Arizona Cardinals: What we learned in 2016

January 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden (44) reacts after he brings down Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals didn’t have the season most expected them to have in 2016

If you asked most Arizona Cardinals fans, they would have told you back in August they expected the Cardinals to win anywhere from 10 to 13 games.  As it was, they finished 7-8-1 and out of the playoffs and in second place in the NFC West.

Certainly it was a year of disappointment when it came to team results.  It was the year of the injury.  The Cardinals ended with 16 players on injured reserve and tackle D.J. Humphries missing the last couple of games with a concussion.

So what did we learn from this season?  There’s a lot of things that need to change, there are things that we’d like to see the same.

Changes should come on special teams.  But not everything was a disaster for the Cardinals this year.  The Cardinals running game is healthy.  The Cardinals pass rush was re-born.

We know head coach Bruce Arians will return.  We still do not know the status of receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  We don’t know officially what quarterback Carson Palmer will do, although it sounds as if he is returning next season.

Now a look at what we learned about the 2016 Arizona Cardinals.  A lot happened.

Jan 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals placekicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) attempts a field goal as punter Matt Wile (6) holds the ball during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals need to bring in competition for kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

Most want him gone.  There was even a time I said he’s done and the Cardinals need to look elsewhere.  However after review, Catanzaro did some good things too.

Catanzaro struggled at times no doubt.  If he makes his field goal attempts against the New England Patriots, the first Seattle Seahawks game, and the Miami Dolphins, we are talking about the Cardinals hosting the Detroit Lions this Saturday night in Glendale.  But, we aren’t.

In training camp, the Cardinals allowed Catanzaro to go without competition.  That needs to change in training camp 2017.

Catanzaro went 21-28 on field goals and 43-47 on extra points in 2016.  He did go a stretch from the end of October until December without a miss.  The Dolphins game was a disaster in December though.

He hit big field goals as well.  He hit a 60-yarder in Buffalo.  He hit the game-winner in Seattle on Christmas Eve.  He went 3-3 in the regular-season finale this past Sunday in Los Angeles.

January 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) leaves the field following the 44-6 victory against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Carson Palmer is the quarterback next season but needs someone to mentor for 2018 and beyond

A lot of people complained about him this season.  Sure, his 2016 wasn’t what his 2015 was.  He had 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2015.  In 2016, he had 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

There was a lot more attention to giving running back David Johnson the ball on the ground in the red zone, so that took some touchdowns away.  There were also receivers that ran wrong routes and dropped passes.

The offensive line also did not play well, Palmer was sacked 40 times.  Palmer is not blameless. He did make some bad decisions and did hold the ball longer than he should have at times.

However, Palmer didn’t play as bad as many would like to think he did.  He played very well down the stretch.

What needs to happen is Palmer needs to return in 2017 and make one more run at it.  In the meantime, the Cardinals need to address their quarterback future now though, and they will.  They indicated as much on Monday.

The Cardinals should draft a good quarterback that Palmer can mentor next season.  Then the young quarterback, whoever that may be, can start off running with the 2018 season.

January 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs the ball against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals running game starts and ends with David Johnson

You wonder exactly where the Cardinals would be without running back David Johnson?  It is a thought I’d rather not present.  It’s not pretty.

If the Cardinals were a better team, Johnson would have easily been in the MVP race.  As it was, Johnson finished with 1,239-yards rushing and also has 80 receptions for 879-yards.  He had 16 touchdowns on the ground and four through the air.

That was the very reason why the Cardinals ran with Johnson in Los Angeles on Sunday.  Johnson was there for his teammates and was there to see what he could do to add to his numbers.

A lot of fans complained about him playing in a game that meant nothing, at least standings-wise. The game did mean a lot to Johnson and the team however and that’s good enough for me.

Next season, will Andre Ellington still be around to back Johnson up?  Hard to say, but it looks like Kerwynn Williams may be that guy.  Williams had 60-yards in relief of Johnson on Sunday.

Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals punter Drew Butler (2) holds as kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) kicks a field goal against the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams is not so special

Arians said his special teams coach, Amos Jones, is not the one to blame for the problems that have beset the unit.  Maybe not all of it, but shouldn’t he and Jones be taking at least some accountability?

They may not be the one executing on the field but they are the ones choosing the players to be on that field.  So it does start and end with Arians and Jones.

They went with a rookie long-snapper to start the season.  That was a disaster.  Then they went to veteran Aaron Brewer.  He wasn’t much better.  It will be interesting to see what the team decides next season.

The punter was a disaster.  The Cardinals started with Drew Butler, went to Ryan Quigley, then back to Butler, then finished with Matt Wile.

The Cardinals punt return team was bad.  They were 29th in the NFL in average yards-per-return. The kick return team wasn’t much better, finishing 16th.

The Cardinals allowed field goals and punts to be blocked, including in week 17 against the Rams. Field position played a big part of why the Cardinals didn’t ultimately succeed in 2016.

Dec 24, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) celebrates after throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers don’t lie

The Arizona Cardinals finished second in defense.  They finished ninth in offense.  They also finished 7-8-1.  Something doesn’t make sense there.

The missing ingredient?  Special teams.  As alluded to earlier, if the Cardinals just convert kicks, they are looking at a playoff game this weekend.  Sure, there are other underlying issues.

Some in local media said the Cardinals numbers are skewed somewhat.  Yes, look at the numbers, you’d think the Cardinals were a playoff team.

The numbers don’t lie though.  The numbers were accumulated.  Larry Fitzgerald caught 107 passes.  David Johnson did have over 2,000-yards from scrimmage.  The Cardinals lead the NFL in sacks with 48.

There were good things that happened.  Just go look at all of the special teams numbers and the number of injuries the Cardinals had plus the amount of sacks the offensive line gave up, plus the turnovers and you’ll see why the Cardinals finished where they did.

They scored 418 points.  That is a head-scratcher given the close games they lost.  They were efficient at times but were very inconsistent.

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