Arizona Cardinals. An Inside Look At 2014
The Arizona Cardinals underwent a change of epic proportions last off-season. The team received a complete overhaul from top to bottom. Former head coach Ken Whisenhunt was relieved of his coaching duties, after five seasons with the Redbirds. Two of which he lead them to back to back division titles and a spot in Super Bowl XLIII. In his final season serving as head coach, a promising (4-0) start to the season went up in flames and ended with a dismal (5-11) finish. It was at that moment that team president and head executive, Michael Bidwell knew it was time to pull the plug. In addition, releasing general manager Rod Graves brought forth a promotion to long time scout and front office executive Steve Keim. Together Keim and Bidwill hired Bruce Arians to become the next Head Coach for Arizona. Shortly after his hiring, Arians was named AP coach of the year for his remarkable success leading the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs. It would make him the first interim head coach to be awarded the prestigious honor.
After arriving in Arizona, Arians and Keim got straight to work evaluating the roster and looking at their strengths and weaknesses. They built up through the draft, trimmed the roster, added additional pieces and got themselves a starting quarterback. They traded a seventh round selection to Oakland for Carson Palmer. Under his first season as head coach Arizona put together an impressive (10-6) record, falling just short of the 2013 playoffs. With the season in the rear view mirror, players have a chance to get healthy and get back to work. Coach Arians has time to look at what adjustments he’ll need to make to keep the Cardinals competitive in 2014.
What We Know
Arizona’s 2014 opponents have been released. They know where they’ll be playing, but not yet when. The dates and times should be released sometime in April, before the draft. The Cardinals will have their traditional slate of home and away games versus NFC West rivals, San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis. They’ll be playing the NFC East as part of their inter conference match ups. Their out of conference match-ups will be against the AFC West. With that said, Arizona will have home games against the Eagles, Redskins, Lions, Chargers and Chiefs. Their road games will be visiting the Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, Broncos and Raiders.
On paper the slate looks pretty favorable for Arizona. Perhaps the biggest challenge will again come from within their own division. Seattle and San Francisco will be playing each other on Sunday, with the victor heading to the Super Bowl. Big surprise right? Other then that there’s shouldn’t be too much to be concerned about, other then Peyton Manning in Denver.
Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles did a fantastic job picking up where Ray Horton left off and keeping the aggressiveness of the Cardinals top five ranked defense in tact. Since it appears he’ll be sticking around for at least one more season, the defense will only continue to improve. Rookie sensation Free Safety Tyrann Mathieu, should be returning from his LCL and ACL tears in December and ready to step into his starting role to anchor alongside Patrick Peterson. Expect the Cardinals defense to once again be a force in 2014.
With a full season in Bruce Arian’s system under his belt, Carson Palmer appeared to be finally getting into a rhythm in the latter parts of 2013. He should be fully prepared to jump start the offense, especially in the passing game with his go to receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. It now appears the Cardinals have finally found a solid pair of running-backs in Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington. When healthy, Mendenhall averaged 4.2 yards a carry and made the important third down conversions deep in the red-zone, when they mattered the most. Ellington is an absolute speedster and so diverse. He can be used in a plethora of ways. Hey can run, catch and he can throw. The kid just has unbelievable talent. Without a doubt, Ellington was a steal in the sixth round of last year’s draft.
The Cardinals offensive line has been their Achilles heel for years. Even under Kurt Warner, they were terrible in their run to Super Bowl XLIII. Luckily for them, Warner’s time in the Arena Football League helped develop his quick release and masked the poor protection the line gave him . It also doesn’t help matters any when you lose your star rookie 1st round pick, Guard Jonathan Cooper, to a broken left fibula. In their defense, the amount of times the quarterback was sacked from 2012-2013 has been reduced, but they’ve got to get healthy and bolster the line through the draft.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been to see Rob Housler dropping wide open passes in the slot every week. The guy has simply not produced. He had plenty of potential coming out of FAU, but it never seemed to materialize at the pro level. The Tight End position is a glaring need, and I fully expect Arizona to take a look in the off-season at a potential replacement through the draft or free agency.
Kicker Jay Feely is getting older. The 37 year old kicker has begun to show signs of aging in his play this year. For the most part, he was fairly accurate, but he also missed a handful of chip shot field goals from inside the thirty yard line on numerous occasions.
I’d be surprised if Arizona doesn’t at least take a look at their options before the start of the new season.
Many Cardinals fans would agree that Coach Arians and his staff have far exceeded everyone’s expectations in their (10-6) run this last season. He’s done a tremendous job shaping the team in his own image so quickly. He’s given fans a reason to be hopeful and a reason to be optimistic. It may be difficult to make a projection before the actual schedule has been released, but I’ll go ahead and give an early outlook. If the Cardinals stay healthy and keep their core pieces, I think a (10-6) season is a reasonable expectation.
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Sports-Kings Down and Distance Contributor Stephn Baldetti