NFL 2013: Arians looks to reverse Cards fortunes

The Arizona Cardinals had the worst offense in the NFL a year


After a 4-0 start, the team lost 11 of 12 to finish 5-11,

leading to the firing of coach Ken Whisenhunt after six seasons

that included a run to the Super Bowl in 2008.

Enter Bruce Arians, the 60-year-old veteran of two decades as an

NFL assistant who parlayed his successful stint as interim coach

last year in Indianapolis into a full-time head coaching gig in


Arians and new general manager Steve Keim, promoted after Rod

Graves was fired, overhauled the roster, bringing in quarterback

Carson Palmer, running back Rashard Mendenhall and a host of


Arians joked about teaming with the 33-year-old Palmer.

”This is a cowboy movie,” he said, ”with two old guys, this

is our last rodeo in the desert.”

Arians has an impressive pedigree when it comes to quarterbacks,

working with the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and

Andrew Luck in his years as an NFL assistant.

Now he will try to improve the fortunes of Palmer, who put up

big numbers a year ago for Oakland but many of those yards came

with the Raiders trying to come from behind in games en route to a

3-13 season.

Arians has placed his stamp on the team already, calling out

players publicly at times, lacing his critiques to players with

profanity and making clear his lack of tolerance for mental


He has an ”accountability sheet” that lists players who made

mistakes or otherwise ran afoul of the coach and shows it to the

entire team. No one, not even star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald,

is exempt.

Still, rebuilding is no easy task, especially in the tough NFC


Here are five issues facing the Cardinals:

1. CAN PALMER BE A WINNER? Carson Palmer has put up some

impressive numbers in his 10-year NFL career. Last season, the

former No. 1 draft pick threw for 4,018 yards with Oakland, but

many of those yards came with his team trying to come back in

games, and the result was a 3-13 season. It was the third time

Palmer has topped 4,000 yards passing, but his team didn’t have a

winning record in any of those seasons. In fact, Palmer is 54-68 as

a starter.

Palmer is well aware that any success for the Cardinals is tied

to what he does.

”That’s the game in this league,” he said. ”I’m used to that.

I’ve been playing quarterback my whole life so I’m used to the

pressures that come with the position, the good, the bad. Obviously

the quarterback plays an integral part of every team’s


Arizona had four players start at quarterback last season.

Palmer has called Arians’ offense the most challenging he’s had,

and he repeatedly has touted his receivers – Fitzgerald, Andre

Roberts, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler.

”We have smart football players on this offense,” Palmer said.

”Combine that with athleticism and speed and experience. You look

at a guy like Larry’s experience and his catches and his touches in

games, I’m as excited and as optimistic as ever.”

2. KEEPING CARSON UPRIGHT: The Cardinals gave up an NFL-worst 58

sacks last season, and Palmer isn’t exactly the most mobile of


If he goes down to injury, the job would fall to Drew Stanton,

who hasn’t thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Suffice it to

say, keeping Palmer upright is very important.

Plans for an improved offensive line took a major hit when

first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper, the starting left guard,

broke his left leg in the third preseason game. Cooper might be

able to come back late in the season, but in the meantime Arizona

will shift Daryn Colledge back to left guard after planning to move

him to the right side. Paul Fanaika, out of the league last season,

is tentatively scheduled to start at right guard.

Levi Brown, out all of last season with torn triceps, is the

left tackle, with late signee Eric Winston on the right side. Lyle

Sendlein is back at center.

”It’s a big setback because we all feel bad for Cooper,”

Colledge said of the injury, ”but the guys in this locker room are

going to say it’s no setback because we want to plug a guy in and

keep rolling.”

3. MULTI-PURPOSE PETERSON: The more that Arians saw what kind of

athlete Patrick Peterson was, the more he wanted to use the

cornerback and punt returner on offense, too.

Peterson says that interest has grown to some 60 plays in the

preseason. If Peterson doesn’t get the ball on a handoff, he’ll

catch a pass, maybe even throw one or at the very least be a decoy

that opponents must have to worry about.

Peterson said people shouldn’t worry about him getting too much

to do. He says he’s the best-conditioned athlete on the team and no

one is going to argue with him. He also says that he’s a cornerback

first and foremost.

But, as Arians said, ”He’s an ascending offensive player.”

4. CHANGES ON DEFENSE: Defense was a bright spot for the

Cardinals through their misery a year ago, and coordinator Ray

Horton (now with Cleveland) was a finalist to replace


But there have been plenty of personnel changes on the defensive

side, especially with Pro Bowl inside linebacker Daryl Washington

suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s

substance abuse policy.

Karlos Dansby returned to his former team to play at one inside

linebacker spot, with Jasper Brinkley the other and second-round

draft pick Kevin Minter a backup as well as a player on special


Jerraud Powers will play opposite Peterson at cornerback. Both

safeties, longtime Cardinal Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, are

gone. Rashad Johnson, who started much of the time a year ago, is

at strong safety with Yeremiah Bell coming in at the other.

Up front, the Cardinals are unchanged with Calais Campbell,

Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. Sam Acho is back at outside

linebacker. Lorenzo Alexander and John Abraham, the active leader

in career sacks with a whopping 122 including 10 last season, will

play the other outside spot.

5. HOW SWEET IS THE HONEY BADGER? The Cardinals took a chance on

Tyrann Mathieu and drafted him in the third round. Mathieu, out of

football last season after being kicked off the LSU team due to

marijuana troubles, has impressed the coaches.

He figures to see plenty of action in the Cardinals


Arians calls him ”a lovable kid.”

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