"As pieces come together, Cardinals look to soar into the Playoffs"

Evan NesbittContributor IAugust 10, 2008

            At the end of last season the Cardinals found themselves in unfamiliar territory to say the least, having completed only their second non-losing season in ten years after going 8-8.  Even though last year was not actually a winning season, it did give people of the desert a reason to hope for the 2008 season.  Last season the Cardinals were torn apart by injury, two of the most notable being those of starting quarterback Matt Leinart (who suffered a fracture to his left collar bone in week five) and the injury to strong safety Adrian Wilson (who missed the end of the season due to a heel injury).  This season, both must recover if the Cardinals hope to move forward in their push to become a playoff team.  On offense the Cardinals will have an ongoing battle for the starting quarterback position until either Matt Leinart or Kurt Warner can breakaway and prove that they truly deserve to start.  After the first preseason game however, Matt Leinart has seemed to have won the job.  For the first time in many seasons, the Cardinals offensive line returns fully intact which should provide stability not only to the running game, but to the entire offense in general.  This year the line should improve as Deuce Lutui and second year player Levi Brown improve.  At the running back position, the thirty year old Edgerrin James will once again be the starter and should have a better season due to the line stability.  However, this year James may see fewer carries because of the acquisition of Tim Hightower, a 5th round draft pick out of Richmond, who the Cardinals organization has high hopes for.  The receiving core is the Cardinals most effective and most solid position.  Once again, expect Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to be amongst the best receiving duos in the NFL.  Though Boldin was unable to reach a new contract with the team, I don’t see his numbers diminishing much because he truly just wants to play football.  The only question for the Cardinals at the receiver position is who is going to be the third receiver after the departure of Bryant Johnson.  Early Doucet and Steve Breaston look to be the preseason favorites.

On the defensive side of the ball the cardinals have a little more work to do.  The line will need nose tackles Gabe Watson and Alan Branch to have solid years if this unit wants to move forward.  This season Watson will be recovering from a fractured kneecap the he suffered on a treadmill back in April, but looks to be ready for the season opener.  As for the outside, both defensive tackle Darnell Docket, who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, and defensive tackle Antonio Smith will be important parts of this defense.  Arizona is also hoping to use draftees Calais Campbell (2ndround, Miami) and Kenny Iwebema (4th round, Iowa) in rotations throughout the season to help out the veterans.  At the linebacker position, inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes will once again play important parts of this unit and this defense.  Veterans Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor must recover from injuries that made them miss significant time last season if the outside play is to improve and keep this group solid.  Just in case the two vets have trouble due to injury and age, the Cardinals signed Travis Laboy (Titans) and Clark Haggans (Steelers).  The only loss to this unit was a big one when Calvin Pace left and was signed by the Jets.  Lastly there is the secondary that is counting greatly on the speedy and efficient recovery of strong safety Adrian Wilson.  Accompanying Wilson at the safety position this year will be Antrel Rolle, who has made the switch to free safety this year after performing well at the position last season.  At the cornerback position, Roderick Hood is projected to start on the left side and Eric Green is projected to start on the right side once again this season.  Last year, the two had good years but not great years, which must be improved upon for this secondary to be better. If either is to slip up, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should see some good playing time after performing well in the first preseason game.  The special teams will be anchored by kicker Neil Rackers who is looking to have a season much like that of 2005.  The kick returning will be handled by Steve Breaston who put up good numbers last season. 

The Cardinals face a tougher schedule this season with games against the Pats, Vikings, Giants, Cowboys and Eagles.  The key games for this team will be both games against the Seahawks.  If the Cardinals can manage to win both those at home and on the road, then perhaps Arizona can steal the division title and sneak into the playoffs.  As for my overall outlook, I see Cardinals improving on last season and just perhaps making the playoffs.  Even if this Cardinals team doesn’t play into January this year, the future is bright for this team.