Michael Floyd and the Cardinals have several areas to improve on in 2012
Last year, the Arizona Cardinals finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Here's a slideshow featuring six things the Cardinals need to do better in 2012 to get back into the playoffs.
The Cardinals started off 1-6 before winning seven of their final nine games to finish at the break-even mark. Four of those wins came at home in overtime and set an NFL record in the process.
Arizona had a strong draft, picking up wide receiver Michael Floyd (pictured), but there's a lot of work ahead for the team.
The biggest question facing the 2012 Arizona Cardinals is on the next slide.
John Skelton started seven games for the Cardinals in 2011.
The Arizona Cardinals flip-flopped between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton at the quarterback position in 2011.
Kolb started nine games for the Cardinals and posted a 3-6 record. Kolb threw for 1,955 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Kolb was also bothered by a turf toe injury and a concussion that opened the door for Skelton.
Skelton started seven games and led the team to a 5-2 record.He posted 1,911 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
While statistically similar, Kolb didn't really have a feel for the pocket. Skelton was able to roll out, scramble and turn losses into gains. Skelton doesn't have question marks about his durability, unlike Kolb.
Kolb also has the pressure of his salary. He got a $7 million bonus for being on the roster in March. With nearly $12 million in total compensation coming his way, Kolb has to perform. If he doesn't, the budget-friendly Skleton and his $490,000 contract could be getting the nod.
This time, Kolb will have an entire offseason to get himself ready to go. He might have a short leash given how Skelton performed in the second half of the season.
Regardless of who gets the call, they will have to deal with the second issue facing the Cardinals.
EJ Henderson and Jared Allen (center) of the Vikings combine to sack Kevin Kolb (right). Cardinal quarterbacks were sacked 54 times last season.
Regardless of who gets picked to play quarterback, the Cardinals need to get a much better protection effort from the offensive line.
Kolb and Skelton were sacked a combined 54 teams in 2011. Only the Rams offensive line was worse, allowing 55 sacks.
Draftees Bobby Massie (right tackle) and Senio Kelemete (guard) will help to shore the line up in 2012 but how much help will they provide to one of the weakest lines in the game?
If they have another season like 2011, expect to see repeats of the picture above quite often.
Ray Rice and the Ravens erased a 24-6 second-half deficit and beat the Cardinals in 2011.
One theme that was consistent in 2011 was the Arizona Cardinals giving up leads in the second half. They must find a way to play with the lead in order to stop giving games away. That happened several times last season and likely cost the Cardinals a playoff berth.
Washington scored nine points in the final 5:32 to defeat the Cardinals, 22-21, in Week 2.
The Giants scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to hand the Cardinals a 31-27 defeat at home in Week 4.
Worst of all, they were up 24-6 at halftime in Baltimore and lost 30-27 in Week 8.
Had Arizona held all three of those leads, it would have been 11-5 and a wild card team in the NFC.
It's clear that the Cardinals have to keep their foot on the pedal, so to speak, and not let up until the game is over. It's the difference between being an average team and a playoff team.
Fumbles helped the Cardinals record a -13 turnover ratio in 2011.
Former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Dave Widell said it best about turnovers: "Turnovers are like ex-wives, the more you have the more they cost you,"
Turnovers certainly cost the Cardinals in 2011, as they finished the year at a minus-13 ratio. Only Washington, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay were worse in that category. Kolb and Skelton combined to toss 22 interceptions, and six more came from receivers and running backs.
The offensive line not giving the quarterbacks enough time could be a prime suspect in this statistic.
The other part of the picture is, the Cardinals defense is not causing enough turnovers. Despite having defensive backs of Patrick Peterson, Adrian Peterson and Richard Marshall, the Cardinals only picked off 10 passes last season.
Marshall moved on to Miami in the offseason, but the Arizona defense needs to rack up more interceptions especially in the pass-happy NFL of today.
Feely hit a league-low 19 field goals in 2011.
There were plenty of times when the Cardinals offense bogged down last season, but very few field-goal chances came as a result of it. Arizona was near the bottom of the league with just 24 field-goal opportunities.
Feely has the leg, but the Cardinals need to get within his range more often to make him a more effective weapon. He's hit 274 career field goals, so Arizona has a good enough kicker to split the uprights on a consistent basis.
On the other side of the coin, Arizona surrendered a league-high 35 field goals last season. When it allows this many field goals, it becomes a problem. The defense may be posting moral victories, but the team is missing out on victories because of the field goals.
Patrick Peterson's kick return for a touchdown helped the Cardinals sweep the Rams in 2011.
The Arizona Cardinals posted losses against some of the weaker teams in the NFL. The upper-echelon teams in the league take care of business, and the Cardinals need to learn how to do that.
Add to that overtime games against Seattle, Dallas (8-8), Cleveland (4-12) and St. Louis (2-14), and the Cardinals found themselves in close games against some of the weaker teams in the league.
If the Cardinals want to make the leap to the next tier, they need to take care of business against the lesser teams.
They were fortunate to make it to 8-8 last season. They easily could have been a 5-11 team, but there's a lot of opportunity to make small changes and get into double-digit wins in 2012.