6 Arizona Cardinals Due for Breakout Season in 2012

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor IJune 15, 2012

6 Arizona Cardinals Due for Breakout Season in 2012

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    Six Arizona Cardinals players will have breakout seasons in 2012 and become known for their play on the field.

    Last season the defense was able to get it together after a shaky start—they were among the league’s best during the second half of the season. With the exception of Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells (who had his own breakout season), the offense struggled to gain any traction all season long.

    Three players from each side of the ball will break out and enjoy monster seasons in 2012. Is your favorite young player on the list?

Ryan Williams, RB

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    As we all know, Ryan Williams is still rehabilitating the patella tendon he ruptured during his rookie preseason.

    What most don’t know is that he will completely tear up the league once the season gets going.

    So much so that if Beanie Wells is not 100 percent healthy when Week 1 rolls around, Williams may take his starting spot and never give it up.

    At the Cardinals recent Fan Fest, Williams took three snaps and looked to be as close to full strength as one can be without actually being so. It is unknown how he will look at training camp and with full pads, but he is able to cut at full speed.

    That is great news for Arizona.

    It will be hard to tell the progress of either back until preseason games begin.

    A best-case scenario for the Cardinals would be for both to remain at 100 percent all season. Should that happen it is not out of the question to expect 1,000 total yards from scrimmage to go along with eight total touchdowns for Williams.

    He can do it all when healthy and should be an important part of everything the Cardinals offense will be this season.

Sam Acho & O’Brien Schofield, OLB

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    Both young outside linebackers emerged in the middle of the defensive upswing last year, and both are exactly what Arizona thought they were—and more.

    Both are loaded with pass-rushing talent and will continue to get better as the defense Arizona runs becomes second nature.

    “Last year people didn’t really know what we were doing until about halfway during the season,” Acho told AZCardinals.com. “No one really knew. And now we’re in our third day of OTAs and the defensive linemen already know what the safeties do.”

    That kind of knowledge and understanding of defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s scheme will help everyone as they try to continue the momentum with which the team ended the season.

    It will especially help Acho and Schofield.

    Like the Dick LeBeau-run defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona runs its sets through the pass rush of the outside linebackers. They don’t always rush the passer—last year Acho rushed on 64.9 percent of all passing plays; Schofield on 68.8 percent—but they have to be successful when they do.

    Acho and Schofield could both eclipse double-digit sacks in 2012—it may even be expected of them.

    With their combined talent and the scheme being tailored around pass-rushing OLBs, it should be expected of them.

Levi Brown, LT

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    The long and arduous career path on which Levi Brown has traveled came to a fork following the 2011 season.

    That fork had two paths.

    One led to a new beginning. A new city, new team, new coaches and a new playbook. The other path, though still fraught with challenge, is familiar and more comfortable.

    Returning to the Cardinals after Arizona released him to make room under the salary cap is a choice on which Brown will be able to look back as the turning point in his career.

    Instead of a fresh start and all the new challenges that come with it, Levi chose to continue the momentum with which he ended last season. According to Nathan Jahnke of ProFootballFocus.com, Brown greatly improved from the first half of the season to the last:


    From Week 1-10, Levi Brown allowed a pressure 1 in every 8.6 pass plays. From Week 11-17, it was 1 in every 27.8 pass plays. @RJMelching

    — Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) March 16, 2012


    (h/t AZCardinals.com for the tweet.)

    That improvement could mean he finally understands how to play left tackle in the NFL. He is ready to dominate, and could have the breakout performance of the season among offensive linemen.

Patrick Peterson, CB

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    Despite a rookie season full of punt returns and NFL records, Patrick Peterson was not great as a cornerback.

    He had his moments, but never provided a game that forced people into the realization that he is among the league’s premier defenders.

    That will change this season.

    Peterson’s athleticism put together with the shame of last season’s coverage stats will propel him to greatness. The experience he now has in Horton’s defense will help him get there.

    Knowing where his teammates will be at all times means he won’t have to rely on pure athleticism to make plays. William Gay told AZCardinals.com the defense needs corners like Peterson.

    “The defense [Horton] runs, it’s an aggressive defense,” Gay said. “If you don’t have corners that can hit, you’re going to be giving up touchdowns left and right. The way the defense is structured, the [offense] always wants to get a hat on the outside linebackers and the ends and the safeties. The unblocked guy is going to be the corner. You have to be willing to sacrifice your body and go in there and hit a 230-pound running back.”

    Peterson is certainly willing—and able—to do that. He can and will be a Darrelle Revis-type corner, and that starts in 2012.

John Skelton, QB

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    Let me begin with this statement: John Skelton will win the quarterback battle over Kevin Kolb.

    As I highlighted in a previous article, the Cardinals cannot trust what Kevin Kolb has to offer. His concussion problems, lack of pocket presence and inability to become a better quarterback are indeed problems, but that is not why Skelton will win out.

    The former Fordham University star quarterback looks the part of an NFL starter, so says B/R NFL Lead Blogger Aaron Nagler:

    There’s an old scouting adage that says you need to see roughly 10 games to know if a guy can be a starter in the league—and from this chair, it sure looks like Skelton can play the part.

    Looking like he can play the part and actually playing the part are two different things; however, he did improve from his rookie season to last year in some ways—the lockout-shortened offseason notwithstanding.

    In 2010, Skelton looked like a rookie fifth round pick at quarterback. He completed just 47.6 percent of his passes at 5.3 yards per attempt, 11.0 yards per completion and 132.4 yards per game.

    He was markedly better last year, completing 54.9 percent of his passes at 7.0 yards per attempt, 12.7 yards per completion and 239.1 yards per game—including his first two 300-yard passing performances against the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns.

    For what it’s worth, Skelton has averaged 4.7 yards per rushing attempt during his brief two-year career. That shows he already understands when to pull it down and take off, as opposed to running because he’s skittish in the pocket—Kolb averages 2.4 yards per rushing attempt in his career. (This stat may fall under the “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’,” category.)

    Skelton will win the job, complete 57 percent of his passes, throw for 3,700 yards, toss 24 touchdowns and throw 19 interceptions for a 77.4 QB rating.