2012 Record: 5-11
Offensive Line Woes
A whopping 58. That's not the number of the defensive lineman that caused the most havoc against Arizona that season, but rather the number of sacks given up by a pitiful Cardinals' line.
That's seven more than than the next worst team, and 21.5 higher than the league average.
Kevin Kolb has never been the most fleet-footed of quarterbacks, but in 28 games played prior to 2012, he'd been sacked a total of 50 times.
In six games played in 2012 for Arizona, defenses dragged him into the abyss a whopping 27 times. The blows took their toll, and Kolb suffered a rib injury that cost him the next seven games.
The clumsy three-headed monster of Brian Hoyer, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley took the remaining 31 sacks over a combined 16 games played, which indicates a lot of minor injuries and 'way behind in garbage time' subs that were precipitated by the line's ineptitude.
Defense Undone by Offense
Ray Horton's defense in Arizona was a rugged, aggressive bunch when it came to the passing game. Safety blitzes, strong-armed turnovers, and the emergence of punishing linebacker Daryl Washington were a big reason why Arizona was 4-0 to start the year.
But for as rambunctious and brutal as the defense could be, they have their physical limits. When the offense turns the ball over often (34 times, fifth worst in the league), and is stalled by their bad offensive line, the defense has more pressure laid on them.
Case in point: first five weeks of the year, the Cardinals never allowed more than 115 yards rushing against Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, and others. After that, they allowed 150+ rushing yards in seven of their last 11 games, because the defense can only do so much.
2013 Projected Wins: 6
Top 3 Rookies
-Jonathan Cooper, G (1/7): The line needed an upgrade, and it should get it in this stout run-stopper with exceptional down-field mobility and side-to-side quickness.
-Kevin Minter, LB (2/45): You already have Washington, as well as the returning Karlos Dansby, but why not add this instinctive anticipater to the middle?
-Tyrann Mathieu, CB (3/69): Trouble-making "Honey Badger" missed his senior season, but at his best, plays with unchained fury; could be ideal in third-and-long nickel spot.
The biggest move made this offseason looks to finally solve the quarterback conundrum. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer was acquired via trade with the Raiders for a total of three draft picks, including one in 2014. Palmer's coming off a solid 2012 in Oakland with 22 touchdowns and 14 picks; his best season since 2007.
As a complement to Palmer, Arizona also brought in an old Bruce Arians disciple, Rashard Mendenhall, at running back. But he needs a line to work behind, and the Cardinals will try to get some mileage out of inconsistent guard Chilo Rachal.
Much of the changes have come on defense, after Arians' former ally Horton was let go. Veteran safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson are history, replaced by the likes of Yeremiah Bell, Curtis Taylor, and Rashad Johnson. The aforementioned Dansby, as well as Jerraud Powers, an Arians' recommendation from Indy, also join.
Potential Starting Lineup
QB - Carson Palmer
RB - Rashard Mendenhall
WR - Larry Fitzgerald
WR - Andre Roberts
TE - Jeff King
TE - Rob Housler
LT - Levi Brown
LG - Jonathan Cooper
C - Lyle Sendlein
RG - Earl Watford
RT - Bobby Massie
DE - Calais Campbell
NT - Dan Williams
DT - Darnell Dockett
OLB - Lorenzo Alexander
ILB - Daryl Washington
ILB - Jasper Brinkley
OLB - Sam Acho
CB - Patrick Peterson
CB - Antoine Cason
FS - Yeremiah Bell
SS - Rashad Johnson
K - Jay Feely
P - Dave Zastudil
LS - Mike Leach
2013 at a Glance
Arians has worked with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck, helping shape their formative years (year four onward with Ben) with a simplistic, plain-spoken way of developing plays for the team's brain.
He also intends to bring less ambiguity to the team than was expected out of the conversely-internalized Ken Whisenhunt.
Arians has already brought some of that open honesty to the Cardinals, and the players apparently love the refreshing change (particularly Palmer).
Palmer mostly thrived with a receiving corps of Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Rod Streater, so imagine what he's going to do with Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, and the incomparable Larry Fitzgerald.
Palmer was sacked a relatively lean 26 times in 2012, thanks to Greg Knapp's zone-blocking scheme that did the running game in no favors in Oakland.
In what could be an ominous sign, the new offensive coordinator/O-Line coach in Arizona is Harold Goodwin, who oversaw a largely pathetic Pittsburgh line over five seasons (in a quality control position) that nearly got Roethlisberger killed. In that stretch, Roethlisberger was sacked 43 times a season on average (nearly 3 times a game).
Replacing Horton on the defensive side is Todd Bowles. After finishing 2011 as the Dolphins' interim coach, Bowles' lone season in Philadelphia last season saw him begin as the secondary coach, and end as defensive coordinator, following the firing of Juan Castillo.
The Eagles were a mess of a team, between general defensive confusion, ill-fitting players, and a perceived losing attitude. In six games as secondary coach, the Eagles mustered 7 picks, but only 1 over the final 10 when he assumed the coordinator job.
Bowles has had the use of many versatile linebackers throughout his coaching career (DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, DeMeco Ryans), and is handed a winner in Washington.
However, Washington will miss the first four games of 2013 for a substance abuse violation. He's also in hot water after a domestic abuse incident in early May. The acquisition of the understated-yet-reliable Dansby (and drafting of Minter) will both fill Washington's absence, and fortify when they're all together.
Veteran defensive tackle Darnell Dockett saw his production slide under Horton's variant of the 3-4, but a change in gap technique (switch back to one-gap) could raise his production, even at age 32. Calais Campbell, meanwhile, thrived under both Horton and Billy Davis, so he should still be productive in any variation.
It's a tipping scale; under Arians, Palmer's offense should raise production levels well over last year's putrid lows. Even with the offensive line being questionable, Palmer could still be successful. Andrew Luck was sacked 41 times under Arians last year, but still succeeded, thanks to his fourth quarter abilities. Palmer may have a better receiving corps, too.
The defense underwent some minor changes, particularly letting its two trusted safeties go. What Arizona does in 2013 will hinge on how well they adjust from their secondary modifications. They won't be a playoff team, but there'll be more signs of life.