The Arizona Cardinals promised big changes following last season’s dismal 5-11 performance. Fans were rewarded in a big way as the team brought in a new quarterback, signed the “face of the franchise” Larry Fitzgerald to a long-term deal, added some playmakers on defense and brought a former Sun Devil (Todd Heap) back home.
Heading into the regular season, the team has plenty to look forward to. For the second straight season, the Cardinals have the “easiest” schedule in the NFL (based on opponent’s won/loss record) and they play in the weak NFC West. Here’s some things to “like” and “not like” about the Arizona Cardinals heading into the 2011 season.
Things to Like:
- A New Quarterback: The Cardinals paid a steep price for Kevin Kolb, but if the fifth year veteran is even moderately good, it’s major upgrade for Arizona. Kolb has looked good in pre-season and he’s starting to click with Larry Fitzgerald (remember that 80-yard bomb vs. San Diego two weeks ago?) With him under center, the team has some confidence and has the opportunity to do some big things.
- A “Renewed” Superstar: It was THE main objective of the off-season – do whatever it takes to get Larry Fitzgerald re-signed. The Cardinals did their part – in a big way signing their All-Pro for what will likely be the rest of his career. Fitzgerald is a classy professional who determines the direction of the Cardinals. Look for him to return to double digit touchdowns in 2011.
- A “Jewel” of a Draft Pick: Nearly everything felt Patrick Peterson was the best player overall in last Spring’s draft. The cornerback from LSU has lived up to expectations and following a few injuries in the defensive secondary, will begin his NFL career as a “starter”. Watch for his to make some big plays AND return a few punts as well.
- A New Attitude: The Cardinals aggressive approach to free-agency and improving the team has had a positive result with the fans, the media and even a few skeptics. By signing both Kolb and Fitzgerald to high-dollar, long-term deals, the team has made an investment in the future. That future starts SUNDAY!
Things to “Not Like”:
- Pre-Season Injuries: The Cardinals lost two starters with season-ending injuries during the pre-season (rookie RB Ryan Williams and CB Greg Toler). Thankfully All-Pro Adrian Wilson recovered from an early camp injury and is slated to start against Carolina. The Cardinals have some depth, but the team would have been stronger without the injuries.
- Questionable Pass Rush: Arizona brought is a large number of free agents and made some trades, but is essence the pass rush is the same as last year with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett up front and Joey Porter, Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington and Clark Haggans in the middle. New Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton has installed a new system and has added some new wrinkles. The talent is there – it’s time to see what they can do with a new system AND a new attitude.
- Lack of Running Back Depth: When Ryan Willliams went down against Green Bay, the Cardinals running game took a significant hit. Beanie Wells says he’s ready for the challenge of being THE guy in the backfield, but having Williams available as insurance was a good thing. Now, it all falls to Beanie and with his history of injuries, everyone has there fingers crossed. Wells is a “high-risk”, “high-reward” player. If he stays healthy, he has unlimited potential. Should he go down, things will fall to veteran Chester Taylor and LaRod Stephens-Howling – not a option most observers say is good for the Cardinals.
OUTLOOK: The Cardinals play the 49ers (who looked dismal in preseason), Seahawks and Rams twice. Add to that games with Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Carolina and the schedule looks favorable. The Cardinals also face the Steelers, Ravens, Eagles and Cowboys – so the schedule does have some challenges. Based on the team’s pre-season performance and the opportunity to open the season at 3-0 or 2-1 (Carolina, Washington, Seattle), many observers are putting the Cardinals in the thick of the NFC West race. I agree!
While some have predicted a 10-6 record, I think it’s more realistic for the Cardinals to WIN THE NFC WEST with a 9-7 record that includes upset victories over both the Steelers and Cowboys at home.