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Preseason Power Rankings No. 25: Arizona Cardinals

Larry Fitzgerald Pic Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals’ 2011 season was considered a disappointment in large part because quarterback Kevin Kolb didn’t pan out. Just after last year’s lockout ended, Arizona sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for Kolb. The Cards also signed Kolb to a six-year, $65 million contract.

Kolb battled injuries, and was ineffective when he did take the field. John Skelton took over and led Arizona to a 5-2 record in seven starts. The Cardinals quietly finished the season with seven wins in their final nine games.

So while a quarterback quandary remains following a failed offseason run at Peyton Manning, the fast finish provides reason for optimism in the desert this year.

Strengths.

Calvin Johnson has developed into the NFL’s most dominant receiver, but Larry Fitzgerald isn’t far behind. Fitzgerald catches the football as cleanly as any wideout in the game and tilts defensive coverage, making his teammates better. The Cardinals also feel they improved opposite Fitzgerald by drafting Michael Floyd with the No. 13 overall pick. With physical run-after-catch threat Early Doucet in the slot, the receiver corps is Arizona’s strength on offense.

On defense, the Cardinals have playmakers up front and in the back end. Ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett collapse the pocket, and 2011 fourth-round pick Sam Acho flashed edge-rushing talent with seven sacks and four forced fumbles as a rookie starter. Fellow outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield will take over opposite Acho, and there is some feeling that Schofield could be even better.

Inside linebacker Daryl Washington and cornerback Patrick Peterson are Arizona’s young linchpins in the back seven. Washington is a dynamic, improving run stuffer, while Peterson demonstrated shutdown-corner capabilities down last season’s stretch. Peterson is also a difference maker in the punt-return game. Strong safety Adrian Wilson is still going strong entering his age-33 season.

Weaknesses.

Talent isn’t an issue in Arizona’s offensive backfield, but durability is. Incumbent starter Beanie Wells and 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams are both coming back from knee surgeries. Any NFL team with quarterback trouble would benefit greatly from a consistent, productive running game. The Cardinals have not gotten that from Wells, so far.

Behind perhaps only quarterback, offensive line play is the biggest concern in Arizona. Kolb tends to get happy feet in the pocket amid unsound protection, and pass blocking was a major problem for the 2011 Cards. Football Outsiders graded the Cardinals’ offensive line as 15th best in run blocking, but a lowly 27th in pass protection. Arizona shook up its front five this offseason, but none of the moves inspired much confidence.

Defensively, the Cards need better play from 2010 first-round pick Dan Williams, who has struggled with weight and durability, failing to nail down nose tackle. There are questions to answer at the cornerback spot opposite Peterson and inside linebacker job next to Washington.

Changes.

The Cardinals aggressively pursued Manning, but came up short and the only notable quarterback addition was sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley. Lindley has a big arm and is smart (35 Wonderlic score), but probably at least a year away.

Floyd and a returning Williams are the big-name newcomers to Arizona’s skill-player positions. The Cardinals signed right guard Adam Snyder to a five-year, $17.5 million contract. Fourth-round rookie Bobby Massie was a pre-draft favorite of Mel Kiper’s, and will battle journeyman Jeremy Bridges for the right tackle spot.

Arizona didn’t have a second-round pick, but selected cornerback Jamell Fleming in the third round after signing William Gay away from the Steelers. Greg Toler, a starting corner in 2010 before tearing his ACL last September, will battle Fleming and Gay to start across from Peterson.

The Cardinals hope that continuity throughout the coaching staff will expedite in-house improvement across the roster.

Camp battles.

The Cardinals are internally pulling for Kolb to hold off Skelton considering their costly investment two offseasons ago. But they won’t ignore the fact that Skelton engineered 2011 victories, and probably offers a higher long-term ceiling than his competitive adversary. A heated quarterback battle will generate the most headlines in Cardinals training camp.

Arizona will hold competition at running back, right tackle, tight end, and wide receiver this August. Defensively, the one cornerback job is wide open, and the Cardinals hope 2011 big-ticket free agent signing Stewart Bradley will make a case for more snaps after a disappointing debut season.

Prospects.

While the PFT Power Rankings project Arizona to be among the league’s eight worst teams, we openly acknowledge that they could surpass our expectations, especially if the Cardinals get improved, consistent quarterback and running back play. We are simply skeptical that they will do so.

The conservative guess is that the weak NFC West will produce just one playoff team, and our expectation is that San Francisco will be playing ball in January for a second straight year. But the Cardinals don’t lack roster talent on par with that of a wild-card contender.

Running back and quarterback performance will determine the fate of this team.

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15 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 25: Arizona Cardinals”
  1. coutre says: Jul 12, 2012 2:27 PM

    How does Rod Graves keep his job? He’s been there over 10 years w/what – 1 playoff appearance?
    Is it racial?

  2. jakek2 says: Jul 12, 2012 2:57 PM

    And here’s where the preseason power rankings fell off the tracks. Not a Cards’ fan but they are way better than 25. They have an above average defense and a decent offense. Both should be better this year. Would not be surprised to see them overtake the Niners (who might not know how to handle success) and win the division on tiebreakers at 10-6.

