It's not hard to figure out what the Arizona Cardinals are doing this season, it's called rebuilding. After three consecutive years of missing the playoffs head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves are out the door and in steps Bruce Arians from the Colts. Arians was the interim head coach last year after Chuck Pagano stepped down due to his illness. Even though the team finished 5-11 last year and only 4-4 at home Arians feels confident about what lies ahead.
"I like our defense against anyone in the division," he said. "We've got to get our offense up to speed so we can compete. We've beaten these teams in the last two years so it's not like we're getting dominated."
Arians took a roster full of rookies and castoffs to the playoffs last year. The Cardinals have much more talent than that so I like the way things look.
The team got rid of their two top quarterbacks in the offseason and acquired Carson Palmer in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. Palmer isn't a great player at this stage in his career but he's good, and he's the best the Cardinals have had since Kurt Warner. Palmer will never regain the form he had prior to his knee injury years ago but he doesn't make many bad decisions either. Football Outsiders developed a formula to measure bad decisions by a quarterback and he ranks right behind Aaron Rodgers at 2%, that's pretty good company to keep.
Arians came out and immediately stated that he would install a power run game, something the Cardinals haven't had in years. Last season was the worst run blocking that has ever been measured by the good folks at Football Outsiders, which means a lot of work for the coaching staff. They drafted Cooper No. 7 overall to fill one of their holes at OG, but they still have a long way to go. One player that will be a big help to the renewed emphasis on the run is Mendenhall. He is a big, strong explosive back that changes the way a defense plays. He's the type of back that takes 2,3 and 4 yard plays and turns them into 10. He's solid in every area on the field, particularly picking up blitzes. He's also versatile enough to chip an incoming defender and drop into the flat to act as a safety valve for Palmer and make big gains.
The defense returns after ranking 12th overall and 5th against the pass. The performance against the run had them ranked 28th but that number is deceiving. They ranked 28th against the run because teams were up early in the games and didn't need to throw. If the Cardinals offense would have produced better than dead last in the league, other teams offenses would have been forced to throw the ball more.
This season the defense will have a new coordinator in Todd Bowles. He will keep the defense in the same base 3-4 as his predecessor, but the scheme will be a little different. He doesn't have his lineman play a 2-gap style. Traditional thought is this will benefit pass rushers like Dockett who now have to only focus on getting upfield.
The defensive line is the strength of this unit and it shows. Calais Campbell is a standout as an end because he does everything well. His 6-8 frame helps him excel at pass rushing and his run defense technique is constantly improving. As he continues to understand leverage his long arms will help keep blockers away from his body. Dockett is an elite player, even though he had a disappointing last season. He didn't fit well in the previous two-gap scheme so the new system will offer him a good opportunity.
The Cardinals took a big risk in the defensive secondary this offseason when they parted ways with Wilson and Rhodes. They brought a lot of experience and maturity to the unit that will not be replaced. Johnson and Bell will be their likely replacements and we'll be waiting to see how they perform on a real Sunday. Patrick Peterson is definitely being talked about as one of the elite cornerbacks in the league. You have to perform when your team consistently matches you up one-on-one against the other teams top receiver. Peterson almost always got the better result.
The Cardinals have the potential to be a very good team, but they have a problem because of their division. I think it's safe to say their odds of winning the division are pretty slim, which means they'll have to get in throw a wild-card spot. It is not an ideal situation, but very doable for this coaching staff and this roster.