Last year, the 2017 Arizona Cardinals fell well short of expectations, finishing with an 8-8 record and a roster riddled with injuries. However, they did it all without cohesion on the defensive side under James Bettcher or a solid starting quarterback in Carson Palmer for half the season, and without David Johnson for all of it.
Will the offseason additions the team has made be enough to make some noise in the NFC? Or is this a team that’s going to have some growing pains?
Let’s look at five reasons why Arizona in the playoffs is FACT, and five reason it’s nothing more than FICTION:
Fact: The Cardinals defense will be improved under Steve Wilks
Last year the Arizona Cardinals had a strong close to the season, shutting out the New York Giants and gaining a road win against the Seattle Seahawks.
But it’s not hard to remember Tom Savage throwing wild on their team and star CB Patrick Peterson throwing his head back in disgust at all the zone the team was playing. Bettcher was good at consistently using the talent to get a top 10 defensive unit.
But in Steve Wilks’ new scheme which has 4 down linemen rushing the passer and simpler assignments allowing the CB to make plays on the ball, it’s arguable that more turnovers and less dropping into coverage will allow pass rushers like Markus Golden and Chandler Jones to get in shots at the quarterback, causing more turnovers.
Fiction: Half the starting defensive lineup is still an unknown quantity
Robert Nkemdiche, Budda Baker and Hasaan Reddick have all under 1 years starting experience and they are expected to be major contributors. Josh Bynes is coming off of a great season but he’s bounced around the league for a few years and was hurt part way through the season. New CB Jamar Taylor hasn’t seen much time as an outside CB successfully versus as a slot guy and Markus Golden is coming off of an ACL.
There’s a lot of question marks not just with health but actually proving it on the field with these players, and some adjusting is going to mean some growing pains in the new scheme.
Fact: Bradford, Glennon and Rosen is a more stable quarterback room than Stanton and Gabbert after Palmer went down
Let’s be real. The fact that the Cardinals somehow won 5 games with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert last year is a testament to the coaching of Bruce Arians and efforts of the players. When facing tougher teams (or not the Jaguars) those quarterbacks struggled in the redzone and it was up to the defense to win the game.
Having a solid quarterback room after Bradford with a backup who’s shown himself to be as good, if not better than Drew Stanton and a tantalizing rookie that is incredibly prepared to start in Josh Rosen is a guaranteed improvement over the likes of Gabbert. If Bradford should go down, the Cardinals might have a better chance to contend and win the game and even make a playoff push.
Fiction: Bradford’s playoff history, Glennon isn’t good and Rosen’s a rookie
While Carson Palmer’s playoff track record before Arizona was one and done due to injury, Sam Bradford can’t even attest to that. He’s never won 9 games or more as a starting Quarterback and still has major health questions.
Glennon, unlike Stanton, doesn’t have a winning record in the league and struggled heavily with the Bears last year, to the point where they played Mitch Trubisky earlier than desired.
Rosen is the true key to this room, but he’s still a rookie having to learn his way around the league. Even a star rookie like David Johnson said that it took him 8+ weeks to be confident and a whole offseason after that before he felt comfortable as an NFL player. Rosen’s position is far more difficult and he may have to step up sooner and go through the trial by fire earlier than optimal due to Bradford’s shaky health history.
Fact: Larry Fitzgerald is still dominant at the wide receiver position
Fitzgerald showed off last year that despite his age, he’s in the perfect role and arena for his talents and he dominated most games in which the starting quarterback was able to get him the ball. His playmaking skills gives Arizona a true #1 to help carry them to the postseason.
Fiction: Is anyone else besides Fitzgerald going to step up at Wide Receiver?
Kirk is a promising rookie but the likes of JJ Nelson, Brice Butler, Chad Williams and Greg Little doesn’t inspire much confidence, and Arizona has little to choose from in free agency for effective wide receiver play.
Even if David Johnson can become the teams 2nd wide receiver, they have the same problem they have had the last two years: no one to take pressure off of Larry Fitzgerald in the passing game. That’s not the mark of a playoff team.
Even Christian Kirk might not be a guy who can make an early impact right away in his first year with the team.
Fact: David Johnson and a retooled offensive line will help carry the Cardinals back to the post season
Doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, as long as the Cardinals can run the ball (and they will) they can manage the game and come away with a win by being effective on offense. The likes of Humphries, Iupati, Pugh and Smith all have their run-blocking as their biggest strength. Adding back a dynamic David Johnson and young backs in Chase Edmonds and TJ Logan and Arizona will steamroll defenses on the way to the playoffs.
Fiction: They didn’t do it in 2016 with Palmer + health/pass protection questions despite Johnson’s 2,000 yards from scrimmage
If David Johnson alone could carry you to the playoffs the 7-8-1 2016 Arizona Cardinals weren’t aware of it. They had some struggles staying healthy that year and not much has changed entering 2018, with 4 of the 5 starters all having missed time due to injury in the past 2 years. They also are all graded out as being the weakest in pass protection of their many traits, meaning that if teams can stuff the run and it forces them to protect the quarterback dropping back...ouch.
Bradford’s knee and a lack of consistency in health and pass pro might mean that the Cardinals end up in the same boat they have the past two years.
Fact: The Cardinals have what it takes to compete in the NFC West
The talent on the Cardinals is still massively underrated by the national media. Having some All-Pro caliber players in Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones in their prime on defense in addition to the likes of Deone Bucannon and the up and coming Hasaan Reddick and Budda Baker in a blitz-heavy scheme means business. Plus a returning Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and David Johnson on offense, an improved offensive line for either Bradford or a starter-ready QB in Josh Rosen in a quick passing attack and a special teams unit that no longer has Amos Jones is a boost to an 8-8 squad.
The Cardinals desperately need some respect and will likely show some improvement in areas from last year’s team, which ultimately wasn’t a bad team but just average. Another 2 wins and they’ll be in the playoff picture. They also have the defense to stop the NFC West quarterbacks and teams like Seattle and San Fran are bound to take a step back versus forward, right?
The Cards could pass up the Niners and Seahawks as a surprise team and content for a playoff seed or maybe more if the Rams slip up in 2018.
Fiction: Wilson, Goff and Garoppolo? And the toughest schedule in the NFL? Yikes.
The Cleveland Browns are likelier to go to the playoffs than Arizona given Vegas odds.
Think about that for a second. It’s divisionally and schedule based.
Arizona’s got maybe the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, having games on the road against the Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers, Packers, Falcons, and also face the daunting NFC West.
The Niners have new pieces on defense and a full-time season from Jimmy Garoppolo, the Rams added Suh, Peters and Talib to Aaron Donald and that dynamic offense for Sean McVay and Jared Goff and the Seahawks still have a tough front seven and Russell Wilson.
The Cardinals could theoretically end up in 4th in the NFC West if they aren’t seeing quarterback stability and given the fact that Josh Rosen might be another one of those dynamic quarterbacks. But he’s still a rookie. Until the Cardinals can make improvements and Rosen can get adjusted to the league, they won’t be playoff bound.
What are your thoughts?
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