NFC West: Karlos Dansby


One has been a league power broker, one wants to be.

And when the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals get together Sunday afternoon in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos (2-1) will try to knock some of the rough edges off while the Cardinals (3-0), one of just two teams to arrive to Week 5 undefeated, will try to show they are ready to be at the front of the line.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the game.

Legwold: At 3-0, how do the Cardinals see themselves? Upstart in NFC? Or team that believes it should have made the playoffs last year and is ready to take the next step to be in this postseason mix this time around?

Weinfuss: If there's one thing the Cardinals don't see themselves as, it's an upstart team. That much was instilled in them by Bruce Arians last season. Especially after upsetting Seattle at home last December, this team believed it should've been in the playoffs. And with how they played in the second half of the season, it's hard to argue with them. But the Cardinals who returned this year learned a lot from last season's first half, most notably how important it is to win those early games. What they're doing now isn't a surprise to those who pay attention to this team, and a lot of it is a direct result of Arians' demeanor. His straight-shooting personality -- curse 'em out on the field but hug 'em off of it -- has rubbed off on everyone in the locker room. It has led to this team to believe it could win for the first time since Kurt Warner was here.

Speaking of learning from last year, what was the main thing the Broncos took away from last season's loss in the Super Bowl, and how have they used it in 2014?

Legwold: The main thing GM John Elway took away was he wanted far better personnel on defense and some more receivers who could battle their way through physical play from defensive backs. The result was an offseason spending spree that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also used a first-round pick in the draft on cornerback Bradley Roby and a second-rounder on wide receiver Cody Latimer. So, the 35-point loss certainly forced a roster makeover and for the holdovers it did provide plenty of incentive as they went through the offseason workouts. There is a feeling, after the overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs followed by the Super Bowl blowout, of trying to finally close the deal this time around.

In terms of roster makeover, with all that has happened to the Cardinals' defense with the injuries, etc., how have they pushed themselves into the league's top five?

Weinfuss: Nobody expected Arizona to be among the league's top five defenses this year after losing the likes of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington before the season and then Darnell Dockett during training camp and John Abraham in the first few weeks of the year. But credit must be given to the Cardinals' front office. The brain trust has done a good job of finding veterans who still have gas in the tank, such as linebacker Larry Foote and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. But the biggest reason for the defense's success is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His single-gap scheme revitalized this defense last year and all he has been doing is adding wrinkles here and there to adjust to his personnel. For example, Arizona is running a lot of nickel and dime packages because it gets rookie safety Deone Bucannon on the field. For as good of an offensive mind as Arians is, Bowles is his equal on the defensive side.

Have the additions to the Broncos' defense been paying off? Or is it too early to see a difference? Do you think they'll be the difference between another ring and a consolation prize?

Legwold: The new arrivals have all had impact in the season's early going. Ware leads the team in sacks (2.5), Talib has been every bit the No. 1 corner they hoped he would be and Ward is one of two players on defense who have played every snap in the first three games, having been used in a variety of roles. The Broncos have seen enough from Roby. They've tossed him into the deep end of the pool as the rookie and he has matched up with some of the league's front-line receivers. All of that said, however, the Broncos still haven't consistently shown the kind of play they'll need to hoist a trophy, particularly on third down. As linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who both had ACL injuries last season, continue to work back to full speed, the Broncos should continue to improve. Also, linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler last season and who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia in training camp, will play in his first game of the season Sunday. It will mean the Cardinals will be the first team to face the revamped defense with all of the starters in place.

Sticking to defense, Manning heads into this game with 499 career touchdown passes. Between the two of them, Cardinals' assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore and head coach Bruce Arians have seen many of those up close as former Colts assistants. To that end, with that kind of up-close-and-personal knowledge, how do you think the Cardinals will defend Manning and the Broncos' offense?

Weinfuss: One thing the defense has stayed consistent on this week is that they don't want to tip their hand to Manning before the snap. With that being said, I think they'll blitz him constantly -- all three of his sacks this season have come off the blitz, which, I can imagine, was good news to Bowles. But they won't blitz Manning like they'll blitz other quarterbacks because he's so good at adapting so quickly. Arizona plans on giving Manning the same look every snap. But guys who have played Manning know he'll wait until the very last second to make a decision because the defense will have to show their blitz by then, but the Cardinals will try to hold their disguise as long as possible.

