There is a new coach and new excitement in Arizona. But will any of the Cardinal players respond and have a breakout season in 2013?
After six years in the desert, the Arizona Cardinals decided it was time to move on from head coach Ken Whisenhunt. With Whisenhunt at the helm, the organization had seen its fair share of ups and downs.
He led them to the playoffs in back-to-back years and even managed to reach the Super Bowl in 2008. However, Whisenhunt was never able to field a team that was considered to be a playoff contender after Kurt Warner retired.
Warner’s retirement and Whisenhunt’s inability to find a proper replacement ultimately led to his demise. That, in turn, made room for the hiring of former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
Arians became the 38th head coach in franchise history. Moreover, his arrival signals the start of a new era with heightened expectations. Arizona fans want the Cardinals to find their way to the playoffs for just the ninth time in franchise history.
For that to happen, they will need a handful of players, new and old, to step up their game this season. Here are five players the Cardinals are counting on to break out in 2013.
Strong safety Rashad Johnson may not be a household name right now, but his time is coming. Johnson was re-signed this past offseason after he spent the last four seasons in Arizona as a spot starter at both safety positions.
Johnson was also viewed as one of Arizona’s top special teams contributors in recent years. In 2012, he registered eight special teams tackles total while appearing in 15 games.
On defense, the former third-round pick was even more effective playing in former defensive coordinator Ray Horton's system. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished 2012 with the seventh-best coverage grade among NFL safeties.
If Johnson had logged more than 166 defensive snaps, he would have finished with an even higher coverage grade. Opposing quarterbacks threw his way only six times, yet he managed to intercept two of those six targets.
Not to mention opposing quarterbacks managed to post a measly quarterback rating of 79.2 when throwing his way. For the sake of the Cardinals, Johnson needs to have continued success as a 16-game starter. If he doesn’t, fans by midseason will be wishing for the return of safety Adrian Wilson.
In retrospect, signing quarterback Kevin Kolb was a colossal mistake. Aside from not living up to his on-field expectations, he was never able to start all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2011 and 2012.
When Bruce Arians took over, he made it clear that he wasn’t tied to any of Arizona’s past failures. Kolb didn’t appear to be the right fit for his offensive scheme, so the Cardinals' front office pulled off a trade for Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer in early April.
The trade made a ton of sense from a schematic standpoint, yet there have been questions about Palmer and the overall impact he will have on the club. This stems from the numbers he compiled as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
Can a once glorified Pro Bowl quarterback return to his old form, or has his high level of play completely disappeared? That’s the $1 million question.
Arizona’s offensive weapons and stout play on defense will arguably give Palmer a better chance to succeed. The Raiders didn’t exactly have the most impressive skill players in Palmer's two-year tenure with the team.
Despite the fact that the Cardinals have an uphill battle in the NFC West, Palmer’s breakout season in 2013 will help the organization find relevancy for the first time since 2009.
After a slow start to his rookie campaign in 2012, wide receiver Michael Floyd’s production started to pick up towards the end of the season. Over the Cardinal's last five games, he registered at least five targets in four of them. Moreover, he averaged 60.4 yards receiving during that five-game span.
Floyd’s most successful game to date came against the San Francisco 49ers on December 30, 2012. He hauled in eight passes for 166 yards receiving while finding the end zone with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
With a full season and a second offseason and training camp under his belt, Floyd will be looking to rectify his lofty top-15 draft status by breaking out in 2013. Aside from his own progression from year one to year two, Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer will also help him take that next step.
Additionally, the presence of a strong running game should open things up downfield for Floyd; it's common knowledge that one-dimensional offenses have a hard time finding consistent success in the NFL.
Through the first nine weeks of the 2012 NFL season, Arizona Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie was considered one of the worst offensive tackles in all of football. He had surrendered 13 quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits and 35 quarterback hurries.
Numbers of that nature were unfathomable considering that the most unproductive offensive tackles in the NFL posted better numbers over the course of an entire 16-game season. However, Massie didn’t let nine weeks of misery derail his rookie season.
He refocused and reworked his technique during Arizona’s Week 10 bye week and bounced back in a big way. Massie didn’t allow a single quarterback sack in the final seven games of the season, and he only allowed 11 quarterback pressures total.
The stark improvement not only caught the eye of the Cardinals’ coaching staff, but it caught the eye of notable pro football websites like Pro Football Focus. Gordon McGuinness of PFF hailed Massie as Arizona’s secret superstar for the 2012 season.
Going forward, the former fourth-round selection will look to build on his late-season surge to solidify himself as one of the league’s top right tackles.
After a strong rookie season in 2010, nose tackle Dan Williams took two steps back in 2011 and 2012. Injuries and an influx of snaps played a major role in Williams’ slip in production.
As a rookie, Williams was regarded by fans and media members alike as one of the most dominant run-stuffing nose tackles in the league. He finished the 2010 season with 22 defensive stops and one tackle for loss.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him out at plus-10.9. Only eight interior defensive linemen had a higher grade at the end the season. In 2011, Williams was viewed by PFF as the 35th best defender against the run.
Without question, missing the final six games of the 2011 campaign hurt his stock.
The 2012 season proved to be a step back in the right direction, but he still wasn’t able to match his production output from 2010. He piled up 44 total tackles, 33 of them solo.
Statistically, those numbers show that his run-stuffing ways are back and better than ever. Yet, Williams still needs to add a level of consistency to his game. He needs to do away with the four- and five-game slumps he often suffers during the early part of the season.
From Week 4 to Week 8 in 2012, he turned in five straight negatively graded performances. A more consistent Williams will help defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense become one of the most feared units in NFL.