Rarely does a NFL team lose both their offensive and defensive coordinators in the off season. The Cardinals were put in this auspicious position after defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was fired just five days after the Super Bowl and offensive coordinator Todd Haley was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs to be their new Head Coach.
Good coaches know to play to their team’s strength. The Cardinals made no significant roster changes in the off season, but some minor tweaks were made on both sides of the ball that will affect the play calling in 2009.
On offense the drafting of 6’1 230 pound running back Chris Wells gives the Cards a power back that can run between the tackles. Teamed with Tim Hightower, the Cardinals hope behind a stable offensive line that they can improve on a porous 2008 rushing output. Arizona was last in rushing yards and 31st in yards per attempt.
With a Hall of Fame quarterback and three 1,000 yards receivers returning the Cardinals will always be a pass first team.
The 2008 pass happy red birds racked up 4,674 yards through the air with just 1,178 yards on the ground. An astonishing 80 percent of the Cardinals offense came off the arm of Kurt Warner. In, 2009 the coaching staff will look to bring that percentage down into the 60’s in order to present a more balanced attack.
Look for the Cards to run the ball earlier in the game and to put more faith into their running backs for a full four quarters. You have to show the defense a threat of the run or your passing game will eventually suffer. Arizona was a much more dynamic team during their playoff run when they stayed committed to the run.
A byproduct of the Cardinals lack of a rushing attack during the regular season was the fact that their defense had an up and down regular season. Big Red was forced to often play from behind and in the process abandoned the running game.
In the off season the Cardinals promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis to defensive coordinator. Davis knows how to run a defense serving as the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 2005 through 2007.
Throughout his professional career Davis has had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest defensive minds in the NFL including Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau, and Dom Capers.
Working predominantly out of the 3-4, Davis will look to improve on the Cardinals 2008 totals. Last year the Cardinals were 14th in the league in sacks and 19th in total defense. In order to go from average to great, the players will look to Davis’ experience running a 3-4 to bring out the most of a talented yet underachieving bunch.
From roster standpoint Davis will welcome back many of the same weapons the Cards employed in 2008. The signing of cornerback Bryant McFadden and drafting of outside linebacker Cody Brown in the second round should cancel out the ill effects of losing defensive end Antonio Smith.
The secondary may have become the strength of the Cardinals defense. Adrian Wilson is an all pro in providing necessary run support. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Antrel Rolle both have one more year of NFL experience under their belts.
Look for Coach Davis to lean on the secondary which will allow him to take more chances with his blitz packages.
Defensive leaders Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby will help dictate the play calling for Coach Davis. Dockett is the type of defensive tackle that commands a double team, which in turn opens up the linebackers to go make plays. In Dansby, Coach Davis gets a three down linebacker who can run a defense and act as a coach on the field.
With Coach Whisenhunt and Davis at the helm the Cardinals have a wealth of NFL coaching experience to turn to. Despite last year’s Super Bowl appearance the Cards still have plenty of room to grow.
A change in both the offensive and defensive coordinators may be the catalyst that turns the Cardinals into the team that plays like a Super Bowl contender for an entire 16 game season.