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5 questions about the Arizona Cardinals for Football Outsiders

We bring in a guest to answer questions from the outside

Christian Petersen

We have been doing a ton of work previewing the Arizona Cardinals. Training camp has kept us busy. But we took a few minutes to get with Tom Gower of Football Outsiders, home of arguably the best football publication out there -- the Football Outsiders Almanac (you can buy it here -- I highly recommend it).

I asked him five questions relating to the Cardinals, their past season and the upcoming one. Here is what he answered

1. How would have a Carson Palmer 2012 performance have affected the Cards on the field a year ago? Can that be quantified at all, at least in speculation?

Tough to say. First thing: by our numbers, Palmer posted a DVOA of -2.4% or just a bit below average. Kevin Kolb's DVOA was -23.2%, John Skelton's -34.9%, and Ryan Lindley's -55.8%, so he would have been a clear upgrade over any of them. Of course, it's basically impossible to separate out the effect of Palmer playing behind Oakland's offensive line, which was more or less okay, and last year's awful Cardinals line. He's not particularly mobile, so he probably would have done somewhat worse than he did in Oakland but I think still probably somewhat better than Kolb and definitely better than Skelton or Lindley. That likely would have been enough to flip at least one of the close games where the passing performance was particularly awful (Bills, Jets, Falcons).

2. Patrick Peterson was a Pro Bowler and had seven picks. Just how good was he a season ago in terms of overall effectiveness?

Really, really good. This probably is not a surprise to you, but the Cardinals used him a lot against the opponent's top receiver; we have the Cardinals ranked 29th in CB by Sides. He ranked 11th in Success Rate allowed among all cornerbacks, and on a large number of targets. Having a player who can do so well against the top opposing wideout one-on-one also lets the other 10 players match up to the other 10 players more effectively. By our numbers, the Cardinals did even better against opposing #2 wideouts and other wideouts than they did against #1 wide receivers, and Peterson's play probably contributed to that.

3. What is the potential of the offensive line with the return of Levi Brown and Lyle Sendlein, the addition of Jonathan Cooper and the development of Bobby Massie?

Some degree of improvement is almost inevitable, simply because the offensive line was just so bad last year. Then again... Levi Brown has spent much of his career as a serious contender for the worst starting left tackle in the league. Lyle Sendlein played in 11 games, and the offense was pretty bad even when he was in the lineup. Jonathan Cooper is a rookie, and while he should be a really good player eventually, that might not be in 2013. Bobby Massie? We'll see. We had him for 27 blown blocks on pass plays, but only 3.5 of them were after the bye. I think the consensus is right, that he really did improve as a player the second half of the season, but does he keep his good habits? As to Eric Winston, he's a nice zone right tackle with good mobility who's not the best pass blocker. We had him for 17 blown blocks on pass plays, and he also had 10 penalties, including six false starts.

4. What effect can Rashard Mendenhall have on the running game?

The last couple seasons, Mendenhall has demonstrated he can be a roughly average performer, at least when healthy, behind an offensive line that is better than last year's Cardinals line but still somewhat questionable. I know, Bruce Arians loves him, but last year I got to listen to Norv Turner wax grandiloquent about what Eddie Royal was going to bring about to the Chargers. At least for now, Mendenhall's main virtue is he's not LaRod Stephens-Howling or Beanie Wells.

5. Based on 2012 performance, how much of a downgrade is the Rashad Johnson/Yeremiah Bell safety tandem from Adrian Wilson/Kerry Rhodes? Is it a downgrade at all?

We'll see. Bell is 35 and sometimes veteran safeties, even players who aren't range safeties, fall off a cliff and suddenly become almost completely ineffective. As to Johnson, I did not watch the Cardinals closely in 2011 and am not sure what make of him as a starter off the 161 snaps he played on defense last year. Wilson and Rhodes wasn't a world-beating combination last year, but they were relatively reliable. I could see the move being an upgrade, pretty much a lateral move, or a downgrade.

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