NFL Previews: Analyzing the 2011-12 Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals were plagued by poor quarterback play last season following Kurt Warner's retirement. The team decided to cut Matt Leinart after the preseason and awarded the starting job to Derek Anderson. He struggled greatly and the team eventually handed the reins to rookies Max Hall and John Skelton, with similar results. The team's defense also struggled, contributing to a disappointing 5-11 finish.
The team's future and success next season depend on newly-acquired QB Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals gave up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick in exchange for Kolb, then signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract.
Arizona drafted CB Patrick Peterson to replace Rodgers-Cromartie and signed star tight end Todd Heap to help with Arizona's passing game after the departure of wide receiver Steve Breaston.
Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the best WR in the NFL, is still with the team though, and recently signed an eight-year, $120 million contract extension, likely keeping him in Arizona for the rest of his career. He and Kolb could form one of the more exciting and dangerous QB-WR duos in years to come.
The team needs running back Beanie Wells to improve majorly this season in order to free up the passing game for Kolb and the Cardinals' receivers. With a solid QB now under center in Arizona, expect this offense to be much more potent than last year's group.
Which team will win the NFC West this season?
The Cardinals struggled defensively last season. Linebacker Paris Lenon was easily the best player on defense for the Cardinals last year, piling up 125 total tackles, including 94 solo ones along with two sacks and two interceptions. LB Daryl Washington also played well for Arizona, compiling 67 solo tackles and 78 total.
The team signed OLB Joey Porter to replace LB Karlos Dansby, who signed with the Miami Dolphins, but he had a disappointing season, recording only 50 tackles. He did record five sacks and two forced fumbles for Arizona, though.
Arizona also has two solid safeties in Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson and promising corner Patrick Peterson to build around, but this unit needs more talent to truly be a top-level defense in this league. Rhodes played very well in his first season with the Cardinals, racking up 90 tackles and four interceptions, good for the most on the team. Expect Peterson to make an immediate impact and also expect a solid season from the rest of the Cardinals' defensive players.
The Cardinals special teams unit played decently last season. Jay Feely was very accurate last season, connecting on 24 out of 27 field goals, never missing inside the 40-yard line. His longest make was from 55 yards. He also went 29 for 29 on extra points.
Ben Graham was a solid punter for the Cards last season, punting 94 times and averaging 43 yards per punt, including nine touchbacks and 29 inside the 20-yard line. This unit played pretty well for Arizona last year and expect more of the same this season.
Overall, the Cardinals seem to be a team in transition who is rapidly improving and could challenge for the division crown as soon as this season. As it was QB play that plagued the team last season more than anything, the addition of Kolb should dramatically improve this team both now and in the future.
Prediction: Cardinals finish 9-7, win the NFC West, lose in wild card round of the playoffs.
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