The NFL bye week offers players a chance to rest, relax and rejuvenate.
It provides blog writers, like myself, the opportunity to take a breath from football season and recollect/gander at the crystal ball for the near future.
And if you're going to look back/predict the Arizona Cardinals 2013 at mid-season, who better to ask than the guys who actually are in the locker rooms, interviews and press conferences?
Darren Urban - Web Manager of AZCardinals.Com (@Cardschatter on Twitter), Kent Somers -beat reporter for AzCentral.Com(kentsomers) and our very own Jess Root(@senorjessroot) were kind enough to give their opinions on how they saw the season go so far and how they foresee the rest of the season.
1.) 4-4 record, same at this point last season, yet vibe seems different. Is this what you "expected" or more promising/disappointing?
Darren Urban: Whenever you have a new staff and as much of a roster overhaul as the Cardinals have had, there is still a lot of unknown. I think it's a good thing the defense has performed a lot like last year's, especially with the turnovers. This is a defense a team can win with, I believe. I thought the offense would be further ahead, as I think most did. But the reasons for the problems were foretold by many - Carson Palmer was a QB who did well when protected and struggled under pressure, and that has proven out.
Kent Somers: This about what I expected. Really, the Cardinals haven't won or lost any games they weren't supposed to. It feels different than last year because they haven't had a long winning streak followed by a long losing streak. Of course, change in management and coaches contribute to that.
Jess Root: Despite the ups and downs I personally experience covering a team I love, 4-4 is more or less what I expected. I predicted a slow start and then a few wins in this part of the schedule. I am disappointed the offense is not "clicking" more overall, you feel like things are so much better than a year ago. It helps, of course, that the 4-4 isn't because of a four-game losing streak.
2.) Defense has to be a relative surprise (or not?) yet head coach Bruce Arians' (seemingly his strong point) offense has struggled - particularly with quarterback Carson Palmer and interceptions. Is it the personnel, the system or possibly something else?
Urban: I am reminded of a comment made to me by center Lyle Sendlein: "There are a lot of things that have to go right to complete a pass. We're talking from routes from the receivers to blocking to QB decisions to the play call." I don't think anyone thought Palmer was Peyton Manning the second, nor the offensive line ready to be among the best in the league. Expectations should have been tempered at least a little. The system is the system. It's one of the reasons Arians was hired, it's a big reason he was in a position to be a head coach. Could things be tweaked? Sure. You have to watch how much you wait for plays downfield when you cannot keep the pressure at bay. But this idea that Arians is going to ditch what got him here is probably foolish.
Somers: Interestingly, a lot of us had as many questions about the defense as the offense at the start of the season. There was a new coordinator and six new starters. I think it's been a mild surprise that the defense has played this well this early in a new system. It's a significant surprise to me that the offense has struggled. I think it's a combination of system and personnel. Obviously, the problems at tackle contributed, and continue to be a weak spot. Palmer has been under pressure, and it's obvious his accuracy suffers when he has to move. And, the receivers in particular seem to struggle in the first half. How many times did we see Fitzgerald and Floyd (especially Floyd) look unsure about where to line up?
Root: The defense shouldn't be that much of a surprise. The talent is there. All they had to do is pick up the scheme. It seems they have. Since the offseason, the defensive players have been raving about the scheme, and they were getting their hands on balls everywhere in practice and drills. Sure they have had some hiccups, but you feel every bit as confident this year defensively as last, and that is saying something.
The tell-tale sign things are going on that side of the ball? Not a soul is pining for Ray Horton.
As for the offense, the expectations were just too high. I believe that the troubles are part personnel, part scheme and part mental. The personnel is an issue because of the offensive line. Even with his play in the preseason, Paul Fanaika and Daryn Colledge is far less imposing than Colledge and Jonathan Cooper. Eric Winston has been far from great and Bradley Sowell has, by the numbers, been worse than Levi Brown. That has made it hard to do what Bruce Arians wants.
The scheme that Arians runs has been led by big, mobile signal callers in recent history. Carson Palmer is not Ben Roethlisberger or Andrew Luck. The result? With offensive line issues, he isn't able to do what the other guys can.
3.) Can the 2013 Arizona Cardinals be a running team? Never have finished in the top ten in rushing since the 1988 inception, yet appear heading there now. Andre Ellington and Stephan Taylor look to a bright future. Should Arians stick to his guns with starting Rashard Mendenhall?
