Thursday, July 22, 2010

Up To Speed- Arizona Cardinals

There's Your New QB

The Cardinals proved last year that their 2008 NFC Championship was not a fluke. They didn't make a return trip to the Super Bowl, but they did win a 2nd straight NFC West title, and continued to be one of the more explosive offensive teams in the league. Kurt Warner ended what should be a Hall of Fame career with an excellent season, posting a 93.2 passer rating, distributing the ball evenly to his twin stud receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. The defense was for the most part adequate in the regular season. Not so adequate in the playoffs though, as the Cards gave up 90 points total in their 2 game playoff run, which ended with a 45-14 drubbing at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

I have an inkling that Ken Whisenhunt may be a very, very good coach. This will be his year to prove it. The Cardinals as we've known them during their resurgence (re-surgence? Hmmm..better change that to "surgence") the last 2 years are no longer. Kurt Warner is retired, replaced by the redoubtable Matt Leinart. Making things worse, not only is Warner gone, but so is Anquan Boldin. These 2 losses mean that you are going to see a very different Cardinals offense this year. Remember, Whisenhunt came to the desert from Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh RUNS the football.

To that end, the Cardinals have brought in former Steelers and Jets guard Alan Faneca. He's not the player he used to be, but the fact that he's in Arizona shows the Cardinals are serious about putting more of the offense in the hands of the running game, led by sophomore back Beanie Wells and goal line savant Tim Hightower. The man who protected Warner's blind side, LT Mike Gandy, is also gone. Leinart is a lefty (although apparently he holds his beer bongs with his right hand), so that makes the RT position the important one in the Cards passing game, and it's a concern. The favorite to man that position is Brandon Keith, a 3rd year player who was a 7th round pick in 2008. He's suspect, and another reason why the Cards are going to run the ball a lot more this year.

The Cardinals have also taken some hits on the defensive side of the ball. LB Karlos Dansby, the broom of the Cards' system, left via free agency for Miami. His presence inside will be missed, and his replacement, journeyman Paris Lenon, is nowhere near the player Dansby is. The Cards did improve their pass rush though, by signing stalwart rushman Joey Porter, who has had 26 1/2 sacks in the last 2 seasons with the Dolphins. Having such a presence at edge rusher can only make dangerous 3-4 end Darnell Dockett even more effective.

The secondary is in a little bit of flux. The Cards have a legitimate freak at one corner with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but a big question mark at the other after the departure of Bryant McFadden. McFadden's spot will be auditioned for by a group of novices led by Greg Toler, a 4th round pick in 2009. Safety Antrell Rolle and his buttery tackles have been swapped out for former Jet Kerry Rhodes, a slight upgrade.

Like I said, this is Ken Whisenhunt's litmus test as to whether he's a great coach or just a very good one. This will be a completely different Cardinals offense than what you've seen the last 2 years. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower are up to the challenge of what will be a greatly increased workload, but whether an offensive line who never was known for its run blocking is up for it is debatable. The defense looks a little weaker than last year as well. I've got the Cards at 9-7 this year, and whether that's good enough for a 3rd straight division title depends a lot on the strides the #1 contenders to the division title, the San Francisco 49ers, make this year.

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