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Football Outsiders Answers The Biggest Questions About The Arizona Cardinals Heading Into 2012

With the Arizona Cardinals getting set to begin the preseason and ultimately the 2012 regular season, Brian McIntire from Football Outsiders was kind enough to answer a few questions that a lot of people are asking. We will read McIntire's responses, which give us an outsider's perspective, without the normal fan view here.

Football Outsiders every year does a great preview and look at the 2012 season, with the Football Outsiders Almanac. You can get an electronic copy of the Almanac here.

Read on to see what ROTB asked and what FO answered.

1. What do we really know about Kevin Kolb and John Skelton?

We know that Kevin Kolb impressed Andy Reid enough to earn a starting job and we know that he can be a productive starting quarterback in the NFL. Even with an abbreviated time to acclimate to Ken Whisenhunt's offense, Kolb was 49 of 75 for 699 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in the first ten quarters of his Cardinals' career before struggling with accuracy (54.5 percent completion percentage the rest of the season) and health the rest of the season. We also know that Kolb is a player that cannot be depended upon to remain healthy for a full season, losing his starting job to Michael Vick in Philadelphia, in part, due to injury. He then missed nearly half of 2011 with various ailments, including another concussion that is worth monitoring. As for Skelton, we know that he gradually climbed the depth chart and benefited from a favorable schedule and an improving defense to be the quarterback of record when the Cardinals turned their 2011 season around and pushed for a playoff spot. He's not as talented as Kolb, and wasn't as productive, ranking outside the Top 40 in DVOA and DYAR and posting poor DVOAs on second (-41.4%) and third (-38.7%) downs. That realization may explain why Skelton appears to be 1B on the depth chart, but he'll get a fair shot from Whisenhunt to earn the job.

2. What should we be able to expect from the Arizona OLBs this season?

Not addressing the outside linebacker position in the 2012 NFL draft was sort of a surprise, but the Cardinals have some talent there. 2011 fourth-round pick Sam Acho had a solid rookie season, replacing Joey Porter in the starting lineup and finishing second on the team with seven sacks. O'Brien Schofield had 4.5 sacks and could be more of a pass-rushing threat now that he's further removed from a torn ACL. Acho and Schofield have enough talent to start and be disruptive and should benefit from a full offseason to get a better grasp of Ray Horton's defense, but the Cardinals sort of realized that this wasn't a position of strength when they re-signed Clark Haggans in June. Haggans is in his mid-30s and is coming off a three-sack, but our game charters did credit him with 15 hurries last season.

3. Arizona's defense was number one in third down defense in 2011. Can we expect the same, and how much better overall can it be?

Since he would know much more about year-to-year statistical trends and tendencies, I asked Aaron Schatz about this. Aaron said that third-down defense varies a lot from season to season and tends to regress to a team's overall defensive performance, which is not a good indicator for the 2012 Cardinals.

4. How much better will the Arizona O-line look in 2012, or will it look better at all?

The Cardinals have meandered in the 15-21 range in Adjusted Line Yards the last three years and in the two seasons of the post-Kurt Warner Era, the Adjusted Sack Rate has increased dramatically, rising from 5.2% in 2009 to 8.4% and 9.0% in 2011. The Cardinals may experience some improvement due to continuity, as Levi Brown and Daryn Colledge return on the left side of the line and Lyle Sendlein returns at the pivot, but the talent level of the line has not been upgraded, making it difficult to predict or expect improvement. It's stunning that the Cardinals are one of two teams to have not used a first, second or third round pick on an offensive lineman in five consecutive drafts. The Cardinals are joined by the Tennessee Titans in that factoid, but they don't have a Michael Roos or David Stewart at the tackle position. Brown would be better off at right tackle. In year two on the blindside, he continued to be among the leaders in "blown blocks", but showed enough improvement in the second half of the season that he was brought back on a $30 million contract and the Cardinals passed on some potential left tackle options to select Michael Floyd in the first round of the draft. At 6-foot-6, 316 pounds with long arms, quick feet and a nasty demeanor, fourth-round pick Bobby Massie passes the eyeball test, but needs to show that he can capably protect the quarterback to earn the starting right tackle job over Jeremy Bridges.