Urban: Multiple questions there. Are they a running team? I think you don't want to jump to conclusions after they ran over a subpar Atlanta defense. I doubt you ask the same question after the Seattle game. That said, they look like they are better situated to run the ball than they have in a while, and that's being down Jonathan Cooper. As for Mendenhall, Arians has said he will wait for Mendenhall to be "100 percent" healthy to put him back out there. Since Mendenhall hasn't been 100 percent since training camp, we might be waiting awhile. But I'll say this - Arians is the one around his team, and seeing the players every day. Ellington has been good - very good at times - but would he be as good with 20 carries? 24 carries? If Mendenhall makes sense to him, he's got to go that way. If you are the head coach, you shouldn't be crowdsourcing your decisions.
Somers: I think they can, as much as any team can be a running team in today's NFL. I think they should rely more on the run. To me, that plays to the strengths of this team: try to keep scores low and allow defense and special teams to win it for you.
I don't get too hung up on which back starts. More of a concern is how are the carries divided. I think Ellington should get more touches than Mendenhall. Outside of a flash or two in the Lions game, Mendenhall has done nothing. I would play the youngsters.
Root: If Mendenhall is healthy, I like it. I said it on our podcast and recent commented this in an article. I think Stepfan Taylor is more or less the same player as a healthy Mendenhall. Ellington is a difference maker, so he needs to get opportunities, but doesn't necessarily need to be the workhorse. Plus, I like the idea of a vet who's been around being a part of a team in the playoff hunt. You never know how young players will react if the game or situation gets big.
Now, if he isn't in great health, then Taylor is a great option, especially since he is the same type of player. But Taylor will get his shot. Mendy probably won't be back in 2014.
4.) The hot button topic right now is the possible trade of Larry Fitzgerald during the off season. Discuss the reasons (including personal) why it shouldn't happen or why it should.
Urban: I assume you mean personal as in Fitzgerald's personal reasons, not mine. This is very simple. Teams go through it all the time. It's not unique to Larry or the Cardinals. Look what happened to Peyton Manning in Indy. Or Jerry Rice in San Francisco, or Emmitt Smith in Dallas, etc., etc. Icons leave, and it usually has to do with the salary cap and money. Without really breaking down the Cards' cap situation and plans for the offseason, it's impossible to truly get detailed. But the reality is this: He has an $18 million cap number in 2014. Will he renegotiate? (Maybe.) Will he take a pay cut? (I would be absolutely stunned if he was willing to do that.) The Cards have to figure out what they think of his production right now and what it will be, and whether it is worth it to them. They probably should at least explore the trade market, because that's bad business if you don't at least look at options. The storybook ending between player and team happens very, very infrequently. Do I think Fitz wants to stay? Probably. Do I think the Cards want him to stay? Absolutely. Do I think both sides are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen? Nope. Both sides are going to want this to play out on their terms. We'll see what the end result of that will be. One final point: The Cards can afford him next year. What that means they can put around him if he stays at $18M on the cap is a different topic.
Somers: Long topic that I addressed in a column earlier this week. His salary goes up to $12.75 million, his cap number up to $18 million. The team has to lower that if it's going to have flexibility to do other things (re-sign Patrick Peterson, attract free agents, etc). A big part of it will be how much does Fitz want to stay in Arizona? Does he have faith in Arians/Palmer going forward? Does he force the Cardinals hand in negotiations? Fitzgerald says all the right things, but he has to be frustrated over the last four seasons.
Root: Well, it seems insane to cut him. But his salary is crazy. However, trading him would be just as damaging to the salary cap. Really the only good solution is shift money around. eventually the cap hit will come around, but if they are able to push it far enough back, maybe it can get to his retirement and it doesn't hurt the cap.
5.) Outlook for the rest of the season? Playoffs/top 10 draft choice or in between? Percentages?
Urban: Come on, Andy, you know me. I don't make predictions and I don't do percentages. I will say this - barring major injuries, I look at their schedule and I don't see any reason why they cannot be in position to grab a playoff spot going into the final two games. Nothing is a given, but as I mentioned on my blog, the QBs they are facing are not world-beaters. That doesn't guarantee wins. But this team isn't hurdling toward a top 10 draft pick either. Now, they close at Seattle and San Francisco at home and that's not easy. But at this point they control their own destiny - and that's not just lip service with eight games left but reality given their play and their schedule.
Somers: I said in training camp I thought this team would hover around 8-8. I'll stick with that and they will finish a game or two out of wildcard contention. They will look back at losing their first three division games as doing them in. To be any better than that, they have to get better play out of Palmer and the rest of the offense.
Root: I'll stick to my preseason prediction -- 9-7, finishing just outside the playoffs. They will be right there, but with the Niners and Seahawks at the end and the struggles Arizona has had in the division, I think they fall just short, much like 2007. It will be a season to build on.
So, there you go. Once again, thanks to the Cards beat guys for participating. I appreciate it.
And of course, you can give your own views in the comment section below.