The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 5-11. Missed Playoffs.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
This is simple: The Arizona Cardinals had possibly the worst offensive line in league history last season as they ranked dead last in yards per rush as well as sacks given up per pass attempt. There was only one other team in the past 30 years that ranked last in those two categories and that was the first-year expansion Houston Texans, who basically ended David Carr’s career before it even started. It’s no surprise that such a horrendous line burned through four different starting quarterbacks and ruined Kevin Kolb, who just two years earlier was the most sought-after free-agent quarterback on the market. The Cardinals’ two starting tackles, D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie were Nos. 1 and 2 in sacks given up, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Massie got markedly better by season’s end and the team selected arguably the best player in the entire draft, Jonathan Cooper, to secure the interior of the line. In addition to the improving Massie, Levi Brown will return after missing all of 2012 with a torn triceps and while there are no guarantees he will be at full strength, anything he can give will be better than Batiste. As an insurance policy, the Cardinals were wise to sign Eric Winston, who can spot start on either side and provide much-needed depth. Other than his remarks about crowd booing in Kansas City, Winston had a very forgettable season last year, but it wasn’t long ago that he was road-grading lanes for leading rusher Arian Foster in 2010.
This is a much-improved unit from last year, but that group was so bad in 2012 that they will have to prove themselves over and over again before I say they are anything more than the weakest link on this team.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
You could easily name Larry Fitzgerald as the team’s biggest asset, and he is. But this guy is going to help the Cardinals actually use their best weapon. First-year head coach Bruce Arians will call plays for this offense after what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Indianapolis. Just like the Colts in 2012 and not counting Fitzgerald, the wide receiver group as a whole is deprived of talent. Rob Housler is still a young, unproven commodity at tight end. That didn’t stop Arians and the Colts as they returned to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback and put up the 10th best offensive numbers in the NFL. One could easily make the argument that the playoff loss to the Ravens would have been much more competitive had Arians not missed the game after being admitted to the hospital with an illness.
As for Fitzgerald, all Arians did for Reggie Wayne, a receiver that has put up Hall of Fame-type numbers with Peyton Manning at his side, was help him put up near career-highs in both receptions and total yards. Wayne’s 106 catches were five shy of his career-best 111 and his 1,355 receiving yards tied for his second-best season of his 12-year career. Simply stated, Arians knows how to get his best player the ball, and Fitzgerald should easily match his numbers from his days with Kurt Warner behind center.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the draft, will have the most immediate impact, but all of the team’s first three draft picks will play significant roles in the turnaround of this team. But let’s focus on Tyrann Mathieu. There was no denying the talent this kid had as he was easily the best athlete among all the cornerbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine. I didn’t say he put up the best measurables, but he was clearly the most fluid in his athletic movements and hand-eye coordination. During his final two years at LSU, he wasn’t even the best cover corner on his team as he played with both Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. It is one of those same teammates, Peterson, that will be charged with keeping him on the straight-and-narrow in the NFL. Peterson and his father, Patrick Peterson Sr. have long been Mathieu’s mentors and there was no better landing place for the oft-troubled Honeybadger. If there is one place that he can overcome all his drug problems, it is with a likeable coach like Arians and a friend like Peterson.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
Ray Horton is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL and was one of the finalists for this job before the Cardinals decided to go with Bruce Arians instead. After being passed over for the head coaching vacancy, Horton was fired since Arians wanted to go with his own guy, Todd Bowles, as defensive coordinator. This was a unit that finished in the top five in passing defense, third-down stops, turnovers and red zone defense. Now the job will be turned over to Bowles, who was the Eagles’ defensive coordinator last year after Juan Castillo was fired earlier in the season. Bowles’ Eagles finished 29th in scoring defense and last in creating turnovers while finishing in the top 10 in just one major defensive category.
What is the outlook for 2013?
The Cardinals could very well become the most improved team this season, but they are playing in what could be the most competitive division in all of football. Carson Palmer was a major upgrade at quarterback, but he hasn’t posted a winning record since 2009 and only has two winning seasons in his entire NFL career.
The Seahawks and 49ers are Super Bowl favorites heading into the season and let’s not forget the Rams went undefeated against NFC West opponents last season. So while they may be the most improved team, that may not necessarily translate in the win column.