I love when football starts. The games are exciting and it's fun to see what players do. However, if I love something more, it would be the busy part of the offseason. I love Black Monday, Combine, Draft, and Free Agency, just because there is so much to do, grading players, analyzing their flaws and their strengths. The first things that are done are these grades. So without further ado lets grade the positions through the 2014 season!
When you play four different quarterbacks (starting three), you expect a tumultuous season and a poor grade. That was not the case. Carson Palmer was excellent in his six starts, throwing for 1626 yards with 11 TD's to three interceptions. He was playing at an elite level before he tore his ACL against the St. Louis Rams.
Drew Stanton has played well enough to win games for the Cardinals. In eight starts this season, Stanton has thrown for six touchdowns to his five picks. He moved the ball which gave the defense plenty of time to rest.
Then there is Ryan Lindley. The guy everyone has been worried about has done little to quell the fears of the fans. While he did have a career game against he 49ers and threw his first two career touchdowns, he has won neither start, which is due in part to weak performances from the defense.
For that, this unit gets a solid B for the season. Outside of Palmer no one was terribly impressive, which helps the grade.
Everyone was excited. Andre Ellington had just had an excellent rookie campaign, Jonathan Dwyer looked like he would be a big piece for the team, and the offensive line was supposed to be a huge upgrade. Well... The running game was abysmal. The team did not manage a 100 yard rusher until week 14. Ellington had been hampered by a handful of injuries, before suffering another that ended his season. Dwyer was suspended by the team after he was arrested for domestic abuse, just prior to the teams Week 3 game against the 49ers.
Both Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams are the reasons why the running game isn't an F. Both players have been aided by an offensive line that has been able to open to massive holes to run through, but they've been able to read the right hole and make a guy or two miss before being brought down.
I'll group these two together, just because none of our tight ends have been impressive blockers (outside of Darren Fells the past few weeks). Rob Housler has looked his usual self, making big catches, followed by some ridiculous drops. John Carlson looked the part of being a good pass catcher early on, but that quickly became drops. Darren Fells looked as if he would not be back next season, but after looking impressive as a run blocker, and making some nice grabs the past few weeks, the 28 year old may just be the teams top tight end next season.
As for the receivers, Larry Fitzgerald was the teams most consistent player. He was on pace to crack 1000 yards with Palmer at the helm, but that did not happen. He's got a big offseason because of his salary issues. Michael Floyd was inconsistent. Our own Jess Root tweeted some statistics about Michael Floyd. In 2013 he had seven games of 90+ yards. In 2014 he had seven games of less than 30 yards. He's been as inconsistent as one could be. John Browns rookie campaign was about big catches... And some really big drops. He's a home run threat, so we can only hope a full season in the NFL and a full offseason will help the rookie.
The line allowed 28 sacks over the course of the season, which compared to prior years is amazing. In fact, the unit graded out as the 6th best pass protection line, according to Football Outsiders. Where the shined in pass protection, they flopped in run blocking. Arizona was graded as the 25th best run blocking front, coupled with their 31st run game ranking makes them horrible.
Ted Larsen had a good preseason, and started off well the first few weeks. However that fell a part quickly. Paul Fanaika was incredibly inconsistent, and went out with an injury which opened the door for last years 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper.
When Cooper came in, the Cardinals had found a run game. The line was opening semi-truck sized holes and the backs were finding them and hitting them hard. However, Coop would injure his wrist, and the offensive line quickly fell back into their no run game slump.
Bobby Massie and Jared Veldheer were solid all season. The Cardinals finally found their premier left tackle, and Massie finally started and played well. Sendlein has been given a bad rap. Obviously he's expensive for an average center, but he played as well as you could with two mediocre guards for much of the season.
Early in the season we were all worried about the fact that these guys could not get any sort of pressure. Then they found a spark. Ed Stinson. His stats may not show it, but he was everywhere. It felt like he was in on every play, forcing the ball carrier into either his tackle, or someone else. Calais Campbell on the other side was dominating his guys, and finished with 7 sacks, second on the team. Dan Williams continued to be the anchor for one of the top rush defenses for much of the season. The loss of Darnell Dockett was not felt for much of the year. Kareem Martin did not pan out as we had hoped, but he's still young.