With Manning coming up on such a historic mark, has it been a distraction for this team in the sense of more non-football attention has descended upon them? Are they ready for Manning to pass Brett Favre so they can just get back to focusing on football?

Legwold: One thing about this team is the swirl around them doesn't get to them very often. Last season they had Miller's suspension in training camp, John Fox's open-heart surgery during the bye week and five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they were preparing to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl loss may have been the first, and worst, time for the Broncos not to play to the level of a game's standing last season. Before the title-game blowout, they had handled everything that had come their way without losing their edge. This time around players here simply assume Manning will hit 500 and then go on and break the record through the natural course of things. The record is nice, but they want another shot at the title and, for the most part, they see whatever happens along the way as issues that must be dealt with to get that chance.
Karlos DansbyGene Lower/Getty Images
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This is one of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Previously, we featured Kurt Warner’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald during a loss in Super Bowl XLIII, and we will feature Tim Hightower’s fourth-down run in the NFC Championship Game of the 2008 season against Philadelphia. Please vote for your choice as the Cardinals’ most memorable play.

Score: Cardinals 51, Packers 45 OT
Date: Jan. 10, 2010 Site: University of Phoenix Stadium

It was Arizona’s first playoff game since Super Bowl XLIII, and the expectations were high.

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About 11 months earlier, the Cardinals made franchise history by playing in their first Super Bowl, and with mostly the same team returning, another run in the playoffs wasn't just expected, it seemed inevitable.

But standing in their way in the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs were the Green Bay Packers, who were gearing up for a Super Bowl run of their own. In what was a memorable game that included overtime and nearly 100 points, the best play -- and one of the most memorable in franchise history -- was the final one of the game.

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by defensive back Michael Adams on third-and-6 from the Green Bay 24, the ball took a fortunate bounce right into linebacker Karlos Dansby's waiting hands. With nothing but green grass in front of him, Dansby returned the fumble 17 yards for the winning touchdown.

The play sent the Cardinals into the divisional round of the playoffs, where they eventually lost, but it showed the franchise wasn't just a one-hit wonder. This was a team that could win a big playoff game. Teams -- look at the Packers, for example -- win close playoff games and then fall later. But at least the Cardinals were able to get out of the first round after their Super Bowl season.

Arizona fans still remember where they were for Dansby’s fumble return because it was a moment that solidified the future of the franchise -- even if the franchise took a few steps back in future years.

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Free-agency primer: Cardinals

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Karlos Dansby, RT Eric Winston, S Yeremiah Bell, K Jay Feely, LB Matt Shaughnessy

Where they stand: Arizona has talked to all of them, but it's unlikely the Cardinals re-sign any of the team's key free agents until after March 11. Dansby could be the trigger, however. If he re-signs for an affordable price or doesn't re-sign, Arizona may be able to re-sign some of their veteran free agents instead of opting for cheaper options. According to reports, Arizona has been negotiating with linebacker Shaughnessy. Bell has expressed his desire to return to Arizona mainly because of what the Cardinals' defense started last year. Winston may be the Cardinals' best option at right tackle for another season and his camp has begun talks with the Cardinals. Feely has said he talked to the Cardinals this week.

What to expect: Don't expect Dansby to re-sign before free agency begins. If it hasn't happened yet, it probably won't until he tests the market to see what his worth is. Then the Cardinals could come into play again. Winston could be whom Arizona needs to anchor the line for another year. He, along with the rest of the offensive line, matured together and were protecting quarterback Carson Palmer better in the second half of the season than the first, momentum that can only continue to grow. Bell isn't likely to return because his size and speed make him a liability against bigger, faster receivers and tight ends. Even though he was in Bruce Arians' dog house at the end of the season, Feely can return because of the limited number of good kickers available. Shaughnessy is also likely to re-sign because of his value at a low cost.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Cardinals start free agency on March 11, they’ll be like a race car driver who’s being strategic with their gas.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said Thursday on SiriusXM NFL Radio from the NFL combine in Indianapolis that Arizona will approach free agency aggressively but they’ll still be smart with their money.

“Aggressive doesn’t mean overspend or being unwise with our money,” Keim said. “We have to budget. That’s why we run all the statistical analysis on the market, age of players, position, that sort of thing, and we have a great database to go off of.”

