(Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. She breaks out her pigskin probe and uses her soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with our first patient, in alphabetical order, the Arizona Cardinals.) 

By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Keg-Stand Champion
The Arizona Cardinals did something you don't often see out of the NFC West in recent years, they played quite a bit of exciting football and even competed well down the stretch -- no small feat in a division that has as much motivation to succeed as the CHFF crew does to quit drinking and lose weight.

After a rough start, the Cardinals rode several remarkable John Skelton- and Patrick Peterson-led fantastic finishes to close the season with an 8-8 record, including 4-2 in the division. In fact, the Cardinals were the only NFC West team that proved the equal of the 13-3 division champ 49ers, edging San Francisco late in the season.

All in all an exciting year to be a Cardinals ... but a year that left plenty of question marks in its wake.

The 2011 storyline: You know how the Feds dumped billions into green energy company Solyndra only to find they had pissed away the money when it failed horribly? That was kind of how the Kevin Kolb Experiment went in Arizona last year ... except, you know, in Arizona's case they pissed away only their own money.
The Vital Signs
Coach (record): Ken Whisenhunt (40-40 with Arizona; 40-40 overall)
2011 record: 8-8 (19.5 PPG – 21.8 PPG)
Record against the spread: 9-7
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-5 (19.7 – 26.3)
Record last five seasons: 40-40 (.500)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Defensive Real Passing YPA (7th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Offensive Hog Index (31st)

21 23 23 13 21 7t 29 14 23 13 23 31t 10 21
Overall= Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS = Quality Standings; SCOR = Scoreability; BEND = Bendability; RPYPA = Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA = Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR = Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD = Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL = Relativity Index.   

Statistical curiosity of 2011: The Cardinals were outscored by the opposition in 2011 (312-348) for the 30th time in 35 years. That’s right, the Cardinals organization has scored more points than its opponents just five times since 1976: back in 1984 under Jim Hanifan (+78), in 1993 under Joe Bugel (+57), and the first three seasons under current coach Ken Whisenhunt: 2007 (+5), 2008 (+1) and 2009 (+50). That’s a lot of lousy football, folks.
Best game of 2011: 21-19 win vs. San Francisco (Week 14). The Cardinals not only came from behind to upset the NFC power 49ers, they statistically dominated the game. Arizona won the yardage battle, 325-233, sacked Alex Smith five times and scored the final 14 points with a pair of John Skelton TD passes to win a game on a day when they lost the turnover battle, 3-0. It was the third of four straight wins after Thanksgiving, and five wins in the final six games, that lifted the Cardinals to 8-8 after an abysmal 1-6 start. The Cardinals had closed the 2010 season with a 38-7 loss to a much weaker San Francisco team.
Worst game of 2011: 34-10 loss at Minnesota (Week 5). The Vikings were 0-4 in Week 5 and on their way to one of the worst seasons in franchise history when the laid a North Woods-shed beating on Arizona. Winless Minnesota raced out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead behind three Adrian Peterson rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, it become pretty clear that the Cardinals offense was going to struggle behind the failed Kevin Kolb Experiment: the newly-signed QB completed just half his passes (21 of 42) for 232 yards, 0 TD and 2 INT. He was replaced late by Richard Bartel.
Strength: Pass defense. The Cardinals did not exactly face a murderer’s row of quarterbacks during the 2011 season – hell, nobody in the NFC West has consistently faced great QBs in years. But even with that said, the pass D was the brightest light in a season that watched Arizona rise back to respectability. Nobody passed for more than 300 yards against the Cardinals over the final 10 games of the season – no small feat during a year in which passing records fell like panties at a prom.

The Cards finished the year:
  • No. 7 in Defensive Real Passing YPA
  • No. 14 in Defensive QB Rating
  • No. 13 in Defensive Passer Rating
  • No. 10 on the Defensive Hog Index
There is still plenty of room for improvement, though: Arizona hauled in just 10 INT last season. Only five teams were worse.
Weakness: Offensive line. Quarterback. The offensive line was a dismal No. 31 on our Offensive Hog Index, thanks largely to an inability to protect the passer. Opposing teams forced the Cardinals into a Negative Pass Play on 12.75 percent of drop backs in 2011, also No. 31 in the NFL.
So Arizona’s stable of quarterbacks – or unstable of quarterbacks as the case may be – got little help from the guys up front. But Kolb & Co. managed to suck plenty on their own. The combination of bad OLing and bad QBing left the Cardinals No. 29 in Real Quarterback Rating.
Considering that teams that won the Real QB Rating battle went an awesome 223-33 in 2011, it’s something of a miracle that Arizona won half its games with such poor performance at the most important position in sports.
Arizona mismanagement made a critical mistake in the 2011 off-season: it fell for the misguided hype around Kolb and handed an untested QB a big contract, to the tune of $63 million over five years. The predictably underwhelming result from Kolb: 9 TD, 8 INT, 81.1 passer rating and a 3-9 record in his nine starts.
Enter John Skelton. His numbers were far inferior to Kolb’s: 11 TD, 14 INT and a 68.9 passer rating. But the results on the scoreboard were much more impressive, with a 5-2 record in his seven starts.
Credit Skelton’s clutch efforts down the stretch: the man from the Land of Lombardi (Fordham) led game-winning drives in each of the five wins that he started, and fourth-quarter comebacks in three of those games and another in his Week 9 relief-effort win over the Rams in Week 9.
It’s a nice story. But at the end of the day, the reality of the situation is that the Cardinals are left with
General off-season strategy/overview: Here’s what we wrote about Arizona’s off-season strategy/overview last year in this space:
Find a quarterback. The team is desperate, for sure. The name Kevin Kolb has been tossed around, as have others. But it's hard to picture the journeyman from Philly as the quarterback who will turn this team around.
And there's more bad news for a team looking for a franchise quarterback: there are not a lot of great players at the position coming out of college this year. Cam Newton is obviously the biggest name and a physical phenom, but he's widely seen as a risk, too, with a lot of potential downside. And college football's best pro prospect, Andrew Luck, is instead staying at Stanford for one more year.
It all adds up to the fact that Arizona will most likely search for a quarterback in free agency, a la Kolb, and wait for a franchise player in future drafts. Or they take a run at Newton. Hell, they don't have much to lose. 
Other than the name Newton, who proved a great pick for Carolina, you could pretty much make the same claims about the Cardinals off-season prospects this year. They have a nice team. Some decent players on defense. Patrick Peterson had a break-out rookie season as a return specialist, if not yet as a defender.
But that potential will go for naught if the quarterback situation doesn’t improve dramatically – either through the suddenly improved play of Kolb and Skelton, who coach Whisenhunt said will compete for the No. 1 job – or through the acquisition of a new players, which does not seem likely.
The Cardinals must also address its woes on the offensive line. The fact of the matter is that the team has largely ignored building-block O Hogs in the draft. Arizona has drafted just three offensive tackles and four guards in the last 10 years and only two of them in the first three rounds.
NFL teams are built in the draft and the simple truth is that Arizona has devoted precious few resources to the OL. The performance of that unit, No. 31 on the Offensive Hog Index, was the inevitable result of that strategy.
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: Quite frankly, the Cardinals have an outside shot at the NFC West title. Even with San Francisco’s ascension, it’s still a weak division. It will be especially weak if the 49ers fell back to earth – a not unrealistic outcome. With that said, a 10-win season is possible if the QB situation improves; a 6-win season likely if it does not.