difference as the season progresses. These rookies will be a real asset to this quick, dynamic and aggressive group. At linebacker Deone Bucannon, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden can offer pass rushing and help stop the run. Jones and Golden are an excellent pass rushing duo who will get after the QB plenty this year.
Behind them, are two of the league’s best defensive backs with lock down cornerback Patrick Peterson and elite Safety Tyrann Matheiu. The second CB spot is in need of addressing still, but this unit will give plenty of teams problems this year. The Cardinals love to man-up on the outside and blitz the hell out of opposing QBs attempting to overload offensive lines and confuse protections. With Pat P travelling with the opposing teams no.1 receiver and Justin Bethal holding down the fort on the other side, look for the Cardinals to be extremely aggressive on Defense once again in 2017.
Players To Watch
David Johnson– Obviously one to watch. He always will be. He is ridiculously good. At everything. He could probably play QB if he wanted.
Robert Nkemdiche– This defensive lineman is raw, powerful and full of potential. He has to go out and prove it, though.
Hassan Reddick– Explosive, playmaking, fly to the ball, linebacker. Has the athleticism to go side line to side line.
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