[+] EnlargeKarlos Dansby
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellArizona will have to determine if Karlos Dansby's price tag is an affordable one in the coming weeks.
According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the salary cap for 2014 is expected to be raised to $130 million, which gave the Cardinals about $11 million of cap space to work with, according to Keim. The majority of that sum came from Larry Fitzgerald restructuring his contract.

The extra money – about $9 million from Fitzgerald – will allow Arizona to be more aggressive once free agency kicks off.

“We’ll approach some of the top guys in free agency in positions in need but you have to be ready to move on to the next guy,” Keim said.

That patience has paid off for Keim, who signed a bevy of B-list free agents in 2013 that led the Cardinals to a 10-6 season. This year, however, one of the Cards' primary needs is on the offensive line. They want to strengthen left tackle, occupied last season by Bradley Sowell, and may need to restock right tackle if they can’t re-sign Eric Winston. Tops on the free-agency market is Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert, who made $9.8 million last season. But don't expect to see the Cardinals rushing to sign a tackle, or anyone for that matter, once the clock strikes 2 p.m. on March 11 in Arizona.

“It all depends on the market,” Keim said. “We’ll see where the market goes. After probably the first two to three hours of free agency, people will start to panic and things will settle in.”

But first, Arizona wants to take care of some in-house free agents.

Keim said Arizona recently concluded a series of meetings about its 15 unrestricted free agents, of which the Cardinals would like to “address several of our own players” – including linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby played under a $2.25 million contract in 2014 and could ask for as much as $10 million to potential suitors. But that’s the type of money Arizona may not want to pay for a 32-year-old inside linebacker, regardless of his career season in 2013.

“He's a big priority,” Keim said during his combine news conference. “Karlos is a guy we'd like to have back. He's a great leader. He's a good football player. Hopefully, we can get something done but you have to be prepared to move on, from any player. That's why we drafted Kevin Minter in the second round last year. We saw some good things out of Kevin in training camp, in preseason football.

“And that's how you have to build your team. You know, at times you are going to lose players. You have to have the right kind of depth. That's why on draft day you can never draft for need because needs are always changing.”

Cards' free-agency look: Inside LB

February, 18, 2014
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Looking at which inside linebackers the Arizona Cardinals could chase may in fact be a moot point if they re-sign Karlos Dansby.

But in case they don't, the Cardinals will have a few options at inside linebacker. Internally, they could promote either Kevin Minter or Jasper Brinkley to a starting role, although I don't see the latter occurring. Arizona used their second-round pick on Minter last season and although he had just one snap at linebacker all season, he's the future inside alongside Daryl Washington. That is why Brinkley could be a cap casualty this offseason depending on what happens with Dansby.

Brinkley is scheduled to make $2 million next season while his cap number goes up to $2.2 million -- a lot on both accounts for a player who didn't play in the final five games.

So, if the Cardinals need to fill an inside linebacker position -- either starting or backup -- who could they go after when free agency starts March 11?

There's a few intriguing names, and a few who could make for solid backups.

If Arizona needed a starter, linebackers such as Minnesota's Erin Henderson, San Diego's Donald Butler, Houston's Joe Mays, Washington's Perry Riley, Indianapolis' Pat Angerer or the New York Giants' Jon Beason could be potential additions.

Henderson earned $2 million in 2013, so he'd only be considered as a starter, as would Butler, who earned $1.3 million last year. If the Cardinals want to stock their reserves, head coach Bruce Arians is familiar with Angerer from his year in Indianapolis and he may come at the right price.

Then there's a group of inside backers such as Baltimore's Daryl Smith, Houston's Darryl Sharpton and New England's Dane Fletcher who are affordable backups.

One of the most intriguing names in this year's inside linebacker crop is New England's Brandon Spikes. His tenure with the Patriots ended tumultuously with him being placed on IR as the season ended, but he's still one of the better inside backers in the league. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the sixth best inside backer in 2013, one spot below Dansby. Where Spikes excels is stuffing the run. According to PFF, he's the top-ranked ILB against the run, which would be a solid complement to Washington's speed.

But the one thing Dansby did well was he cover the pass, second best in the league according to PFF. Spikes struggled in that department, according to PFF.

Arizona has options at inside linebacker should it come down to it, and they're all within the Cardinals' price range but any decision hinges on whether they re-sign Dansby.

Dansby wants his worth in free agency

February, 17, 2014
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Karlos DansbyMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby believe he belongs in the conversation of greatest linebackers of the last decade.

