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10 Apr 2013

State of the Team: Arizona Cardinals

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that most units are listed with 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Bruce Arians has a sizeable rebuilding project ahead of him, and this time there’s no Andrew Luck to center everything around. Arians runs a fairly aggressive downfield passing game that features a heavy dose of pre-snap motion and condensed formations. The trade for tested veteran Carson Palmer will allow Arians to at least use most of his playbook, but a lack of talent in several key areas will still hinder this offense.

BACKFIELD

QB: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley; Lost: Kevin Kolb, John Skelton

RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Anthony Sherman (FB); Lost: Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling

Palmer was acquired because not one of the quarterbacks on Arizona’s roster could play. Simple as that. Stanton didn’t (and doesn’t) have the skill set; Skelton didn’t have the accuracy or decision-making; Lindley, when he played as a rookie, was overwhelmed to the point of irrelevant. Palmer can at least function. True, his own accuracy and decision-making have wavered in recent years, but those wavers at least come with a respectable helping of quality throws.

Palmer will often be best served handing off to Mendenhall. The ex-Steeler runs with a sturdy swivel that, even behind an offensive line as bad as Arizona’s, should lead to a 1,000-yard season (assuming he can stay on the field). Durability is a concern with Mendenhall, and it’s a major concern with Williams. The once-explosive second-round pick has played in just five games over his first two seasons.

RECEIVERS

WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, LaRon Byrd; Lost: Early Doucet

TE: Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray

Fitzgerald is a saint for playing with so many bad quarterbacks and not erupting Titus Young-style. He’ll finally get a chance to catch contested passes again now that there’s a veteran under center. Floyd needs to accelerate his development. Too often last season he failed to make the tough play. Roberts is a quick, shifty darter who can excel in the slot. It’d help if there were a more respectable tight end lining up inside him. King is uninspiring downfield and a poor blocker near the line of scrimmage. Housler is even worse as a blocker but at least brings some athleticism to the passing game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Levi Brown LG: Daryn Colledge C: Lyle Sendlein RG: Adam Snyder RT: Bobby Massie

Backups: OT Nate Potter, G Senio Kelemete; Lost: OT D’Anthony Batiste

Brown, coming off a torn triceps, is a drastic upgrade over Batiste or Potter, but that doesn’t mean he’s an adequate left tackle. He has slow feet and not nearly enough strength given his size. On the other side, Massie may have been the worst player in football at the midway point of 2012. However, he pulled things together just enough in the second half to warrant another look in 2013. Inside, the Cardinals are resoundingly average. Better coaching this season should fix a lot of this line’s woes, particularly when it comes to blown assignments in pass protection.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

The Cardinals quietly had one of the better defenses in football last season, thanks in large part to the creative aggression of then-coordinator Ray Horton. Now they’re hoping their 3-4 and hybrid sub-package scheme can continue on the upswing under the direction of Todd Bowels, who comes over after a disenchanting half-season stint as the defensive coordinator in Philadelphia.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Matt Shaughnessy, Frostee Rucker; Lost: Nick Eason

DT: Dan Williams, David Carter

Campbell is a lanky athletic dynamo blessed with lateral strength that enables him to win against double-teams on the edge. Dockett is a fiery one-and two-gap player with some of the quickest hands in football. It’s hard to envision where Shaughnessy fits along a three-man line; most likely, it will be as a sub-package pass-rusher. But that’s really not his game. Plus, whose snaps will he take away? Campbell and Dockett almost never leave the field. Williams has come along okay as a nose tackle, but the previous regime was clearly hoping for more when it drafted him in the first round four years ago.

LINEBACKERS

OLB: Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield, Lorenzo Alexander, Tim Fugger; Lost: Quentin Groves

ILB: Daryl Washington, Jasper Brinkley, Reggie Walker; Lost: Paris Lenon

Few 3-4 schemes have any chance at succeeding with an outside pass-rush duo as banal as Acho and Schofield. Both have flashed but not shined. Alexander may push for a starting spot ahead of one of them, but he’s a utility man, not an edge rusher. It’s amazing Horton was able to conjure up as much pressure as he did last season. A lot of that pressure came with fire-X blitzes involving the explosive downhill attacks of Washington. He had great chemistry with Lenon (one of the smartest players in the league). The hope is he can replicate it with the slightly slower but stouter Brinkley.

