Cardinals' improvement might not show in win column

Cards in a hurry to turn fortunes around, but improvement could be tough to quantify in NFC West.

TEMPE, Ariz. – There are 26 new faces dotting the Cardinals 53-man roster and 18 new coaches. The offense is new, the defense is new, the relationships are new and 14 players who weren’t starters in 2012 will man those roles Sunday in St. Louis. 

So, in spite of all the talk about the Cardinals’ improved talent, and in spite of a growing buzz that this team could contend for a playoff spot, there are realistic expectations internally as the team tries to jell, right?

“No. There’s no patience. I have no patience,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Those days of building for the future in the NFL -- it’s gone. Too much roster change on everybody’s team. It’s about win right now or as a coach, you’re gone.”

That message has filtered down to Arians’ players, and there is plenty of truth to that statement in what has become an infamously impatient league.

“Guys have had enough reps. Guys have had enough opportunities to see themselves do it on film and have corrections made in meetings,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “But we still have a ton of room to grow. Obviously, in Week 1, you aren’t going to be as good in a new offense as you are in Week 8, 10, 15, 16 and so on.”

Palmer’s presence is the biggest reason for renewed hope. No matter what you think of him in the overall NFL QB rankings, he is without question a significant upgrade over the parade of failed experiments who helped get coach Ken Whisenhunt fired.

“We’ve got a legitimate quarterback, and that’s something that has everybody in this locker room excited,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.

The Cardinals have also added some intriguing playmakers at the linebacker and defensive line positions. They added Rashard Mendenhall to improve a long moribund running game, and they added linemen Jonathan Cooper, Eric Winston and Paul Fanaika to shore up a struggling offensive line.

Unfortunately for the Cards, Cooper is out for the season with a broken leg, and the team still plays in the NFC West. Once the league’s doormat, the division now boasts two Super Bowl contenders (San Francisco and Seattle) and Sunday’s opponent, St. Louis, which many analysts believe will improve on last season’s 7-8-1 finish with another year under coach Jeff Fisher’s belt and several playmakers -- including receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, linebacker Alec Ogletree and tight end Jared Cook -- added to an already intriguing mix.

The NFC West could very well be the league’s best division.

“It could be,” Arians said noting that every team has an elite defense and a talented quarterback. “That’s what separates a division is great quarterback play.”

If the Cardinals get that, we all know from the Kurt Warner years how much it can mask other deficiencies. But in this division, with all these changes, it’s possible that the Cardinals will show improvement without it showing up in the win-loss columns.

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