If only the Arizona Cardinals could bottle up the first 4 weeks of the 2012 NFL season and just replay those weeks over and over again, they would find themselves synonymous with the 2007 New England Patriots and the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to go undefeated throughout the regular season. However, they had to play Week 5, and subsequent weeks after, and by the time Arizona reached Week 15, they were still stuck at 4 wins. Losers of 9 consecutive games, the Arizona Cardinals season had reached its peak of disappointment after a 58-0 road beating at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
Just 4 years removed from an NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance, the Cardinals haven’t had a winning season since a 10-6 record in 2009. The start to the 2012 season sparked great promise for the team to be competitive in the difficult NFC West. With a road win vs. New England and a big home win vs. Philadelphia, Arizona was well on their way back to prominence.
However, at season’s end, the Cardinals still had glaring problems at quarterback, a lack of a running game largely due to injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt was dismissed after his second 5-11 season in the last 3 years. Despite a defense that was top-5 in defending the pass, giving up just 201 passing yards per game, the lack of offense was difficult to overcome, directly leading to the Cardinals losing 11 of their final 12 games in 2012.
Offensively, as with many teams, you have to look at the top, and the top for the Cardinals has been a question for them since the retirement of former Super Bowl Champion and NFL MVP Kurt Warner. Since Warner, the Cardinals have started the likes of Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and most recently, Brian Hoyer. None of those quarterbacks threw for over 2,065 yards in a single season.
So, objective number one this offseason for new head coach and 2012 NFL Coach of the Year, Bruce Arians, is finding stability in that QB spot. Whether that’s through free agency, where a Drew Stanton (coached in Indianapolis by Arians), Matt Moore or Jason Campbell could be available, or through the draft, where the Cardinals, sitting at the 7th pick, could be in play for USC’s Matt Barkley, or West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Arizona has to make that a priority going into the 2013 season.
Offensive line could be another concern for Arizona, who ranked dead last in rushing yards per game. However, that could also be due to the injuries to Wells and Williams, the latter of which is likely to be pushed into a full-time role if he can stay healthy. Still, the Cardinals boast a very capable receiving corps for next season’s starting quarterback to throw to. With All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, receiver Andre Roberts, and receiver Michael Floyd, the Cardinals have some guys who can score points in Arians’ offense.
Defensively, Arizona still has a great deal of talent on the field. With the emergence of linebackers Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington, who led the team in tackles (134) and sacks (9), as well as the steady play of defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, the Cardinals’ front seven has the capability to get to quarterbacks and make things easy for arguably the top defensive backfield in the NFL.
Patrick Peterson is a playmaker on defense and special teams. Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson are as consistent a pair of safeties as there are in the league. William Gay isn’t one to pick on, as quarterbacks throw away from Peterson. 14 of the team’s 22 interceptions came from this group, and those 22 interceptions ranked 2nd in the NFL. Clearly defense and special teams are the strengths of this team. However, they MUST make re-signing Paris Lenon a priority as well, as Lenon was 2nd on the team in total tackles. Quentin Groves and Rashad Johnson are also key free agents that the Cardinals should look to bring back this offseason.
Possible Free Agents:
RB Javarris James
RB Larod Stephens-Howling
WR Gerell Robinson
WR Isaiah Williams
OT D’Anthony Batiste
OT Pat McQuistan
OG Richard Ohrnberger
DL Nick Eason
DL Vonnie Holliday
LB Quentin Groves
LB Paris Lenon
CB Michael Adams
CB Greg McCoy
CB Greg Toler
FS Rashad Johnson
FS James Sanders
1st Round — 7 — OT Eric Fisher — Central Michigan — To me, it’s a no-brainer that the Cardinals need a new quarterback. However, their offense has many holes that need filling. Fisher & Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel are the top-2 in the draft and with Joeckel likely going in the first 5 picks, Fisher would slide right in and start for Arizona. Quarterbacks will be available later, as many like NC State’s Mike Glennon will be this team’s target early in Round 2. Also, Drew Stanton is sought after by Bruce Arians, so an offensive tackle would be a safe move at #7.