Alameda Ta'Amu was a non factor, while many of us had hoped he would be after having an excellent season the year prior. Frostee Rucker and Tommy Kelly were excellent veteran signings. Kelly was offered a one year extension but turned it down to see how his season ended.
Daryl Washington got suspended, Karlos Dansby left, and our season was already dubbed a loss. Larry Foote was signed and last year second round pick was named the starter next to Foote. Foote came in and was amazing. He played every snap before getting injured against Seattle. Minter has not been impressive thus far. For a guy that was dubbed a "thumper", he whiffed on far too many tackles this season. On the outside, John Abraham missed a lot of preseason work after an offseason DUI. He suffered a concussion, mulled retirement, came back, but was placed on IR because of continuous concussion symptoms.
Alex Okafor was on IR last season, but responded amazingly. He posted the most sacks on the team in 2014 (8), and was everywhere on the field. He and Sam Acho were a good duo in the absence of Matt Shaughnessy. Acho is a free agent, and would likely be a guy the Cardinals would want to retain.
You could feel the loss of Washington in terms of speed at covering tight ends, and rushing through gaps. But Foote did admirably.
This unit overachieved much of the year, and they ran out of gas, as did the whole defense, at the end of the season. For that the receive an above average grade.
Patrick Peterson signed his lucrative deal, Antonio Cromartie was signed, Tyrann Mathieu was just getting healthy, and Deone Bucannon was drafted. The name "No Fly Zone" popped up. That was not the case early on. Peterson had dealt with some unknown problem early, leaving Cromartie to be our best corner. Mathieu was slowly recuperating, so Johnson and Jefferson were our top safeties.
Peterson got over his problem, Mathieu returned to full health, and the secondary looked as advertised, but again fell a part at the end.
Jerraud Powers would be third as my defensive MVP, behind Foote (1) and Okafor. He was excellent as a slot corner, a year after he was the guy the fanbase wanted to murder.
Johnson was the best tackler in the secondary until the final three games, where he seemed to miss a tackle every other play. Jefferson played well all season, and is an excellent backup. Bucannon did not see much time at Safety as he played the teams dollar linebacker.
It was an up and down season for the secondary, and with Cromartie an impending free agent, could it be Justin Bethels time next season?
The team started with three kickers; Danny Hrapmann, Jay Feely, and Chandler Catanzaro. They carried all three into the preseason, where Hrapmann was the first to go. Then it seemed like Feely would win the job after Catanzaro had missed plenty of kicks in practice. In the end though, the team went with the rookie and it paid off. He started the season 16/16, before having a midseason slump going 6/10 in a five game span. He showed tremendous leg on his kickoffs, and plenty of times looked like he could boot a field goal from greater than 60 yards. Hrapmann looks like he'll be another offseason signing just to keep Catanzaro's leg from dying.
Drew Butler looked like an excellent punter at times. And then he had moments like he did against Carolina. You can understand a young kicker having issues in outdoor weather, but when your first two punts are 30 and 31 yards then there are problems. He filled in nicely for Dave Zastudil all season, but was no where near the level the fans and the team had come to expect from their punter. A healthy Zastudil and teams will be pinned next season.
Oh boy... Ted Ginn was supposed to come in and be excellent. That did not work. He had three good returns all season, and one great one, which was the touchdown in week two. That's back to back seasons where the return game has been underwhelming. Peterson and Arenas last year, and Ginn this year. Whether that's on the behalf of Amos Jones, or we really know how to pick em. I can see Ginn back next year, I just pray he's not.
The final grade goes to the coaches. What they did was miraculous. They took a band of misfits and coached them to an 11 win season. Ultimately they ran out of bodies for "The Next Man Up" and it showed in the final three games. The defense gassed out, the offense could not rally with Lindley at the helm, and everyone looked tired. Arians had to be conservative with Lindley while still throwing in big plays that could boost his confidence.
What Arians did has earned him another Coach of the Year honor, but he'll take it with a grain of salt. He knows had he had a healthy Drew Stanton or Carson Palmer, this team would have been somewhere special.
Todd Bowles outside of four bad games had another excellent season. It's funny to think that we were all upset when Arians fired Horton and hired Bowles. But the signing has worked out, and we know he's well on his way to a head coaching job.
What say you? We all have our different feelings on the season so this is clearly subject to criticism. Discuss your grades and who surprised you the most.