Arizona Cardinals Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 11?
A much-needed bye week was in order for head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his Arizona Cardinals.
They are currently losers of their last five games, and things don't get any easier heading into Week 11, as the Cards have to travel cross country to take on the 8-1 Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta is coming off its first loss of the season, so you know the Falcons will be playing with an edge. The Cardinals will need to make sure they can put up more than the 10.6 points per game they've mustered during their five-game losing streak.
This team had plenty to work on coming out of the bye. Let's take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between.
The two best pieces of news to come out of the desert during the bye was that rookie Nate Potter was officially atop the depth chart at left tackle, and wide receiver Michael Floyd is headed for a bigger role in Mike Millers' offense.
Last week, I broke down Potter's relief appearance against the Green Bay Packers. Early impressions point to the seventh-round pick being a very strong selection. Though he allowed a quarterback hit and five hurries, Potter didn't allow anyone lining up across from him to sack quarterback John Skelton.
The hurries shouldn't be anything to worry about, given that he was squaring off against one of the best pass-rushers in the game, Clay Matthews. Not to mention it was Potter's first true exposure to live action. Against lesser competition, we can expect those pressure and quarterback-hit numbers to drop even further.
Previously, he had only played one snap through the Cardinals first eight games. Like every rookie he will hit a few bumps in the road, but right now is a crucial time in his development. To me, there is no better way to learn than through trial by fire. In-game experience produces situations that can't be reproduced during practice.
Unlike Potter, Floyd won't be making a start this week, but Coach Whisenhunt will still be expecting him to turn the production up a notch—though it could be argued that through the first nine games of the season, Floyd hasn't had as many opportunities to perform as he would like.
Out of the four wide receivers who have taken at least one snap for the Cardinals, Floyd ranks dead last with 275 snaps. His first catch didn't come until Week 3, despite being active for both games prior, and he didn't play 60 percent of the club's offensive snaps until Week 8.
But for the first time in Week 9 he finally overtook Early Doucet in number of snaps played. Doucet has been Floyd's biggest road block in terms of playing time, yet I think with Arizona's offensive production having been so anemic to this point, Whisenhunt is looking for any type of a spark right now.
Not to mention Doucet has practically played himself out of the lineup with eight drops in nine games. Floyd may not turn into a Pro Bowl player overnight but, like Potter, he will be playing for the future. There's no reason why he can't be the perfect No. 2 heading into 2013
That's what he was drafted for.
It's obvious that everyone knows Ray Horton's defense is the strongest unit the Cards possess, yet they are not flawless in every area. Patrick Peterson and the secondary have held up quite well despite playing behind an average pass rush, but as a whole the defense has been awful against the run.
There are only three players who I feel stand out and set the tone in the run game—Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington and Kerry Rhodes. Outside of those three players, the Cardinals play against the run has been a disappointment.
Two players who should be doing more are defensive end Darnell Dockett and inside linebacker Paris Lenon. I know Dockett has struggled mightily with nagging injuries throughout the first half of the season, but maybe playing him is doing more harm than good right now.
It's hard to sit an All-Pro player who is making over $6 million, although sometimes if injuries are compromising his play, it's important to rest him so as to get him back to 100 percent. Pro Football Focus has given Dockett but one positive game grade overall and against the run all season long.
Like Dockett, Lenon has only had one positive grade game all season long as well. We haven't heard of any lingering injuries or health problems; the simplest answer to explain his poor play may be father time itself.
He will be 35 come November 26th, and if you go back to the end of the 2011 season, his drop off in performance had already started. PFF has given Lenon 21 negative grades over his last 26 games. If that doesn't scream futility, I don't know what does.
I begged this question a couple weeks ago, but let me beg it again. Is it time to give Stewart Bradley a shot next at inside linebacker next to Washington?
Rising: Daryn Colledge
After starting the season a little slow, Daryn Colledge has quickly turned into the Cardinals most reliable offensive lineman.
Over the last five games Colledge has surrendered only two quarterback sacks and two quarterback hits. Also, he has been penalized only twice on the season—a minuscule number compared to fellow offensive lineman Bobby Massie.
Falling: Todd Heap
I'm not dropping Todd Heap's stock because of his poor play when he is on the field; I'm dropping it due to his unavailability and slow recovery time from injuries.
There's no question this will be his last season in the NFL. He is a free agent at the end of this season, and he just simply can't stay healthy anymore.
Rising: Patrick Peterson
Playing cornerback in the NFL is never an easy task for a player, especially for a youngster. However, Peterson's youth hasn't stopped the talented corner from quickly rising to the top of the league.
As a rookie, he was a phenomenal returner and an average corner. Now he is still a phenomenal returner and a top-flight corner. On the season, opposing quarterbacks are completing only 52.9 percent of their passes when throwing his way.
Falling: William Gay
William Gay was supposed to be the cornerback who was the perfect No. 2 across from PP. But his play up to this point has been utterly disappointing. Quarterbacks have had their way when targeting him, and Gay hasn't been able to provide any support in the run game either.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Jamell Fleming move into the No. 2 corner role next year.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 11
Heading into Week 11 the Cardinals are going to have to do their best to try and establish the run. Keeping the ball away from Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense should be Arizona's top priority. Time of possession will play a huge role in the outcome on Sunday.
At 4-5, Arizona needs a win this week if it wants to remain in the playoff picture. With seven games left to play, they are by no means out of it, but they need to start stringing together some victories right away.
Remember, Coach Whisenhunt's team finished 5-2 over their final seven games in 2011. He is also 2-1 all time against the Falcons, with both wins coming in the Georgia Dome. I'm sure he is hoping that that same success finds his team come Sunday.
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