NFL: AZ Cardinals 2014 Preview
The 2013 Arizona Cardinals season turned out to be a very entertaining one, but in the end it was disappointing as well. They did manage to reach double digit in wins, going 10-6, but it wasn’t enough to get a playoff spot, as they missed that opportunity by ONE game.
The 2014 Arizona Cardinals know they need to be better than last year. Their offense needs to avoid the inconsistency it showed in 2013; the defense needs to be elite again, maybe even better than last year; and the special teams needs to cut down on the mistakes in order for this team to get to 10 wins for 2014.
For this team to win again, quarterback Carson Palmer will need to be successful. When given time, Palmer will throw a great deep ball, one of the keys in Bruce Arians’ offense. Palmer should have a better offensive line than he did last year, with the help of free agent tackle Jared Veldheer, signed by the Cardinals in the off season. So far, Ted Larsen has been able to hold off Jonathan Cooper, the team’s top pick in 2013 draft, through training camp and the preseason, but we will see how long that lasts. Paul Fanaika, Bobbie Massie and Lyle Sendlein round out the starting offensive line. This group knows they cannot afford to have Palmer sacked 41 times, like he was last year. It is inevitable that Palmer will have an “off” Sunday now and then, but he needs to cut down on interceptions. He threw 22 last year, but if he is given enough time, to move around to find an open receiver, he will throw for more yards and touchdowns this year than he did last year.
The Cardinals have gone to a committee at running back and they have a solid combination in second-year pros, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. Ellington was an eye-opener as a rookie last year. He showed speed and endurance on his way to 5.5 yards per rush and has the potential to make a long run every time he touches the ball. He is also a threat out of the backfield. He caught 39 passes for a 9.5 avg. But, at 5’9″ and under 200lbs, Ellington can’t handle a heavy workload. That’s where Taylor comes in, he will need to be an effective inside runner, which would allow the Cardinals to limit Ellington’s carries to around 15 per game.
The running game will have a backseat to the passing game, due to Arians loves the deep passing game. In his third year, Michael Floyd could be in for a big year, and some people within the organization think he will surpass Larry Fitzgerald as the team’s No. 1 wide out. Floyd more than doubled his production from his rookie year to year 2. He had 66 catches for 1,054 yards and five touchdowns during the 2013 season. The key for Floyd is he must stay healthy all season. He had missed some training camp due to a groin injury. Larry Fitzgerald is simply not as dominant as he once was, but is still considered a big time threat. His size and ball skills haven’t gone anywhere and he worked his way through nagging injuries last year and was still a top receiver.
The Cardinals will need a dependable third receiver to replace Andre Roberts. Hopefully, by signing Ted Ginn, they will fill that need. Ginn had 36 catches and five touchdowns last year with Carolina. He should get plenty of chances to stretch the field. He has track speed, making him a good deep threat in the passing game. The only issue with Ginn is he struggles with drops and isn’t considered much of a route runner.
The Cardinals have had inconsistency at the tight end position in the past, but this year they have a nice mix of size and capable hands in John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas and Darren Fells, which gives this team solid options when putting two TEs on the field. Arians likes this position and you will see the TE a lot in his offense, so look for better play from this critical position in both catching and blocking this season.
When they were at full strength last year the Cardinals had one of the best defenses in the NFL. They ranked sixth in total defense, including second in rushing defense, and allowed just 20.3 points per game. Unfortunately, injuries, and other circumstances, have already had an impact on the 2014 defense.
Possibly the biggest setback came on Aug. 18 when veteran defensive end Darnell Dockett tore the ACL in his knee during a training camp practice. Dockett had a decent bounce-back year under coordinator Todd Bowles last season, but what this injury really effected was his defensive leadership. That burden will now fall Calais Campbell. Campbell set a career high with nine sacks last year and 58 tackles; 45 solo, 14 tackles for loss, six passes defended, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. Campbell will need to have an equal or better stats year this year to hold this defense together. Nose tackle Dan Williams may never live up to his pre-draft hype, but he has become an effective player who can disrupt the inside running game.
The concern defensively will be at linebacker. Karlos Dansby was the team’s best player last year, but he left for Cleveland during the off-season. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington was expected to anchor the defense in Dansby’s absence, but he has been suspended for all of 2014. And, John Abraham, who led the team with 11.5 sacks in 2013, could be facing league discipline stemming from a DUI incident in June. Look for Kevin Minter to be thrust into a prominent role on the defense. He did not play much last year, but the coaches say he has learned the Cardinals’ defense. Minter is dealing with a strained pectoral muscle and, if rest doesn’t get Minter back on the field, he will be faced with surgery that would keep him out for a major portion of the 2014 season, which the Cardinals do not need. One player to look for to bounce back, if he is fully healthy, in the linebacker position is Sam Acho. His 2013 season ended early due to injury. Acho played well in 2011, his rookie season, and in 2012. He had seven sacks and two interceptions in those first two seasons. Acho has a lot of ability and hopefully we see him on the field a lot this season. More than one player in this linebacker corps will have to step up in order for this group to be effective.
If there is one good thing for this defense, it is in their secondary. They will have two shutdown corners in Patrick Peterson and, free-agent signee, Antonio Cromartie and a dynamic playmaking free safety in Tyrann Mathieu, when he is ready to play. Peterson, a first-team All-Pro last season and just signed on as the highest paid corner in the league. Through three seasons Peterson has 161 total tackles, 12 interceptions, 42 passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries. Most impressive of all, Peterson has not missed a game in his short career. If Cromartie is in the right system he could be a very good corner and will be counted on when teams line up with four receivers.
The Cardinals addressed one of their top defensive needs during the off-season. They needed a big, physical strong safety and, with their first-round selection of Deone Bucannon, they feel they have accomplished that. Tight ends really hurt this team last year, but hopefully Bucannon can limit that damage and, over time, become a force at safety.
The Cardinals should have one of the better special teams units in the NFL. The kicking duties are now left to undrafted rookie Chandler Cantanzaro, who was one of college football’s most productive kickers during his tenure at Clemson. We know he will have many touchbacks, but we will see how he handles himself in a regular season game when it comes down to a game winning or tying field goal. Punter Dave Zastudil is one of the best in the business at placing the ball inside the 20, and gunner Justin Bethel made the Pro Bowl last year for his coverage skills. Look for Ted Ginn to replace Peterson on punt returns. For kickoffs it will be either Ginn or John Brown.
The 2014 Cardinals know they are challengers for a playoff spot and no one will take them lightly. They are determined to make it to the postseason this year and in fact their goal this year is simple, but has never been done before; become the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl hosted in their home stadium. As we know Super Bowl XLIX will be played Feb. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, and the Cardinals believe they have a team that can win the NFC title and host the game. It will certainly be a very difficult task, as they are in the same division as the two of best teams in the NFL in Seattle and San Francisco, but as you know, this is the NFL and if you make the playoffs anything can happen!
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