To Karlos Dansby, home in 2014 will be wherever he gets paid the highest salary, regardless of where is heart is.

But if all goes according to plan, that’ll be back in Arizona.

The 32-year-old inside linebacker will be an unrestricted free agent come March 11 but Dansby said his agent hasn’t entered into talks with the Cardinals. He expects them to begin at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, which starts Wednesday.

Dansby wants to return next season and build on what the Cardinals’ defense started under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, finishing the season ranked No. 1 against the run and sixth overall, but he wouldn’t commit to taking a hometown discount for that to happen. He’s “playing for what I’m worth.”

“Did you see what we did last year?” Dansby said. “We’re just getting started. It was our first time together and by the end of the season, we had it really going.”

Dansby didn’t have a specific amount or length he wanted his contract to be worth, but he said he’s worth as much as the highest paid linebacker in the NFL -- Kansas City’s Tamba Hali, whose $12.5 million base salary was the highest for a linebacker the league.

Green Bay’s Clay Matthews ($22 million) and Cleveland’s Paul Kruger ($13 million) had higher overall contract values in 2013 because of signing and roster bonuses.

Last season, Dansby made $2.25 million after making more than $8 million for the five previous seasons, including $9 million in 2012, his last with the Miami Dolphins. Dansby won’t mind if the Cardinals don’t franchise him this season, which is unlikely, because that means he’ll get a long-term deal. If by some chance Arizona does franchise him for the third time in his career and pays him an estimated $10.8 million in 2014, “I’ll go prove myself one more season,” Dansby said.

Compared to Hali, who, at 30 years old, had 39 tackles, 11 sacks, one interception, one touchdown and five forced fumbles in 15 games, Dansby had a better year. Dansby finished with 114 tackles, 6.5 sacks, four interceptions, two touchdowns and one forced fumble in all 16 games.

With the exception of one fewer sack than Matthews, who played in only 11 games because of injury, Dansby’s overall numbers were better than Matthews and Kruger’s.

But Dansby wasn’t done.

“If you want to go for career, I don’t see anybody touching me right now,” Dansby said. “Only guy that had a shot was (former Washington Redskins linebacker London) Fletcher. That’s the only guy that had me beat. You see all the guys that came in with me you have nobody on my level with me right now.

“I want to be one of the best to every do it and I’m on track. It was (former Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis. (Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian) Urlacher. Numbers don’t lie. Fletcher. Then it’s me. That’s a big gap. And I’m filling that void. Ain’t nobody else filling that void. Put the numbers to the numbers and let the chips fall where they may.”

By comparing Dansby’s career stats with those of Urlacher, Lewis and Fletcher, the Cardinals’ linebacker has a point.


Dansby is on pace to catch everyone he’s chasing in those respective categories. His next goal is reach the 20 sack/20 interception club, then he wants to join the elite 30/30 club. Dansby said give him three years and he can get the 15 interceptions.

So what happens if Dansby is signed to a multi-year deal and plays up to -- or better than -- the level he was at in 2013? Does Dansby enter the conversation for a yellow jacket?

It’s been his goal since Dennis Green first interviewed him coming out of Auburn University in 2004.

“First one ever without a Pro Bowl,” Dansby said. “You can’t argue with it because the numbers speak for itself.”

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, there hasn’t been a single player enshrined whose careers took place while a Pro Bowl was played, which was from 1939 to 1942 and then from 1951 on, to never play in the game.

Ten years into his career, Dansby has yet to be a Pro Bowler. Granted, he has as many years left to make the Pro Bowl as teams will keep signing him and the Hall of Fame is a discussion for after he retires, but Dansby said he’ll come back in 2014 in even better shape than he was in 2013.

He’s already down to 229 pounds working with trainers in Florida and Arizona, but he said he’ll still have the strength to squat 415 and power clean 315. He’s narrowed his focus on specific areas that he wants to improve -- such as his speed.

“People talk about I can’t run,” Dansby said. “Have you been watching film? I don’t know if people been watching film?"

“I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission. I’m a mission. That’s all I can tell you.”
Karlos Dansby is all too familiar with the franchise tag.

Dansby
The Arizona Cardinals slapped the label on him during for the 2008 and '09 seasons, his last two during his first stint with Arizona. It's highly unlikely he'll be franchised -- either exclusive, non-exclusive or even labeled a transition player -- a third time.

If there was one player the Cardinals were to franchise, however, it'd be Dansby, who resurrected his reputation as one of the top inside linebackers with a career season in 2013. But they won't. They don't need to.

Dansby made $2.25 million last season, a season after bringing home $9 million with the Miami Dolphins. If the Cardinals were to franchise Dansby, he'd earn about $10.8 million in 2014 -- and the Cardinals won't pay that. If they bring him back, it'll most likely be a two- or three-year deal worth about half that.

At $10.8 million, Dansby would be the third highest-paid Cardinal at age 32. It's just not financially feasible for Arizona to commit that much money to him for one season, although, if you ask Dansby, he believes he's worth it.

Among the other free agents, there isn't one player the Cardinals couldn't do without. Most of the valuable free agents are in their late 20s or early 30s, and Arizona won't pay the franchise fee to keep them around.

There are two free agents who are in their mid 20s -- wide receiver Andre Roberts and running back Rashard Mendenhall, but neither would command a franchise tag.

This will be another offseason in which the franchise tag remains on the shelf.

MVP replacements: Arizona Cardinals 

February, 7, 2014
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Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Dansby
The clear-cut MVP this season was linebacker Karlos Dansby, and the possibility of him leaving the Cardinals this offseason is quite good. He is a free agent, and Dansby wants more than the $2.25 million he made in 2013, but at 32, whether he’s worth that to Arizona will determine if he returns.

If Dansby is not back next season, how Arizona fills that inside linebacker position next to Daryl Washington will be telling. The Cardinals drafted inside backer Kevin Minter, in 2013 but with the rejuvenation of Dansby, Minter spent the season watching the defense and playing special teams. After a year learning defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ system, one would expect Minter to be ready. He’s a “thumper” according to coach Bruce Arians, and would be a powerful complement to Washington’s speed.

But it’s not that easy. Minter would have to compete with Jasper Brinkley, who’s under contract for through 2014. Brinkley got the nod at starting inside linebacker when Washington was suspended for four games to start the season. But he’s not the future for Arizona. And if a weird twist of fate occurs this offseason and Arizona chooses not to pay Washington his $10 million roster bonus -- and Dansby doesn’t return -- the Cardinals would be without their starting inside backers. Then Arizona's priorities could shift in free agency and the draft.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2013 season not even in the books for three weeks, it was time to decide who was the best of the best for the Arizona Cardinals this past year. My inaugural postseason awards were both standard and outside the box.

So, without further ado, I present my 2013 awards:

Offensive MVP: Michael Floyd, wide receiver. It may not be the popular choice, but Floyd was the most valuable player to the Cardinals offense. His breakout year eased the pressure on Larry Fitzgerald and caused teams to think twice about double or triple teaming Fitzgerald -- even though most did. And what did Floyd do? Just catch 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, setting career highs in just his second season. But that wasn't his most important contribution to the Arizona offense. For a team that was struggling to secure first downs, especially when the down marker ticked to third, Floyd was a beacon of first-down hope. Between weeks 10 and 16, he had 25 straight receptions that went for first downs. And of his final 34 catches, 30 moved the chains. There's not a bigger impact a player could have, with the exception of catching touchdowns, than giving his team a fresh set of downs. Add on the game-winning touchdown against Seattle and Floyd's contributions to the offense were worthy of him being the offensive MVP.

[+] EnlargeDansby
AP Photo/John CordesKarlos Dansby was all over the field this season -- setting career highs in tackles and interceptions while notching 6.5 sacks.
Defensive MVP: Karlos Dansby, linebacker. In his return to the Cardinals, Dansby proved age is just a number. He had a career season despite missing out on the Pro Bowl yet again. As the on-field conductor of the Cardinals' sixth-ranked defense, Dansby didn't just put his teammates in the right positions to make plays, he went out and made them himself, impacting games from all three levels of the defense. His career-high 114 solo tackles and four interceptions to accompany his 6.5 sacks proved his versatility. To top off a career year, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dansby came into training camp slimmer than he's been and it was evident in his ability to get in the backfield and chase defenders from sideline-to-sideline. And when he dropped back in coverage, he got his hands on the ball. His overall impact from front to back and side to side made him worthy of being the defensive MVP.

