Arizona Cardinals 2014-15 Team Preview
The Arizona Cardinals are a legitimate third tough team in the NFC West. The Cards finished 10-6 last season and are contenders in the division, despite Seattle and San Francisco both being Super Bowl contenders in their own right. The Cardinals believe Carson Palmer will improve this season as he gains comfort in Bruce Arians’ offense.
The team has had issues with health, and there are six division games in the second half of the schedule. Arians realizes how tough the division is, but if the Cardinals can hold their own, it will be a huge step forward towards legitimate contention.
Odds to win Superbowl: 40/1
Odds to win NFC: 22/1
Odds to win NFC West: +750
Betting Odds courtesy of Bovada
Arian had a lot more success in the second half of 2013. The team improved its scoring by over a TD, and Jared Veldheer was added via free agency. He’ll start at LT and it should give the Cardinals more options in play calling. Carson Palmer also is also well adapted for the system. Larry Fitzgerald is coming off a down season to say the least, but the Cardinals will look to get him back to being an elite WR. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it.
Palmer will be entering his second season as the starter at QB. It’s the first time the Cardinals have had a QB start in back-to-back seasons since Kurt Warner in 2009. Palmer isn’t particularly mobile in the pocket and he takes a while to get rid of the ball. If he could make some better decisions, he would have a better TD:INT ratio (24:22 last season). Drew Stanton is the backup, but he hasn’t thrown a pass since 2010.
Palmer isn’t the best starter, but he is a very good fit for Arians and he should be able to maximize the talents of Fitzgerald better this season.
2013 Sixth round pick Andre Ellington may eventually be a stud. He gained 652 yards last year as a backup and specialist and he managed 5.53 yards per carry, which was the highest among NFL backs with at least 100 carries. That’s the markings of a future star.
The Cardinals will attempt to iso Ellington against safeties and linebackers and exploit them with his speed. He’s just 5’9” 199 and that means other backs are going to have to do some work, too. Stepfan Taylor will be in his second season and has a lot of improvement to make on the inside. He should be good for short yardage and goal line runs. Ryan Williams is still an option to some extent, but he hasn’t done much in his first three NFL seasons.
WR Michael Floyd became a lot more reliable last season and played through some nagging injuries. That increased Palmers respect for him and eventually he got even more passes thrown his way. With Floyd emerging as a legitimate threat, more room will be opened up for Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald did manage to tally 10 TDs last season, which was his most since 2009. The yardage was under 1,000 again, but the Cardinals were dysfunctional sometimes on offense, and Fitzgerald got lost in the sauce. There is some speed lurking on the bench and second round pick, rookieTroy Niklas should be a very solid blocker from the WR spot.
The OL returns four of five starters, so it has stability going for it at the least. The only returning starter that is certain to remain one, though, is center Lyle Sendlein. It’s tough to say the team is upgrading on the OL, but it will be at least adequate. Truthfully, Palmer needs a very good line to be effective, but Arians will hope that it is sufficient.
Defense hasn’t been a problem for the last few seasons in Arizona. This year should prove to be much the same. Losing Karlos Dansby will be a bit of a blow, but Antonio Cromartie is a great cornerback and Patrick Peterson will line up well with him in the secondary. To be sure, the Cardinals will be able to blitz plenty trusting the coverage of its secondary. Safety isn’t as strong as CB, and the DL lacks depth, as well.
The DL may lack depth, but it makes up for it in top-end talent. NT Dan Williams, ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett help form one of the best DLs in the league. Campbell in particular is among the elite at his position and is great on pass rush. Kareem Martin will see time at ouside linebacker and Ed Stinson will be a 3-4 end.
The LBs are threatened by the loss of Dansby. His leadership qualities are the least likely to be replaced this season, and he called a lot of defensive signals. Daryl Washington is pending suspension for conduct policy violations. The Cardinals are left thin here and relying on Kevin Minter to step up in a big way. John Abraham had 11.5 sacks last season, but is now 36. Matt Shaughnessay is at outside LB.
The Cardinals are stacked in the secondary, as noted. It added free-agent CB Cromartie and along with Peterson, the man-coverage is matched likely only by the Seahawks tandem. Jarraud Powers is the backup and nickel. The Cards also have Tyrann Mathieu.
The biggest issue for the team is the lack of a strong safety, but the Cards took Deone Bucannon in the first round to fill this hole. He’ll be tutored for a while and then thrust into the fire. The team needs a young talent like this to emerge, and it is banking a lot on his success.
Jay Feely hit 30-of-36 FGs last season and 11-of-12 between 40 and 49 yards. Punter Dave Zastudil places the ball within the 10 regularly and the Cardinals are able to let their defense do the work from there. Peterson is no longer going to return punts, but that is a must. His numbers are on the decline and he’s too good of a CB to risk his injury in a special teams play. Ted Ginn of Ohio State will be entering his third season and is more than ready to take the duty on.
Reserve CB Justin Bethel made the Pro-Bowl special teams and is great for kick and punt coverage. The Cards do have all-around special team excellence, not withstanding the kickoff issues that Feely had last season.
The Cardinals have set the bar high for themselves with a 10-win season in 2013-14. The NFC West is also the most stacked division, as mentioned already. Arians will find the team better acclimated to his offense in year two, and if Fitzgerald can channel his prime self, the team may even go 12-4. That is a stretch, but it’s certainly the ceiling. The OL is a bit lacking and may take time to develop. The Cardinals remain deadly defensively, and that will ensure a good season.
It just won’t be good enough in the NFC, as reflected by Bovada’s 22/1 odds for an NFC championship.
Further, it would be rather shocking to see the Cardinals finish any higher than third in the division; but anything can happen, especially when the injury fairy visits a club.