Arizona Cardinals: Will 2012 Bring Bloom or Doom in the Desert?
The Arizona Cardinals’ stock peaked in 2008 with an NFC Championship; now, the sun is setting on their hopes of regaining glory this season.
Ken Whisenhunt’s quarterback indecision appears the most glaring controversy, but certainly not the only one surrounding Arizona.
One emerging running back will compete to take carries away from his cohort. This will have absolutely no impact on the Cardinals' productivity with an offensive line incapable of blocking anything but the sun from their eyes.
A couple of defensive playmakers may have success this season, but as a unit, the defense will flounder.
Suffice it to say, impending doom looms in 2012 for this Arizona team.
Defensive Struggles in Training Camp
Amidst controversies in training camp with the offensive backfield, hopes that the Cardinals defense will carry this team at the onset of the NFL season are unlikely.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has expressed dissatisfaction with his unit as recent as two weeks ago, suggesting his players could be putting more effort into their workouts and game minutes.
According to an interview with azcentral.com’s Kent Somers, Horton said:
[It’s] hard to evaluate anybody because we haven't done anything. Nobody has said wow to me, "I returned a pick for a touchdown" [or] "I caused two fumbles." Nothing glaring like that. We stress how important every play is. Has anybody stepped to the forefront? I'd say no.
Apparently early signs of progress in the Arizona defense were misleading for fans. That or the offense began playing exceptionally poor.
There is some promise in the Cardinal defensive secondary, with a brew of veteran and emerging talent.
Two veterans at safety in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes provide keen eyes to scope out opposing offenses with. They will make fans wonder how long they can keep up their production against younger, faster talent, with 20 years combined experience in the league.
Cornerback William Gay is a solid offseason acquisition, who has played consistently for the last three of his five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He will start along with promising second-year CB Patrick Peterson.
Inside linebackers Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington combined to record 200 tackles last season.
This defense has potential, right?
If all of these players perform stellar, this unit could be in the top 10 in pass defense. But it never plays out exactly as it does on paper.
Both starting outside linebackers are suspect, in O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho. Peterson is young and has not truly proved he can cover elite receivers in the NFL. Gay will not be a real playmaker. And as mentioned earlier, the age of the starting safeties may prove to be an issue.
Defensive line is the best unit Arizona will field this season.
Proven defensive end Darnell Dockett should continue to dominate even the best offensive tackles in the league. On the other edge, Calais Campbell is progressing into a seasoned veteran, with eight sacks last year and 21 combined in his last three seasons with the Cards.
It remains to be seen exactly what Dan Williams is capable of at nose center. If he can at least play formidably, he will make it easier for his edge rushers to do their job more effectively.
Although, its efforts will be all for not if the offense cannot keep the defense off the field for extended periods. In fact, a couple of concerns in the Cardinal backfield and its porous offensive line do not bode well.
Arizona finished the 2011 season ranked second in the NFL in sacks allowed with 54.
Cardinal quarterbacks have been sacked 18 times through four preseason games in 2012.
It will be interesting to see how the division of carries between running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams comes to fruition this season.
Many are questioning who will be the starter, who will carry the load, who will rush for more yards and who will be more productive and stake their claim to the Cardinal backfield.
Does it matter?
Wells truly had a breakout season in 2011, rushing for over 1,000 yards in 14 games. His worth is being questioned, however, because of the potential of the rookie Williams, who has not had a chance to prove himself after being injured for all of last season.
Williams is widely believed to be more talented than Wells and the back of the future. His recovery from a tear in his right knee one year ago might be a concern.
Still, the NFL is a copy-cat league, so there is no reason to believe these two backs cannot coexist. Many teams have utilized a two-headed rushing attack in the last few years.
In this case, it would make sense for the two to split carries. That way, both backs can help ensure that they stay healthy and durable in the long term.
Is there a controversy over who will get more carries in Carolina between DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart or Mike Tolbert? No. That is precisely what makes the Panther running game significant, finishing third in the league in total rushing (150.5 yards per game).
Finally, we have the ever-troublesome quarterback controversy.
Following the exile of Tarvaris Jackson from Seattle, Arizona seems to be the only team in the league with question marks next to the two letters Q-B on its depth chart.
Both John Skelton and Kevin Kolb have proved they can perform at the professional level. Kolb did so in an Eagles uniform, earning himself $64 million in free agency. Skelton had marginal success in relief of Kolb for eight games in 2011.
Neither of them made a strong enough case thus far in training camp and through four preseason games for Whisenhunt to make a definitive answer as to who will start the regular season. At least, Whisenhunt hasn't made his decision public yet.
Having already played a full slate of preparatory games, both quarterbacks will sit out of Thursday's game against Denver.
The fact that a decision has yet to be made can only be a distraction to the entire team.
Murray Will Take It from Here
Either quarterback will be throwing to the best wide receiver in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald.