What a difference a quarterback makes. After a couple years of foundering under guys like Max Hall, John Skelton, Derek Anderson and Kevin Kolb, Arizona brought in Carson Palmer to take the helm and suddenly a three-time sub-.500 football team wins 10 games.
Palmer was less than perfect, but he was a stable veteran presence who brought calm and competence back to the signal caller spot. The Cardinals still play in the same division as San Francisco and Seattle, so 10 wins didn’t result in the postseason in 2013, but the season certainly had to create optimism in the desert, particularly when the 2014-15 Super Bowl is in Arizona.
So what do the Cardinals need to do to leapfrog the 49ers and Seahawks? And if they do, how deep a run can they make? Scott Allen, co-editor of Raising Zona, sheds some light on Arizona’s outlook heading into the 2014 season.
Zoneblitz: Arizona came on strong and had a 10-6 record but missed the playoffs. What’s your assessment of the season?
Allen: Maybe a little overachievement. I think the schedule and the way it was set up had a little something to do with it but they showed me they were a legitimate team to be reckoned with after the win in Seattle in December. It certainly makes me not want to wait another second for the 2014 season.
Zoneblitz: What did you think of Bruce Arians in his first year?
Allen: Didn’t agree with every move but then again I don’t know a coach I’ve agreed with every move made. I liked the aggressiveness and the willingness to open up the offense. Overall I give him an A-.
Zoneblitz: How much does QB Carson Palmer have left in the tank and what does the team have in place for the future at that position?
Allen: He didn’t show any signs of slowing down. He may have been interception happy at times but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left. The future is still unknown. Look for Palmer to be the full-time starter at least this season and maybe next. I don’t expect a “franchise” QB to be in place for at least 2-3 years.
Zoneblitz: For years the Cardinals were a mess on the offensive line. But they signed Jared Veldheer this offseason and drafted Jonathan Cooper last year. What does the rest of the line look like and is the unit on the way to being a strength?
Allen: It’s always a work in progress in my estimation. Yes Veldheer was a nice pickup and it will be interesting to see Cooper come back from his broken leg. Cooper still isn’t there yet. He can move on and it is mostly healed from what I know. He has admitted he’ll be timid on it when he returns. Has not been cleared for football and may not until camp opens.
Zoneblitz: The offense was much improved in 2013, but Rashard Mendenhall retired, Andre Roberts moved on and Palmer is another year older. What’s the overall unit going to look like in 2014 and can it take another step forward?
Allen: I have no doubt the offense will continue to produce. Palmer will throw his picks and make most people call for Drew Stanton or whoever they draft this year. He’s a veteran though. Unless injured, you have to stick with him. Jonathan Dwyer was signed to replace Mendenhall, however the Cards have said it will really be a run by committee deal this season. Still looking for a third wide receiver but they may have him already in Ted Ginn Jr. We’ll see.
Zoneblitz: The defense was sixth in yards allowed and seventh in points. But Karlos Dansby is gone. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off injury. Antonio Cromartie is in, but can the defense take another step forward? And what is it going to take?
Allen: Defense will be fine, although Daryl Washington still has a law situation to deal with for domestic violence. Stay tuned on that. The interesting core will be the linebackers. The linebackers had a revolving door in 2013 thanks to injury. I look for guys like Kevin Minter and Sam Acho to step up within the linebackers. Let’s hope john Abraham can continue to produce as he gets up in age. I like the Cromartie pickup.
Zoneblitz: At 10-6 the Cardinals had the best record for a team that didn’t make the playoffs. What are your thoughts on the system and should the postseason be expanded?
Allen: I have mixed feeling on this. On one hand playoff expansion, had it been in place in 2013, the Cards would have been in. Of course that would make me and many others happy. However, I’m also old-school. I like the six teams. Six is a nice number. At what point does the regular season become relevant if we keep adding teams? I wouldn’t be disappointed with either direction the NFL ends up going here though.
Zoneblitz: How far is Arizona from taking the next step and competing with Seattle and San Francisco in the West and the rest of the NFC?
Allen: They can compete with them now. They split with the Seahawks. They are the last team to beat the defending Super Bowl Champs. They easily could have won both games against the Niners last season as well. I don’t think they are as far behind those two teams as many would like to hope.
Zoneblitz: What else would you like to see Cardinals do in free agency and then in the draft?
Allen: I think free agency is pretty much a done deal except their own guys. They may still re-sign Eric Winston. It’s time to focus on the draft now. They need linemen on both sides of the ball. I think the signing of Cromartie lessened the need at corner. Probably need to draft a WR and TE on the offense.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Allen: Once I see the schedule, which should be released sometimes this week, it will be easier to predict where the Cards may land record wise in 2014. Anything less than 10-6 of course would be a disappointment, especially with the Super Bowl in the Cards home stadium this year. Let’s hope they are the first team to play a Super Bowl at home! Hey – I can dream, right?