Special teams MVP: Justin Bethel, gunner. This was almost a no-brainer but I did consider punter Dave Zastudil. But how many gunners have special teams game plans built for them? He was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 21 special teams tackles, four downed punts inside the opponents' 10 and two blocked field goals. He also recovered a muffed kickoff. Bethel's ability to get past double teams constantly made him a threat to kick returners. Opponents would normally double and often triple team Bethel, forcing him out-of-bounds before he had a chance to break free. When he had a step on his defenders, it was tough for them to catch Bethel, who'd often bring down kick returners within a few yards of them fielding the punt which, in turn, would give the Cardinals great field position.

Assistant coach of the year: Brentson Buckner, defensive line coach. Buckner had a tough task. For as well as the defensive line did in pass rush situations in 2012, it was equally as bad against the run finishing 28th. He challenged the defensive line in an early-season meeting and it responded by becoming the No. 1 run defense in the league. Buckner's experience as an NFL player and his honesty endeared him to his charges, who laid it on the line for Buckner.

Rookie of the year: Tyrann Mathieu, safety. He made an instant impact, forcing a fumble in his first game, and didn't slow down until a knee injury forced ended his season after Week 13. Mathieu's athleticism and nose for the ball earned him playing time and his versatility kept him on the field. Other Cardinals' rookies contributed but none had as large of an impact as quickly as Mathieu.

Best offseason move: Trading for Carson Palmer. Without Palmer, all the interceptions included, where would the offense have been? In the hands of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Capable, I'm sure, but Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Palmer's addition gave the Cardinals a reliable thrower who made passes that hadn't been completed in Arizona since the Kurt Warner days.

Best in-season move: Trading Levi Brown. Signing tight end Jake Ballard, receiver Brittan Golden or linebacker Marcus Benard were also considered. But trading Brown set the Cardinals up for future success. He was moved after Week 4 and was instantly replaced by second-year tackle Bradley Sowell, a more athletic and nimble tackle, who found his footing along with the rest of the line midway through the season. Sowell brought athleticism and the ability to slow down an outside pass rush.

Veteran of the year (8-plus years): John Abraham, linebacker. Initially signed to be a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was thrown into the starting rotation after Week 3 and proved to everyone, including himself, that at 35 he still had what it takes to be an every-down player. All he did was have 11.5 sacks, to move onto the top 10 in history and earn his fourth Pro Bowl nod.

Peterson, Dansby named All-Pros

January, 3, 2014
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Life just keeps getting sweeter for Patrick Peterson.

Peterson
Peterson
A week after being named to the Pro Bowl for the third straight year, the third-year cornerback was named a first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press. It’s the first such honor for Peterson at cornerback. He was named to the AP All-Pro first team as a kick returner in 2011.

Peterson’s numbers were down across the board this season, primarily a product of offenses staying away from him. Peterson had 40 solo tackles, the lowest by far of his career, and had just three interceptions. He also recovered two fumbles.

Despite not making the Pro Bowl, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby was named to the second team, the first time in his career he's been an All-Pro. Dansby finished tied for third in the NFL with 114 solo tackles, had 6.5 sacks, and a career-high four interceptions.

It’s the second straight year a Cardinals’ inside linebacker was named second team All-Pro. Daryl Washington claimed the honor in 2012.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 26

Biggest surprise: No one expected Arizona to struggle like it did throughout the first half of the season because an offensive mastermind, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, was in charge. Likewise, nobody expected the Cardinals to go on a tear through the final nine, going 7-2 to finish 10-6. A 10-win season for the Cardinals isn't to be ignored. They're tough to come by, but Arians was able to accomplish it in his first season, which nobody expected. He proved himself as a head coach at 61 and showed how great his offense is when a team can learn and execute it.

Biggest disappointment: Arians was dead set on riding running back Rashard Mendenhall this season with rookie Andre Ellington as his backup. And while Mendenhall was serviceable, it wasn't a successful move. Mendenhall finished with 687 yards on 217 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry -- just 35 more than Ellington on 99 more carries. Partially to blame for Mendenhall underachieving was a turf-toe injury that limited him for most of the season, but when he was healthy, he showed his true speed in only two games. Other than that, he struggled to break through the line as often as the Cardinals needed him to. He's not the future for Arizona at running back. That belongs to Ellington.