SECONDARY

CB: Patrick Peterson, Antoine Cason, Jerraud Powers, Jamell Fleming; Lost: Greg Toler

S: Yeremiah Bell, Rashad Johnson, Justin Bethel; Lost: Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes

Peterson’s sophomore season was a little more topsy-turvy than you’d prefer, but a simple eyeball test confirms that he’s still a rare talent. It’s rational to ask him to play No. 1 receivers man-to-man with no help. Cason must rediscover his confidence after gradually losing it over the past two years in San Diego. He’s long and agile, so there’s reason for hope. Powers is a sturdy, physical tackler. Arians must have really liked him in Indy because there wasn’t a screaming demand to replace last year’s third-round pick, Fleming, at nickelback. The Cards wanted to refresh things at safety; not sure signing the solid but unspectacular Bell and promoting Johnson will do the trick.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Jay Feely; P: Dave Zastudil

Archetypical specialists: Easily replaceable, but also not requiring replacement.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 10 Apr 2013

29 comments, Last at 15 Apr 2013, 7:02am by Mr Shush

Comments

1
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 7:32pm

"Now they’re hoping their 3-4 and hybrid sub-package scheme can continue on the upswing under the direction of Todd Bowels, who comes over after a disenchanting half-season stint as the defensive coordinator in Philadelphia."

Can you color a coach in red?

2
by dmb :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 8:34pm
4
by Insancipitory :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 9:27pm

I knew what it was going to be, I clicked anyway, was not disappointed.

6
by The Ancient Mariner (not verified) :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 12:17am

"Todd Bowels": pun intended, or Freudian slip?

3
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 9:07pm

When Daryn Colledge is your best lineman you know you are in trouble. Green Bay hasn't had anything better than an average line in years and Colledge was released because he was more expensive and not any better than TJ Lang, when the worst Packer is the best Cardinal that really speaks volumes to me.

5
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 11:22pm

offensive line has been killing them for a decade now, yet since 2000 this is a team that has taken exactly 3 offensive linemen earlier than round 4: leonard davis (a guard masquerading as a tackle), levi brown (another guard masquerading as a tackle), and deuce lutui (yet another guard). not accounting for trades, that's 1 in 13 picks devoted to the absolute worst part of their team, and none of those picks turned into even a serviceable left tackle.

if we compare that to the playoff teams from this last fall, we get: atl(6), bal(9), cin(5), den(6), gb(5), hou(9), ind(4), min(5), ne(6), sf(8), sea(9), was(5).

now sure, it's a cherrypicked stat, but the cardinals are pretty much always drafting in the top half of the first round, and they should be able to trade around if they think the value isn't quite right at whatever pick they have, but they have just abandoned the o-line.

7
by theslothook :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 12:57am

One could argue that result has as much to do with lousy qb play as anything else. After all, the Jags have drafted multiple O linemen in the first, as have the bears and packers and both of their o lines have been disasters.

8
by rfh1001 :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 3:39am

One could argue it. But it's hard to argue it as strongly as you could argue, 'Oh for crying out loud at least give it a TRY, guys!'

9
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 5:07am

Well, obviously lousy QB play has been a big factor in their struggles. But they had a terrible O line even with Warner under center, and while he largely coped it's hard not to think they'd have done better if they didn't suck something fierce in that department.

12
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 7:16am

Why is the Packers OL a disaster? I admit they haven't had a good LT since Clifton and RT was bad between Tauscher and Bulaga. Last year, they got decimated by injury. They haven't been in the upper tier since Sherman was coach, but being a bit below average isn't a disaster on par with Chicago, Arizona, or Jax.

19
by theslothook :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 1:27pm

That's true, but I think my point was to show that investing in the o line doesn't guarantee you anything. There have been teams(like the packers) who have invested in the o line and it hasn't exactly produced wonders for them. Ditto for others.

27
by LionInAZ :: Sat, 04/13/2013 - 10:52pm

Well, as you pointed out, LT has been pretty awful, Bulaga has been up-and-down as well as injured, Lang has been no better than adequate, and now there's a hole at center since they let Wells walk. Sitton is on an island out there.

The Packers finished 25th in ALY and 31st in ASR in 2012. That's almost as much of a disaster as the Cards O-line, the difference being Rodgers' mobility and decision making, plus a much better group of receivers.

10
by Guest789 :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 5:20am

And if you're not going to draft them, at least sign one or two quality guys. Colledge is average at best, and Snyder... I don't think anything needs to be said about him.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

17
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 12:27pm

But wait! It gets better! The Cardinals just signed Chilo Rachal!

20
by Independent George :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 1:51pm

Quit trolling! There's no way that... holy crap.

11
by CBPodge :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 6:34am

And this is a team that got rid of it's defensive co-ordinator. Despite using (as far as I can recall) about an even split of high draft picks on O and D.

If the D was anywhere near as bad as the O, they'd have been picking #1 for the last 2-3 years.

