Arizona Cardinals: 5 Role Players Who Must Play Huge in Week 1
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The team comes into the game surrounded with questions.
How will John Skelton play after being named the starter? Will the patchwork offensive line be able to protect him? Will Russel Wilson have a stellar rookie debut against the Cards defense, a la Cam Newton in 2011? How will the running game look with two healthy, solid backs in Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams?
The Cardinals do not have a star studded roster—they are built off role players producing.
Key figures like Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson and Skelton will need to play big for the Cardinals to start the season 1-0, but the play of the Cardinals role players is the key to coming out of Week 1 with a win.
A victory over the Seahawks to start the team's 2012-13 campaign will go a long way in their quest to capture a NFC West crown and a return ticket to the postseason.
Here are five Cardinals role players who must play huge in Week 1.
D'Anthony Batiste, OT
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Coach Ken Whisenhunt moving offensive tackle D'Anthony Batiste to the left side to protect John Skelton's blind side was the only solution to a complicated situation after Levi Brown had season-ending surgery in the preseason. Batiste is getting a shot as a starter after bouncing around NFL rosters. He has only started four games in his career, all with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007.
The Cardinals allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL last year, with 54, only one shy of being the worst in the NFL. The team finally has some certainty at quarterback, after a tumultuous offseason, but what would rattle that is an injury to Skelton by getting repeatedly pounded by the Seahawks defense. Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons is very underrated. He has had 11 sacks for two consecutive years. He may give the makeshift Cardinals offensive line problems.
Batiste, along with rookie Bobby Massie at right tackle, will be under a microscope Sunday. If any aspect of the Cardinals offense hopes to have success, it rest on the large shoulders of the team's tackles.
Paris Lenon, LB
Paris Lenon sacks Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in a game last season.
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While Paris Lenon has been named one of the Cardinals' defensive captains, he will still feel the pressure to perform due to his backup, Stewart Bradley, having an outstanding preseason.
Lenon missed the majority of the preseason with an ankle injury, and Bradley capitalized during his time with the first team. However, Lenon is a true pro and has been a solid producer for the Cardinals in back-to-back years at the inside linebacker position—something Bradley cannot say. Lenon is a man among boys in the Cardinals linebacker corps. He is nearly 10 years older than any of the teams other linebackers.
Bradley is sure to see some time on the field, but Lenon will get the majority of the snaps. He is less athletic than Bradley, but his leadership and awareness on the field is something that cannot be replaced. Expect Lenon to thrive under the pressure and have a big game against the Seahawks Sunday.
Michael Floyd, WR
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Michael Floyd showed hustle and skill in the preseason, but he will now have to prove that he can produce against an opponents first team defense.
Floyd's skill set perfectly complements Larry Fitzgerald and will command a fair amount of attention when he's in the game. The Notre Dame product is the key to the Cardinals passing game having success. Fitzgerald already commands a double team, but if Floyd becomes a major threat it will open up lanes for Early Doucet and Andre Roberts to make plays.
Ryan Williams, RB
Ryan Williams carries the ball in preseason
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Sunday will mark the regular season debut of Ryan Williams. Williams showed promise in the preseason last year, but missed the entire regular season after he suffered a torn patella.
The Cardinals need to pound the ball against the Seahawks. Beanie Wells will run with power and soften up the defense, that is certain. Williams provides a change of pace, and can catch the defense off guard. He has the breakaway speed and agility to break big runs that end up in six points on the board.
Williams will also take some of the load off the injury prone Wells. Wells is a strong and powerful runner, but his durability issues prevent him from being an every down back.
The running game should be interesting to watch and the pair of Wells and Williams has the potential to be the best set of backs the team has seen in quite some time. Success in the running game means more tallies in the win column for the Cards.
The Defensive Line
Darnell Dockett celebrates after a sack
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The hogs on the defensive line do not get mentioned too much in the scheme of things, but Sunday their performance will be paramount in a Cardinals win. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are great pass-rushers, but they will have to play calm and technically sound against the Seahawks.
The Seahawks are starting rookie quarterback Russel Wilson. Wilson is more than capable at picking up yardage with his legs, and if the ends aren't paying attention and containing him, he could break off a huge runs. The pressure up front will dictate what happens in the secondary. The more pressure in Wilson's face in his first NFL game, the more erratic his passing will become.
I think a blindside hit from Calais Cambell for a sack-fumble would be a great "welcome to the NFL" moment for Wilson.