Expectations were pretty high for the Cardinals going into the season around here. The Cardinals brought in Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, the Tight End position as a whole was vastly upgraded with Todd Heap and Jeff King along with the drafting of Rob Housler, Ray Horton was supposed to bring the model that made the Steelers defense so successful for the last several years, and the Cardinals drafted Patrick Peterson who many people considered to be the best player in the entire NFL Draft.
But after five games, the Cardinals sit at 1-4. They barely won their first game, then their next three losses came by a combined total of eight points. And now, they have suffered an embarrassing 34-10 beatdown to the Vikings where the Cardinals gave up 28 points in the first quarter before they knew what hit them. Realistically, the Cardinals could be 4-1 if some breaks went our way, but they could also be 0-5 and leading the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes.
So now, lets take a little look at why this start should not be such a huge surprise even though most of us (including myself) had high expectations for this season.
(Warning, lots of words in this article)First off, the lockout has caused a lot of problems for the Cardinals. Ray Horton did not have as much time as he would normally have to teach his complicated defense to the new guys, and some of what is being done now is also completely different from what the veterans were used to doing. The Cardinals also have a lot of young players and rookies who missed out on valuable practice time.
The fact that the Cardinals are also breaking in a new quarterback in Kevin Kolb who is very inexperienced after only having seven starts with the Eagles since he was drafted in 2007, and he is also learning a new offense that is very different from the West Coast Offense used by Andy Reid and the Eagles. Kolb has shown some of the things that show why the Cardinals like him, but he is also inexperienced and with this being his first year in a new system he will have some growing pains.
Things like his pocket presence (which needs a lot of work), his comfort in the system, his chemistry with the receivers, and his ability to go through his different reads faster will improve as he plays more, hopefully as the season goes on we will see progress. But I still believe that it is tough to get a quick and seamless transition into a new team and a new offense unless you go to a team that runs a similar system to the one you ran before such as when Brett Favre went to the Vikings in 2009 where they ran a similar offense to what he ran in Green Bay.
Now, this isn't a complete excuse. Some teams have new coaches and new quarterbacks and they are doing well. The Panthers have a new coach and Cam Newton is a rookie who has played very well, although they are only 1-4 just like us at this point. The 49ers have also jumped off to a 4-1 start (I shudder at typing those words) in Jim Harbaughs first year but Harbaugh also was able to talk with Alex Smith and give him the playbook so he could learn it. Smith is also a smart Quarterback who helped run the well publicized offseason workouts between the 49ers and he helped the rest of the team learn the new playbook.
Besides the lockout, you can also look at the coaches and the players themselves for the the struggles.
Whoever is calling the offense, Mike Miller or Ken Whisenhunt, they need to do a better job. The playcalling on both sides of the ball has been questionable at times. The Cardinals aren't even able to run simple screen plays without them getting blown up by the opposing defense. There was even a story after the debacle from last Sunday where Vikings defensive back Chris Cook said that the Vikings knew what the Cardinals tendencies were and even though their defense has struggled all year they shut down the Cardinals offense.
"Once we started running Cover-2, we killed them, the receivers couldn't get off the reroutes, and that pass rush was hot.
They had tendencies, when they moved him inside, we were still going to put our hands on them regardless. We had somebody to jam him every time. We knew what they was doing. A lot of their stuff, we were calling it out before they did it."
Horton's defense has had similar issues, the blitzes haven't been getting to the other teams quarterback, and the secondary has been torched often for big gains. Fans have also questioned whether the Cardinals currently have the personnel to run the Steelers style 3-4 and if we should go back to the 4-3 for now which probably will not happen. Overall, it is also questionable how well the Coaches have done gameplanning and getting the team ready for each game along with getting the players in the best position to succeed.
And now lets look at the players themselves.
