We continue our team-by-team look at all 32 teams today with ...
THE ARIZONA CARDINALS
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2007 record: 8-8 (404-399)
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 8.1-7.9
Franchise record: 464-667-39 (.413)
Playoff record: 2-5 (.286)
Last five seasons: 28-52 (.350)
Best Quality Stat in 2007: Scoreability Index (6th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2007: Bendability Index (28th)
Best game of 2007: Week 4, 21-14 win at home over Pittsburgh. The Cardinals had some nice wins last year, beating Seattle and Cleveland as well, but couldn't build any momentum. They never won more than two in a row en route to an 8-8 season that was practically a Super Bowl title for victory-starved Arizona fans.
Strength: Passing game. When Kurt Warner took over for the injured Matt Leinart (61.9 passer rating), Arizona's aerial attack reached its potential. Warner finished with an 89.8 passer rating, and the dynamic duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were great again. Boldin missed five starts but still had 71-853-9 for final numbers, and Fitzgerald caught 100 passes for 1,409 yards and 10 TDs.
Secondary. Arizona was 22nd in the NFL in Defensive Passer Rating
(85.8) despite a decent pass rush (17th in Negative Pass Plays forced), contributing heavily to their No. 27 ranking in scoring defense. The Cardinals brought in CB Rod Hood and FS Terrence Holt in free agency last year, and both started 16 games, but were borderline NFL starters (Holt was released last month). The healthy return of SS Adrian Wilson (missed half the season) and more big plays from streaky CB Antrel Rolle are much needed in the desert.
Most underrated player: Quarterback Kurt Warner. We've covered this ground extensively – Warner is one of the 15 best passers in the league. Historically, fewer are better. His career passer rating of 93.2 is third best all time, just behind Steve Young and Peyton Manning, and a shade ahead of guys named Tom Brady and Joe Montana. But for whatever reason can't seem to keep a job. Historically, part of the problem is his propensity for fumbling – 43 of them over the last four seasons in 35 starts. But in Arizona, he's appeared in 30 games and finished with a passer rating of 80+ in 20 of them – a 66.7 percent rate of Quality Starts and that's extremely good. At 36, he's no one's future any more, but he's certainly a good bet for the present.
Unit on the rise: Offensive line. The addition of Russ Grimm to the coaching staff (and 2007 No. 1 pick Levi Brown) was supposed to boost the Cardinals' line – and it did. The Cards improved their yards per carry (3.19 to 3.58) and lowered their Negative Pass Plays from 8.97 percent of dropbacks to 7.82 percent of dropbacks. Those are significant gains, and although neither number is spectacular, they show progress. The Cardinals return their line intact in 2008, with all five starters under the age of 28. The addition of blocking TE Jerame Tuman in free agency will also be a boost.
Youth/experience: The Cardinals have an overwhelming majority of their roster in the prime of their careers, with more than 65 percent of their 2007 roster in their third to seventh years in the league. Warner and DE Bertrand Berry were the only starters over 30, and RT Levi Brown was the only starter under 24.
2007 Draft grade: C-. The Cardinals had only five draft picks, four of which made the roster. Both top picks (Brown and DT Alan Branch) underachieved, and third-round LB Buster Davis was a preseason cut.
2008 Draft power: 1st (16), 2nd (51), 3rd (82), 4th (113), 5th (144), 6th (179), 7th (212). Note: Arizona is likely to add a third-round supplemental selection for losing FA Leonard Davis in the 2007 offseason.
General Draft strategy: The Cardinals haven't had more than seven total picks in any of the last five drafts, so stockpiling selections isn't part of their game plan. Mostly, they take whatever draft power their finish gives them and hope for the best. They have had a terrible record with first-round picks, although the last four (Brown, Leinart, Rolle and Fitzgerald) have bucked that trend. They've also added some winners outside the first round over the past four years (G Deuce Lutui, CB Eric Green, LB Karlos Dansby, DT Darnell Dockett), and are starting to shed the label of draft-day ineptitude.
Coaching: Ken Whisenhunt made a great first impression on the Arizona faithful, bringing the offense into the top 10 in scoring and managing a solid 8-8 season. His key staff returns intact – right-hand man Russ Grimm, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Pendergast was one of two holdovers from Dennis Green's staff, but his defenses have been pretty poor – 26th in scoring defense in 2005, 29th in 2006 and 27th in 2007.
Overview: If it weren't for the doomed history of the franchise, the Cardinals would be a hot choice to break into double-digit wins in the NFC in 2008. Assuming an open competition at QB, they'll have two good options there, a maturing young line, great wideouts and a cohesive staff. Edgerrin James was below average at RB, but the offense still scored 404 points – he's good enough in the context of what they can do when firing on all cylinders. Arizona has a lot of talented players in their prime years, and will have a cushy NFC West/AFC East schedule to work with. However, they need to make huge strides on defense (399 points allowed last year), and are likely to break even there in silly season with the loss of LB Calvin Pace and possible addition of DE Travis LaBoy. A successful defensive draft and some breakout seasons on that side of the ball are needed for the Cardinals to sneak up on the world in a big way.