13
by ChuckC (not verified) :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 7:47am

In your Cleveland Browns State of the Team, you said the Browns had a stronger front seven than the Cardinals. But your grades indicate the opposite. What gives?

14
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 10:01am

According to the grades the Cards have three stars, while the Browns only have two good players. But Arizona has the two mediocre OLBs, which is a pretty serious handicap in a 3-4, while the Browns graded at least solid throughout, with one player still unknown.

------
FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

15
by Independent George :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 10:26am

No article on the Cardinals is complete without this.

16
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 11:57am

I don' understand.

Joe Flacco is blue. Joe Flacco has never thrown for 4000 yards, has two consecutive seasons under 60% completions despite throwing almost as many screens as Drew Brees, and this despite playing for one of the best-run franchises in all of the NFL, where the brass has made an effort to go out and get him receivers.

Carson Palmer has had better numbers, playing for TWO of the NFL's biggest train wrecks with no running game and a receiver group consisting of half-developed Al Davis draft choices or, previously, washed up reality television stars whose careers ended the instant they tried to catch a pass from someone else. Yet he is black?

I know Flacco won the Super Bowl. But he is not the quarterback Carson Palmer is. I recognize he is younger and may therefore be more valuable, but that shouldn't change his color now...

18
by rageon :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 1:23pm

I think the overall impression of Flacco changes incredibly if the Broncos don't make one of the biggest coverage mistakes I've ever seen.

21
by nat :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 4:20pm

The Flacco vs Palmer discrepancy is striking. Flacco is a "star" while Palmer is merely "adequate".

Here are their DYAR rankings for the last four years.
Year JF CP Diff
2012 17 18 -1
2011 14 18 -4
2010 11 10 +1
2009 14 15 -1
avg. 14 15 -1

And the DVOA rankings.
Year JF CP Diff
2012 17 18 -1
2011 18 15 +3
2010 15 18 -3
2009 17 19 -2
avg. 17 18 -1

It's like they are twin brothers.

Flacco has a lot more QB wins, I guess. Or maybe 2008 looms large in the mind. Who knows?

22
by Nick L. (not verified) :: Fri, 04/12/2013 - 1:23pm

Good call. Guys like Flacco, Palmer and Schaub have always struck me as the definition of average. If they are surrounded by enough talent they can make it to the playoffs or even win a Super Bowl, but without an outstanding surrounding cast they can look terrible. On the other hand, guys like Brady, Brees, P. Manning and Rodgers could take the helm of any NFL team and lead them to victory.

23
by nat :: Fri, 04/12/2013 - 3:01pm

That's a little harsh on Schaub. In the same 4 year period

DYAR:
year JF MS Diff
2012 17 12  +5
2011 14 10  +4
2010 11  8  +3
2009 14  6  +8
avg. 14  9  +5

and DVOA:
year JF MS Diff
2012 17 14  +3
2011 18  5 +13
2010 15 13  +2
2009 17  6 +11
avg. 17  9  +8

That's pretty consistent evidence that Schaub (in his context) is better than Flacco and Palmer (in theirs). I've always thought Schaub doesn't get the respect he deserves for what he produces.

25
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 04/12/2013 - 3:16pm

Two things: 1. Schaub has by far the friendliest context (and Palmer the least friendly). He gets defenses stacking the box against Arian Foster, and he gets to throw the ball to Andre Johnson, with a range of reliable complementary targets. He's mostly had good line play.

2. Schaub may be a better player in a lot of ways than the other two (better touch, fewer mental mistakes, etc.) but his physical limitations do I suspect make him less capable of being effective in obvious passing situations. I think he's the main reason the Texans have struggled in recent years when down a couple of scores, in third and long, and inside the two minute warning. Those are important problems.

26
by LionInAZ :: Sat, 04/13/2013 - 10:33pm

Flacco has Ray Rice, who is probably the most QB-friendly RB in the league, so I wouldn't count Foster as an advantage in comparison. The biggest problem with Schaub is his inability to stretch the field with downfield throws.

Regardless, I don't think for one minute that Flacco deserves 'star' rating. He should be 'green' at best.

29
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 7:02am

No argument here.

24
by Insancipitory :: Fri, 04/12/2013 - 3:03pm

The difference being age, Palmer is only likely to get worse, really the question is how slowly will he get worse. And Flacco's performance against high quality opponants in the playoffs. If one believes the 28 y/o QB turned a corner as we watched, and expects that level of performance to be sustained, Bouldin's departure permitting, then there's your difference.

28
by greybeard :: Sun, 04/14/2013 - 2:16am

You can tell which team has the worst oline by one single factor. The team that starts Chilo Rachal.