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Where Exactly Did It Go Wrong for the Arizona Cardinals in 2012?

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Where Exactly Did It Go Wrong for the Arizona Cardinals in 2012?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Every team has its low point and pinnacle throughout the course of an NFL season. The Arizona Cardinals' pinnacle lasted exactly four weeks. From that point on, they hit their low point week after week until the season was officially over on Sunday, Dec. 30.

The Cardinals finished at 5-11 after starting the season a red-hot 4-0. The 12-week collapse caused a reaction all throughout Arizona's structure from the top down. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and seven members of his offensive staff got the ax.

General manager Rod Graves also got the boot. Only the defensive staff remained along with tight end's coach Freddie Kitchens and special teams coordinator Kevin Spencer. With the Whisenhunt era officially over, the Cards are now aggressively looking for his replacement.

But before we look too far ahead into 2013, let's take a moment to reflect on 2012 to figure out just exactly what went wrong from Week 5 to Week 17.

 

Kevin Kolb's Health

After watching Kevin Kolb prior to the start of the season during preseason, I didn't think he would be so important to the team.

In the appearances he did make, Arizona's offense averaged 283 yards of total offense and 18 first downs. After Kolb exited due to injury, Mike Miller's offense averaged a measly 251 yards of total offense and 13 first downs.

When Kolb was under center, he threw eight touchdown passes and three interceptions. When John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer were under center, they combined for three touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Kolb finished the season with a Pro Football Focus grade of plus-4.7, the highest grade of any offensive player on the Cardinals roster.

His grade ended up being higher than that of Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman. It also tied the grade of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Based on the trend of his first six performances, Kolb was on pace to grade out at a plus-12.5. That grade would have placed him above players like Andrew Luck, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick.

Kolb may not have the most live arm, and he may not always make the best decisions, but he has proven that he can win games in this league. And at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is wins and losses.

 

Offensive Line Performance

I know, I know, before I get too far ahead of myself, I will throw out this disclaimer: The Arizona Cardinals offensive line did improve after Nate Potter took over at left tackle and Bobby Massie decided to pull his head out of his you no where.

But I still have to attribute plenty of the offensive struggles to poor play at tackle for the first nine weeks of the season and poor play on the interior of the offensive line for the better part of the season. Sure, there were a few injuries at both center and guard, but injuries are not an excuse. Depth is an integral part of the NFL.

And to be honest, it didn't matter who played center or guard for the Cardinals; they turned in below-average performances week after week. By the time the final whistle blew in San Francisco, Russ Grimm's offensive line had surrendered 46 quarterback sacks, 35 quarterback hits and 132 quarterback hurries. 

There were 213 total quarterback pressures—nothing like playing quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals offense, the carnage didn't stop there. According to PFF, Arizona averaged 3.2 yards per carry on the ground this season on 349 carries. Additionally, they only scored 10 rushing touchdowns this season; that was the ninth-worst mark in the NFL.

In terms of yards per game, Miller's offense averaged 75.2 per contest. All 31 other teams found a way to outproduce the Cardinals in that category. If we break down the rushing statistics even further, we uncover more startling numbers.

When running off the left tackle's backside, the Cards averaged two yards a carry. When they rushed the ball off of the left guard's backside, things got even worse at less than two yards per carry. Moving to the right side of the offensive line definitely yielded better results. 

The 1.8 yard-per-carry average from the left side suddenly jumped to 4.7 yards per carry on the right side.

Still, being the worst offensive line in terms of both run- and pass-blocking efficiency is embarrassing.

 

Third-Down Offense and Red-Zone Efficiency

Where do I even begin when talking about Arizona's awful third-down conversion rate and problems with its red-zone opportunities?

No team this season was worse on third down than the Cardinals. Of the 230 third-down conversion attempts, the Cards offense converted 58. That is a league-low 25.2 percent of the time on third down.

Leading the league in third-down failures means your team isn't doing a good enough job on first and second down. It's also worth noting that no other team had more third-down attempts either.

A lack of sustained drives and conversions also hurt the Cardinals offense in the red zone. According to Team Rankings, Arizona only averaged 2.5 red-zone trips per game—the seventh-worst mark in the NFL. Only the Browns, Dolphins, Chiefs, Rams, Titans and Jaguars averaged fewer trips per game.

Of those 2.5 red-zone opportunities, the Cardinals managed to score a touchdown 40 percent of the time; only the Chiefs were worse.

Compare that 40 percent touchdown-conversion rate to the New England Patriots, who score a touchdown 70 percent of the time when they get in the red zone.

The common theme of Arizona's downfalls in 2012 revolved around its problems on the offensive side of the ball. When it comes to hiring a new head coach, strong offensive line play and play-calling will be extremely important aspects of the game to consider.


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