- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Some are obvious. Others could use elaboration.
Let's get right to 'em.
What to like
Best WR in the game: Larry Fitzgerald changes games, no matter the stage. Even casual fans should remember his 64-yard, go-ahead touchdown against Pittsburgh with 2:37 left in the Super Bowl. Fewer saw Fitzgerald take over the game and will the Cardinals to victory with little on the line against Seattle in Week 17 this past season. He is the best, in my view.
Multi-level defensive talent: The Cardinals have outstanding talent at all three levels of their defense, as RogueCardinal notes. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are bookends up front. Daryl Washington is 25 years old and coming off a season with five sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and 16 tackles for loss. He can become a Pro Bowl-caliber player this year. Adrian Wilson borders on elite at safety. Patrick Peterson progressed at cornerback and should be ready to take a step forward in his second season.
Resiliency. How else to explain the Cardinals' ability to go from 1-6 to 8-8 last season? Their 7-2 record over the final nine games matched the San Francisco 49ers' record over the same period, as PaybackTony noted.
Dynamic returner. Peterson tied an NFL record with four touchdowns on punt returns last season. He's a threat every time he touches the ball and should affect games this coming season as well. Peterson is the only player in NFL history with four touchdowns on punt returns of at least 80 yards in the same season.
Two young pass-rushers. Sam Acho (seven sacks) and O'Brien Schofield (4.5) helped the Cardinals finish tied with the 49ers for most sacks in the NFC West. Neither is even 25 years old. Both should see their playing time increase, which should lead to increased production. Throw in Campbell, who has 21 sacks in 42 starts, and the pass-rush has strong potential.
Two young running backs. Beanie Wells became the first player in Cardinals history with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season. Getting 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams back from injury gives the Cardinals a welcome alternative. The staff was over-the-top excited about Williams before the injury and that excitement has returned now that Williams is getting healthy.
Time on their side. Quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley seemed to suffer more than most from the lockout last season. Both faced significant adjustments from Philadelphia to Arizona. Both struggled to adapt. A full offseason will benefit both. Ray Horton, a first-year defensive coordinator in 2011, also gets the time he needs to prepare for a season. Horton will benefit from knowing his personnel, having game-day coordinating experience and working with players already familiar with his system. Finding ways to use Bradley's versatility figures to be one point of emphasis.
The Lott factor. John Lott, the Cardinals' acclaimed strength coach, gets a full offseason to work with young players, including one in particular -- nose tackle Dan Williams. Williams reported to camp overweight following the lockout. He was rounding into shape when a broken arm ended his season. Lott should have Williams in much better condition and ready to contribute at a higher level earlier in the season, a big key for the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme.
Depth at cornerback. The schedule serves up quite a few top quarterbacks this season. The Cardinals love their depth in the secondary even after losing Richard Marshall in free agency. They see Peterson, Greg Toler, William Gay and A.J. Jefferson as four corners with starting ability. Michael Adams has considerable nickel experience as well. Horton's background is in the secondary. He knows exactly what he wants from a personnel standpoint and should have the players to execute his scheme.
What not to like
QB question marks. The Cardinals didn't see enough from Kolb last season to inspire confidence in their decision to acquire him. Some fans point to John Skelton's 5-2 record as a starter, plus a victory over the 49ers after a first-quarter injury sidelined Kolb. But as powellofnazareth put it, there was an unsustainable, even "Tebowish" feel to some of those victories. Kolb heads into his second season with the team facing serious questions about his ability and durability.
The offensive line. Center Lyle Sendlein and left guard Daryn Colledge form a capable combination inside. The Cardinals are banking on tackle Levi Brown to continue the progress he showed late last season. They still need another tackle. Pass protection will remain a concern even if the Cardinals draft a tackle early. Their quarterbacks haven't shown the pocket awareness to avoid pressure.
No dominant pass-rusher. The Cardinals accumulated good sack numbers last season, but they lacked one player they could count on for pressure in critical situations. They're dependent upon Acho and Schofield continuing to develop. Drafting a pass-rusher in the first round and then letting him develop as a situational player -- think Aldon Smith in San Francisco last season -- would take this defense to another level.
Depth beyond Fitzgerald. Arizona lacks a defined No. 2 receiver. It's possible improved quarterback play would allow Andre Roberts to grow into that role. It's also possible Roberts and the other receivers do not have the ability to produce consistently. The burden of proof is on Roberts heading into this season.
Injury concerns in the backfield. Kolb, Wells and Williams had injury problems last season.
Thanks, as always, for your contributions to the discussion. Ringlaterra, writing in the comments section of the item linked in the opening paragraph above, might have set a record with an 1,154-word dispatch. Love the passion.
Turns out there's plenty to like -- and some things to dislike -- about those allegedly underestimated Arizona Cardinals.Some are obvious. Others could use elaboration.