TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) A 10-win season is usually enough to get a team into the playoffs.
Not last year. Not when you’re playing in the NFC West.
Coach Bruce Arians, in his first year in the desert, directed the Cardinals to just their second 10-win season in the 26 years they’ve been in Arizona. And all that got them was third place in the toughest division in football.
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Confidence is palpable in the Cardinals’ locker room as the new season approaches, but the players know last year’s 2-4 record against NFC West foes has to improve.
Quarterback Carson Palmer calls this ”by far the most talented team I’ve ever been on, top to bottom.”
Arizona added speed in Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie sensation John Brown, then bolstered an already good secondary by signing free agent cornerback Antonio Cromartie and drafting hard-hitting safety Deone Bucannon out of Washington State in the first round.
The Cardinals filled their biggest need on offense by signing massive Jerad Veldheer to play left tackle.
But a defection, a suspension and an injury created trouble up the middle of a defense that ranked sixth last season, second against the run.
Inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington are gone. Dansby left for Cleveland as a free agent, Washington is suspended for a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Then in practice last week, tackle Darnell Dockett tore his ACL and is out for the season.
Larry Foote will try to prove he still has it at age 34 at one inside linebacker spot. Second-year pro Kevin Minter, who took one defensive snap last season, is supposed to fill the other spot, although he was slowed by a pectoral muscle injury in preseason. At tackle, Frostee Rucker has had a strong camp, but behind him are two rookies and two players the Cardinals just brought in the past few days.
Palmer, who says he’s comfortable in Arians’ system after struggling last season, said the offense needs to become ”the backbone” of the team.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu, the versatile, disruptive ”Honey Badger” who recovered from a severe knee injury much quicker than anticipated, says the deep, talented secondary needs to pick up the slack.
”That pass rush might not be there this year,” he said. ”We may have to cover a bit longer.”
Here are some things to look for with the Cardinals this season:
RECEIVERS GALORE: Arians already had two pretty good ones in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Now he’s added Ginn and Brown, the speedy receiver from little Pittsburg (Kansas) State who emerged as the camp sensation.
”I’ve been through this so many times with small school, smaller receivers that are fast,” Arians said. ”A lot of guys like them 6-2, 220 that can’t run. I like those little fast guys.”
There’s another Brown, Jaron, who has made one big catch after another in preseason.
And dynamic second-year running back Andre Ellington will catch passes out of the backfield and has learned all of the wide receiver positions.
IS THERE A PASS RUSH?: Arizona has one established pass-rushing threat on the edge in 37-year-old outside linebacker John Abraham, who had 11 1/2 sacks last year and is the active career sacks leader. Abraham missed most of training camp while dealing with what he called ”personal stuff” following his arrest on a drunk driving charge in suburban Atlanta in late June.
Calais Campbell had nine sacks last season and seems poised for a big year after being passed over for the Pro Bowl last season.
PETERSON – BEST AND BEST PAID: Patrick Peterson, the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the NFL, is now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, signing a six-year, $70 million contract, with $48 million guaranteed.
A Pro Bowl selection all three of his pro seasons, Peterson won’t return punts and have any plays for him on offense. He says that’s fine, giving him more time to ”hone” his cornerback skills.
PALMER AT 36: Palmer got off to a rough start last year as he struggled to learn Arians’ offense. He was much better in the second half of the schedule, and not coincidentally, Arizona won seven of its last nine.
He says there’s no comparison to this year, when he has a total understanding of the offense and what he’s supposed to do in it.
Palmer, 34, has thrown for more than 4,000 yards each of the last two seasons, including a career-high 4,274 last year.
KID KICKER: After four seasons, Jay Feely is gone as placekicker, beaten out by undrafted rookie Chandler Catanzaro. Arians liked the booming, soaring kickoffs of Catanzaro enough to risk sending a rookie into clutch field goal situations.
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