Can Cards Soar Back To Playoffs In 09?
Something seems wrong in Arizona. The Suns missed the playoffs for the first time in what seems like a decade, the Diamondbacks stink, Arizona State is dominating U of A on the hardwood, and the Cardinals are good.
Yes, 2008 was the best season in Arizona Cardinal history.
Not only did the red birds win the NFC West, but they also played the Cinderella role and soared their way to Super Bowl XLIII before midnight finally struck, thanks to the efforts of Santonio Holmes.
While the ending to Super Bowl XLIII was a dissapointing one for Cardinal fans, this team was certainly "not who we thought they were" in 2008, and you can almost feel a buzz of anticipation in the desert for 2009.
With the kickoff of training camp looming, here are a few thoughts to consider before handing the Cardinals their NFC west crown again:
Will Kurt Warner stay healthy?
I don't need to be the one to tell you this, but Kurt is no youngster anymore. It doesn't hurt having three 1,000-yard receivers, but he'll be 38 at the start of this season, and there's no way his shoulder will last a full season with no running game. Which brings me to my next point...
Will the run game improve?
The Cards addressed their backfield in the first round of the draft, selecting the talents of Chris "Beanie" Wells out of Ohio State. They also return Tim Hightower and his 10 TD from last season.
The coaching staff insists that the run game will be more present in this year's playbook. However, with Edgerrin James and JJ Arrington out, the team lacks a veteran presence at running back. Then again, with that passing game, they could probably give Shaq a call for help.
Happy or not, lets face it, Anquan Boldin is a stud. The Bidwells need to pay the man. In six seasons as a pro, the guy has over 500 receptions over 6,000 yards and 40 TD. Teamed up with Larry Fitzgerald, that makes for arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL, and Boldin isn't an idiot, he knows this. Now that he has parted ways with Drew Rosenhaus, its time to get a deal done to keep him in the desert.
The Cards weren't exactly the best team on the road in 2008, going 3-5. The three wins on the road were against lowly NFC West opponents. In the five losses, all on the east coast, they were outscored 274-145. This needs to change in 2009.
Aside from division games, the Cards play a very winnable game at Jacksonville in Week Two, at the Giants in Week Seven, at Chicago in Week Nine, at Tennessee in Week 12, and at Detroit in Week 15—another game you can pencil a W next to on the schedule.
NFC West or Worst?
The NFC West was pathetic in 2008. It was a cake walk for the Cards, as they went 6-0 in route to their 9-7 division title. However, while the Rams still have issues, the 49ers and the Seahawks are much improved.
The 49ers ended 2008 a pretty hot football team and added WR Michael Crabtree in the draft. The Seahawks didnt lack talent in '08, they were just plagued with injuries. They also improved by signing WR TJ Houshmanzadeh and drafting LB Aaron Curry out of Wake Forest, said by some to be the best player in the draft.
It is extremely possible that there will be a three-team race in 2009, with more than one making the playoffs.
As mentioned earlier, Warner wont last too much longer passing the ball as many times as he did in '08. Hightower and Wells will need to step up the run game in '09, and while they are young, they should be able to with the potent pass attack that the Cards possess.
It has been proven throughout the league that it is beneficial to have a "two-headed monster" at running back (Carolina—Stewart and Williams, Tennessee—Johnson and White, Miami—Brown and Williams, New York—Jacobs and Bradshaw). If Hightower and Wells can be added to that list in 2009, then expect much of the same out of Arizona.
2008 was no fluke in the desert. The Cardinals not only have great veteran leadership, but they now finally know how to win, which has been a huge knock on them for the past few years.
They now know what its like to win on the road in the playoffs and what it's like to host a conference championship game. In 2009, the Cards will not only bring experience, but they also have an improved roster with Wells and the signing of CB Bryant Mcfadden, who has experience working with coach Ken Wisenhunt coming from Pittsburgh.
Even with the improvements in Seattle and San Francisco, I still see the Cardinals finishing 2009 10-6 and hosting a first-round playoff game.
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