One of the biggest issues with the Cardinals defense is their outside linebackers. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans were once solid players, but now they are in their mid 30s and are not as productive as they used to be. Right now the coaches and people in the media say that Porter and Haggans are starting because of their knowledge of the system, but at this point it might be better to let younger faster guys such as second year player O'Brien Schofield and rookie Sam Acho get more reps so they can learn under fire like A.J. Jefferson and Patrick Peterson are which can only help the Cardinals in the future because their younger guys will have more experience. The lack of production from the outside linebackers has been a huge issue for the Cardinals so far though, and that is part of the reason so many of us wanted to draft Von Miller who has been productive in Denver so far racking up five sacks in the first five games and he will probably be the Defensive Rookie of the Year this season.
As for the secondary, as I just said Patrick Peterson and A.J. are young players who still need to get used to playing in the NFL. So far, Jefferson has been the better corner and both of them have had moments that show you they could be good players in the NFL. But right now, they are having the typical struggles that young players will have and hopefully they will get better as they gain more experience. Greg Toler going down for the season during the final preseason game obviously hurts the secondary, same with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie going to Philadelphia in the Kolb trade. Adrian Wilson has been inconsistent and Kerry Rhodes is now out for a couple of weeks with a broken foot. Obviously things need to be worked out in the secondary.
Another issue is with the offensive line. The coaching of Russ Grimm and the talent of some of the players has been criticized, but one thing the line has done well so far is opening up holes for Beanie Wells to run through, and that is part of the reason Beanie Wells leads the NFL in rushing scores right now. Their issue has been with pass blocking though, especially with the tackles Levi Brown and Brandon Keith (the play of the interior line has been solid so far) who continue to draw penalties and get beaten by opposing pass rushers. Kolbs issue with rolling out of the pocket early has also been an issue for the offensive line.
And finally, the Cardinals also need more production out of their receivers other than Larry Fitzgerald. The old duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin was feared, but Boldin is gone, Steve Breaston the man who was supposed to be his replacement and played well last season was allowed to leave for the Cheifs in Free Agency after worries about his health. After this, the Cardinals have decided to go with Andre Roberts and Early Doucet, but none of them have been able to help draw the constant double coverage off of Larry Fitzgerald, and Roberts has struggled for most of the year. Doucet has not played badly though and the Cardinals might want to see how he plays if they move him to the second receiver spot on the depth chart.
Overall though, the Cardinals on offense need to do more to make things easier for Kolb. Guys need to get open, the offense has to be more creative, the ground game needs to keep being productive to help open things up for the passing game, screen plays actually need to be executed correctly, Kolb needs to stop missing open receivers, dumb penalties need to stop, and Kolb needs to cut down on the turnovers, especially all of the fumbles he has had this season.
So, what is the overall message here? The Cardinals were a bad team last year. Just getting a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator does not fix all of their issues, while we were optimistic at the start of the year I now realize that this is still not that good although we could see real improvement as the season goes on. The Cardinals have a lot of young players, especially in their secondary, the pass rush is still a question mark and at even with constant blitz calls there are issues getting to the Quarterback, the Cardinals need to upgrade their Left Tackle, there isn't a legitimate number two receiver to compliment Fitz, playcalling on offense and defense is questionable at times, the players that are supposed to be the leaders on offense and defense have been inconsistent, and we have learned after the retirement of Kurt Warner that his greatness hid a lot of the issues that the team as a whole has, and a lot of the good players that were around with Warner are gone now too.
Right now the only hope the Cardinals have is for the coaches and players to go into complete fight for their jobs mode. Especially the players, Whiz and the rest of the coaches should make it known to everyone, even the vets that nobody's job is safe, and if they keep struggling they will lose their job to one of the players behind them on the depth chart and they could even get cut once the season ends. Hopefully improvement will start soon, there have been flashes of how the Cardinals could be a good team, hopefully those flashes can come out more consistently after lots of hard work and competition.
And even if this season continues to be a bad one, I will still be watching every week no matter how well the Cardinals play.