Biggest need: Everyone thinks the most obvious need is a left tackle, but with how the offensive line played during the last eight games, it may be the least of the Cardinals' worries. Arizona needs a big, fast safety who can defend tight ends. The 29 tight ends who faced the Cardinals this season accounted for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns on 98 receptions. The yards accounted for 30.7 percent of the total by opposing receivers and the 98 receptions were 26.7 percent of the catches made by opponents. But the most telling stat, and the difference between wins and losses, are the 17 touchdowns by opposing tight ends, which are 58.6 percent of the 29 total allowed by the Cardinals' secondary.

Team MVP: There were a handful of Cardinals who had good seasons on both sides of the ball, but there was one who really kept the pulse of the team alive. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby was shunned by Miami and took a huge pay cut to come to Arizona, and he proved to everyone in the league that, at age 32, he still had it. He was second in the NFL with 114 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks -- his most since his eight in 2006 -- and a career-high four interceptions. But his ability to impact a top-six defense near the line of scrimmage, sideline-to-sideline and then dropping back in coverage made him the most important player on the team.

All-NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

January, 2, 2014
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It’s become a common theme for Karlos Dansby to be left out of the postseason honors.

He wasn’t voted in at inside linebacker on this year’s All-NFC West team, losing out to San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner despite finishing the season with the third-most solo tackles in the NFL with 114.

However, those Cardinals that did make it weren’t a surprise, especially on defense.

Arizona tied Seattle with four defenders on the 12-man team as all four defensive Pro Bowlers earned a nod. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was honored along with defensive end Calais Campbell, who were both Pro Bowl alternates. Linebacker John Abraham, who finished with 11.5 sacks and moved into the top 10 on the all-time sack list, was one outside linebacker and Patrick Peterson was named at cornerback, infiltrating an otherwise all-Seattle secondary. If Dansby had trouble making this squad, than Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington would've struggled cracking this rotation especially playing just 12 games because of a suspension.

Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd made up two-thirds of the division’s receiving corps, alongside a former Cardinal, San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin. And left guard Daryn Colledge was rewarded for a productive season by earning a nod, as well.

Pro Bowl selections: Arizona Cardinals

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
9:58
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Turns out no matter how hard Karlos Dansby campaigned to be chosen for his first Pro Bowl, it wasn’t enough.

Dansby was snubbed by all three components that went into voting for the 2014 Pro Bowl – fans, players and coaches. But the Cardinals are sending two defenders and a special-teamer to Hawaii.

A few weeks after cracking the top 10 of the all-time sacks leaders, veteran linebacker John Abraham was named to his fifth Pro Bowl for his third NFL team. Third-year cornerback Patrick Peterson doesn’t know what it’s like to not play in Hawaii in January, earning the third trip of his career. And in his second year, gunner Justin Bethel was chosen by the players and coaches after he was widely considered the best special-teams player in the NFL.

Defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, linebacker Daryl Washington and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald were named alternates.

That’s five of Arizona’s 11 defensive starters. But the most obvious one missing was Dansby. He’s having a career season: ranked second in the NFL with 109 solo tackles and two defensive touchdowns. His four interceptions are 10th best in the league and he has 6.5 sacks to add. He’s had the most complete season of any linebacker but, alas, his peers and the coaches around the league didn’t think he was worthy of a lei.

The Abraham selection was a bit of a surprise, but with 11.5 sacks at age 35 after signing on the first day of training camp, it’s deserved. After spending the majority of his career as a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was forced into an every-down role in Week 3 and flourished, not showing signs of wear and tear or aging.

Abraham's 11.5 sacks are tied for fifth overall in the NFL and tied for third in the NFC. His 50 tackles are his most since 2005, his last season with the New York Jets.

Thanks mainly to Bethel, the Cardinals have forced opponents to start 53 drives inside their own 20-yard line, tied for the second most behind Kansas City’s 53. The Presbyterian College product also has 18 special-teams tackles, has blocked two field goals and recovered one fumble.

Peterson, who became the seventh player in NFL history to be selected to his third Pro Bowl before he turned 24, leads Arizona with 28 passes defended and has three interceptions to complement his 38 tackles.

Washington’s selection is impressive because he was named an alternate after he was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Campbell and Dockett are two-thirds of the league’s top rush defense and Fitzgerald has 10 touchdowns for the first time since 2009.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
TEMPE, Ariz. – If stopping the best team in the league on its home turf with a defensive scheme that all but rendered Seattle’s Russell Wilson ineffective isn’t the best the Arizona Cardinals can do, then watch out.

