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Thursday, September 1, 2011
Intelligence report: Arizona Cardinals

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Five things to know about the Arizona Cardinals, straight from our newly published 2011 preview:

1. Kolb has to be the guy: The Cardinals are paying Kevin Kolb about what Sam Bradford will receive for the next five years. That puts Arizona's commitment level in perspective. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is all-in on this one. The team should know this season whether Kolb is going to be the answer. Early returns are encouraging. Kolb has shown a dynamic personality that lends itself to leadership. He has shown a clear understanding of the No. 1 rule in Arizona: Throw the ball to Larry Fitzgerald when he's open, and throw it to him anyway when he's not.

2. Ray Horton is not a magician: The Cardinals' new defensive coordinator has the right pedigree. He learned under Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. It doesn't get much better than that. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Horton could not bring with him from Pittsburgh the outside pass-rushers who have helped the Steelers field such a strong defense. Neither can Horton wave a magic wand to make Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho turn into elite edge rushers. Look for the Cardinals to get creative with their inside linebackers. They also need to generate pressure with their safeties. Adrian Wilson can be a formidable blitzer, but he's dealing with a biceps injury.

3. Kolb's health is in focus: Kolb left the Eagles' 2010 regular-season opener with a concussion. He's now joining a Cardinals team without elite pass protectors at either tackle spot. Running back Beanie Wells hasn't been consistent in protection, either. It's important for Kolb to keep his competitive nature in check when scrambling or deciding what to do with the ball. Fitzgerald has praised Kolb for getting rid of the football quickly. Kurt Warner set the standard in that area. Kolb must follow suit. He's not the sturdiest or most physical quarterback. He needs to be smart with his body because the Cardinals don't have a backup with nearly the same abilities.

4. The schedule sets up favorably: The Cardinals face some tough stretches, but they begin and end the season with games that appear quite manageable. Carolina (home) and Washington (road) are first on the schedule. Arizona plays four of its final five games at home. None of the Cardinals' final five opponents even had a winning record last season. Arizona struggled late last season despite playing a cushy schedule. The addition of Kolb gives the Cardinals a better chance to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. Even average play from Kolb could be enough to challenge for a division title.

5. Make-or-break year for Beanie Wells: The third-year back finds himself in position to become the week-to-week starter now that Tim Hightower (traded) and Ryan Williams (injured) aren't options. Wells remains an intriguing prospect. He has 292 carries for 1,190 yards and nine touchdowns during his first two seasons, with only two starts. Wells has the ability to double his career production in a single season as the full-time starter. Backs starting every game last season averaged 288 carries. It's just tough to trust Wells over the course of a full season. He has been hurt too much and running back is a brutal position. Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte and Ronnie Brown were the only running backs to start all 16 games last season.