Arizona Cardinals 2010 Preview: Larry Fitzgerald Has To Lead For NFC West Title

Robert QuinnCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2010

Arizona Cardinals 2010 Preview: Larry Fitzgerald Has To Lead For NFC West Title

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    The Arizona Cardinals have emerged as a dominating team in the NFC West division in recent years, with the pinnacle being their Super Bowl Appearance just two seasons ago.

    However, this is been a tumultuous offseason for the Cardinals, as they lost four key playmakers and leaders, beginning with the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner following a playoff loss to the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.

    The Cardinals additionally parted ways with Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Antrell Rolle, and linebacker Karlos Dansby.

    With significant questions surrounding various positions, the Cardinals will struggle to survive in the NFC West, as both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have made significant strides in the past two seasons

Quarterback

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    The loss of quarterback Kurt Warner is a huge blow to the Arizona Cardinals. From 2007 through the 2009 season, Warner completed 1,021 passes for 11,753 yards, tossing 83 touchdowns while throwing 45 interceptions, for a completion rate of 62.2 percent.

    The Cardinals headed into the offseason with the mindset that their 2005 No. 10 overall draft selection Matt Leinart would finally be ready to take the reigns of the offense.

    Unfortunately, the combination of adding former Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson from the Cleveland Browns, as well as the selection of a productive small-school product in John Skelton via the draft, it became obvious that Coach Ken Wisenhut still wasn't sold on Leinart.

    Leinart only managed to pass for 3,893 yards in his 29 career appearances, throwing 14 touchdowns to 20 interceptions.

    After a week of drama, Leinart was released, thrusting Derek Anderson into the starting role.

    Anderson is entering his sixth professional season and had one outstanding 2007 season, in which he passed for 3,787 yards and 27 touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl, but the flip flopping between Anderson and Brady Quinn never allowed either quarterback to gain a sense of consistency.

    The biggest question for the Cardinals is if Anderson can return to his 2007 form, utilizing talented weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston.

Running Back

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    The Cardinals have a great young running back tandem in Chris "Beanie" Wells, who is entering his sophomore season, and Tim Hightower, who is entering his third.

    The two offer a great combination of speed and power and combined to gain 1,391 yards while scoring 15 touchdowns last season.

    Hightower is big and strong and used mainly as a third down and goal-line back; he has scored 18 touchdowns in his first two years in the league. He is also a major threat out of the backfield, as he caught 63 passes for 428 yards last season as well.

    Wells look solid as a rookie last year, and the former Buckeye is expected to take on a larger role this season after rushing for 793 yards last season. However, Wells fumbled nine times last season, so that could prove to be a major issue if it continues.

    Overall, the Cardinals have a young and strong running attack, which will be comforting to Derek Anderson, who is just learning this offense.

Wide Receivers

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    The Arizona Cardinals have arguably the best receiver in the National Football League in Larry Fitzgerald. In his six professional seasons, he has gained over 7,000 yards receiving and scored 59 touchdowns. He is still just 27 years old and has many years ahead of him.

    There are major concerns about how Fitzgerald's production will fare now that fellow Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin is playing for a new breed of birds this season.

    Boldin and Fitzgerald were a nightmare for opposing defenses, as both consistently produced 1,000+ receiving yards and 7-14 touchdowns each.

    Without Boldin, the Cardinals will rely on Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. Breaston has been a starter for the past two seasons and has put up successful numbers thus far, yet it will be interesting to see if his stats were from his personal skills, or from the lack of coverage he faced due to Fitzgerald and Boldin.

    In 2008, Breaston, Boldin, and Fitzgerald became the first wide receiver trio to each have 1,000+ yard seasons.

    Early Doucet is an unknown commodity at this point, catching just one touchdown in his two seasons. Doucet had a great postseason, catching 14 passes for 145 yards, and scored two touchdowns, leaving optimism that the Cardinals still have the arsenal of wide receivers that have brought them to consecutive playoff appearances.

Offensive Line

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    The Cardinals really need great play from their offensive line this season if they wish to compete. They signed Alan Faneca, who was released by the New York Jets this offseason. Faneca is a veteran who will add a presence of leadership.

    Guard Deuce Lutui reported to camp apparently weighing around 400 pounds and was out of shape, but has been shedding the pounds in order to get into game shape.

    The Cardinals offensive line is going to make or break their season this year, as they need to protect their new quarterback in addition to assisting Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower in continuing their power running attack.

Defensive Line

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    The Cardinals utilize a variation of both the 4-3 and the 3-4 defensive fronts, mainly due to the versatility of Darnell Dockett, who plays both the three and five technique defensive line positions. The seventh year pro recorded 51 tackles and seven sacks last year.

    Defensive Calias Campbell is due for a breakout season, his third in the league. The 6-foot-8, 300 pounder out of Miami made 48 tackles, seven sacks, forced a fumble, and even batted away five passes.

    The Cardinals selected nose tackle Dan Williams out of Tennessee in the 2010 NFL Draft, which will make the defensive front stronger, utilizing the smaller Dockett primarily at defensive end, where he is most productive.

Linebackers

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    The Cardinals lost their star linebacker Karlos Dansby to the Miami Dolphins, but signed Joey Porter in return.

    Dansby was an impact player on the Cardinals, but signing the aging veteran Porter is a solid stop gap, and he is a proficient pass rusher.

    Veteran outside linebacker Clark Haggans is a playmaker and is solid in coverage and provides a decent pass rush.Last season, he recorded 74 tackles, five sacks, and forced two fumbles.

    Rookie linebacker Daryl Washington, drafted out of Texas Christian University,is expected to make a splash in his rookie season, where he will see a lot of reps at inside linebacker and is solid in both run stopping and pass coverage.

Secondary

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    After losing Antrell Rolle to the New York Giants, the Cardinals quickly dealt for safety Kerry Rhodes, formerly of the New York Jets, to line up opposite Adrian Wilson.

    Wilson is one of the best safeties in the National Football league and has recorded at least 70 tackles in seven of his nine seasons. He intercepted a career high five interceptions last season, while defending 13 passes.

    The addition of Rhodes at free safety will be a pretty nasty duo. Rhodes' stats have declined in recent years, mainly due to the scheme he was playing in. He is a strong defender and can be expected to record around 80 tackles, make three to four interceptions, and force a fumble or two.

    Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a young up and coming cornerback, who has shown great flashes of promise in his first two seasons, recording 100 tackles and 10 interceptions, while batting away 44 passes.

    The Cardinals have a great and underrated secondary, which will be needed due to the lack of depth at linebacker.

Draft Picks

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    First round (26th overall): Tennessee NT Dan Williams

    Second round (47th overall): TCU LB Daryl Washington

    Third round (88th overall): Citadel WR Andre Roberts

    Fourth round (130th overall): Wisconsin OLB O'Brien Schofield

    Fifth round (155th overall): Fordham QB John Skelton

    Sixth round (201st overall): Troy CB Jorrick Calvin

    Seventh round (233rd overall): Stanford TE Jim Dray

Schedule And Prediction

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    Week 1 @ St. Louis

    Week 2 @ Atlanta

    Week 3 vs. Oakland

    Week 4 @ San Diego

    Week 5 vs. New Orleans

    Week 6 Bye

    Week 7 @ Seattle

    Week 8 vs. Tampa Bay

    Week 9 @ Minnesota

    Week 10 vs. Seattle

    Week 11 @ Kansas City

    Week 12 vs San Francisco

    Week 13 vs. St. Louis

    Week 14 vs. Denver

    Week 15 @ Carolina

    Week 16 vs. Dallas

    Week 17 @ San Francisco

    Projected Record: 9-7