Because, according to them, the best is yet to come, even if they may have just one more chance this season to prove it.

Both coach Bruce Arians and veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby said the ceiling for Arizona’s defense isn’t close to being reached.

[+] EnlargeCalais Campbell
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCalais Campbell mimed hitting it out of the park after a sack in Seattle, but the Cardinals reckon their defense can pack an even bigger wallop.
“It’s up there,” Dansby said. “It’s up there. We still got a lot of growing to do. We still left a lot of plays out on the field. We gave them a little too much than we wanted to give them, but they’re a great offense. You can only shut them down for so long.”

Or for the whole game, whichever comes first.

Arizona enters its final regular-season game with the best run defense in the league and the third-best in terms of passing yards per play, which makes for the sixth-best unit overall. But Arians said there are still some nuances of the defense that need to be learned.

Yet that hasn’t stopped Arizona. Winning seven of their last eight, Arizona is among the hottest teams in the league – if not the hottest. And beating the Seahawks in Seattle by holding them under 200 yards has put the rest of the league on notice.

“I don’t think too many teams want to see us in the playoffs, especially the way our defense is playing right now,” Arians said. “To have a road win like that, it’s a playoff atmosphere because they were playing for everything, I would feel very confident going anywhere in the National Football League playing anybody.”

Arians may have felt this way before about other defenses he’s been around – including the Steelers from 2004 to 2011 – but none can compare to this year’s unit, he said, because of the number of takeaways. Arizona intercepted Wilson once and recovered a fumble, giving the Cards 30 takeaways this season, more than all but three teams in the league.

The core of the defense is going to return, Arians said, which means next season could pick up where this one ends. That’s an equally scary thought for the rest of the league.

Dansby, who signed a one-year deal during the offseason for $2.25 million, didn’t rule out the possibility of returning for less money, but he said it’ll all be worked out once the season’s over.

“All depends on the situation,” he said. “Come back next season, man, it’s no telling what we can do as a team.”

That ideal will help Arizona when it comes to re-signing its defense, Arians believes.

“Change is inevitable in the NFL now,” Arians said. “There is no way this team will be put back together, but we’re going to keep every component that we can possibly. Some guys are going to test the market. Hopefully what’s happened in our locker room is worth some dollars because if you can’t match dollars, we can at least match that.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s not even an election year, but there’s a lot of campaigning going on in Arizona.

First, everyone has nominated Bruce Arians for his second straight Coach of the Year award.

Then linebacker Karlos Dansby stumped for himself to win the Defensive Player of the Year.

And, most recently, Arians endorsed Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim for Executive of the Year.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians, Steve Keim
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsCardinals coach Bruce Arians, left, and GM Steve Keim, right, have overseen a major roster overhaul.
“I want to say this publically: If he doesn’t win Executive of the Year, something is wrong,” Arians said Monday. “People want to talk about Coach of the Year, I just coach the team. He deserves to be Executive of the Year. What he did in his first year is phenomenal. I’ve been around a little bit. It’s a great job, the faces he’s gotten and the players he brought in that have contributed during the season.”

Keim has executed 239 transactions this season, among them signing free agent gems such as Dansby and John Abraham, and trading for quarterback Carson Palmer. He was also responsible for drafting safety Tyrann Mathieu and running back Andre Ellington.

Since Day 1, Keim and Arians talked about churning the roster. The bottom handful of roster spots were never safe, and Keim, thanks in large part to his scouting background, would comb through the waiver wire and a list of free agents weekly searching for the next impact surprise.

“There’s no doubt we wanted new faces,” Arians said. “Once you start getting injuries, sometimes the guys that are on the street aren’t good enough to help you. We’ve brought in guys every Tuesday (for tryouts). The bottom half of the roster, the bottom 10 guys, we’re churning all the time, looking for keepers.”

Keim’s stiffest competition for the award comes from Kansas City General Manager John Dorsey, who rebuilt a team that went 2-14 last season. The Chiefs are 11-4 this season, a turnaround that started with Dorsey trading for quarterback Alex in March.

But there is more to Keim than his ability to find players and unearth the next best thing.

“He’s very approachable,” Arians said. “He does his job. He’s got a ready list of 10 guys at every position all the time. It’s a good collaboration, and it’s the best way to do it.

“You make all your decisions that are best for the Cardinals. They’re Cardinal decisions. Nobody’s ego is in the way. He’s just great to work with.”

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