  3. alexmannsportskings says: Jul 12, 2012 3:13 PM

    coutre… No… It’s actually consecutive playoff appearances with a 4-2 Playoff Record, and a near SB win. Graves has been in Arizona sine ’97, but didn’t assume the GM position till 2007 when Whisenhunt arrived. He’s a very influential man too. He was rated one of the 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports, and was rated one of the 50 Most Influential Blacks in Sports.

  4. sj39 says: Jul 12, 2012 3:32 PM

    coutre, it’s a Bidwill thing. They just have to have incompetent GM’s and/or “draft experts”. Back in the day when The Big Red were in St. Louis Billy Sr. had a clown named George (I think) Boone that was the only one allowed to make draft decisions. Man did he leave us shaking or heads and banging them on the table year in and year out. Some things never change.

  5. bugorfeature says: Jul 12, 2012 4:12 PM

    A team with seven wins last year is ranked 25th? Your drug dealer must sell you really good stuff.

  6. biggredbird76 says: Jul 12, 2012 4:24 PM

    This is ridiculous in terms of ranking. First off the Cards won 7 of their last nine, in that stretch held teams to more three and outs than any other defense in the league. In no way is Cal Johnson in front of Fitz, no one faced more double coverage last year than Fitz. The offense had no continuity last year, but this year I know will be different. with the addition of Bobby Massie and the signing of Adam Snyder which I feel was wwwwwwaaaaaaayyyyyyyy underrated, and Levi Brown having played his best football the last 8 games of the season (giving up, only 1 sack no pressures or hurries) Arizona is playoff bound. No respect for the Red Birds and that’s OK. But 25 is just awful.

  7. drainbameged says: Jul 12, 2012 4:56 PM

    Go Skeltons! I hope I get to hear the tv announcers exclaiming, “and another Skelton to Skelton touchdown!”

  8. cincinnasti says: Jul 12, 2012 8:07 PM

    Being an Ohio State fan, I’m not surprised that Beanie can’t stay healthy.. He had that issue in college.. Although his talent warrants the high draft pick Arizona spent on him. (He was damn near as popular as LeBron James as a High School talent in Ohio) His durability should have been taken in to consideration.

  9. truths4all says: Jul 12, 2012 9:16 PM

    To those who DISAGREE with this honest assessment, make no mistake in ignoring these important facts – 1. The Cards did cut their starting right tackle and guard. They were that bad. Even more puzzling is the re-signing of their starting left tackle to a cheaper contract which the team and coaches cite as an “improvement” while ignoring that the starting left tackle has clearly demonstrated that his lateral speed and movement (slow feet) is much too inadequate against NFL competition. 2. With a left tackle proven to be too slow for the NFL, the Cards must also integrate new starters at the right tackle and guard positions. What chemistry and teamwork they can develop can only be graded as suspect, based on the woeful performances of the offensive line over the past 3 years as documented by Football Outsiders and other performance assessment reviews. 3. The Defense played very strongly in the last half of the season against teams who did not expect such a large scale improvement. The Cards Defense will not be able to sneak up on other teams this season when opponents break out their defensive schemes designed to attack Steeler type defenses. And 4. While Whisenhut did pick Kurt Warner (signed at that time to a back-up QB contract) over First Round Pick Matt Leinart with his huge multimillion dollar contract, the pressure will be on for Whisenhut to ignore Kolb’s contract to pick the QB who can execute the Cards offense best, stay on the field, and lead the offense to do its job in winning games thus providing Whisenhut and the Cards their best chances for playoff success and Whisenhut with continued job security. BTW, Kolb could not stay healthy last season with the Cards, but then he could not stay healthy when he was in Philly. Whisenhut’s one saving grace could be the potential ral development of Skelton who worked only with the 3s and free agents inhis rookie training camp, had no OTA/mini-camp due to the Lockout, again worked only with the 3s and free agents in last year’s training camp (Kolb got all of the reps, work, and coaching), anf yet Skelton produced an average QB rating over 100 in the 4th quarters of the games he played in with virtually no real work or training while coming from college football’s 98 pound weakling program, Fordham.

  10. diehardcard says: Jul 12, 2012 9:20 PM

    They won 8 games last year. Where did they get worse? The whole article talks about how they might be better than last year. Shouldn’t that mean they should be WAY higher than 25? Shouldn’t they be threatening to win 10 games?

    The anti-NFC West bias has got to stop. Since realignment in 2002, the division has 2 SB appearances and a 12-12 record in the playoffs. The division had one bad year (2010) when all 4 teams were under .500. It’s time to let that go.

  11. teague31 says: Jul 12, 2012 9:41 PM

    This is laughable. The Cards are much better than 25. (I’m not a cards fan)

  12. banvard316 says: Jul 12, 2012 9:54 PM

    Just another insult and the national media not knowing anything about football here in the desert. Ranking the Cardinals at 25 is an absolute joke, but this site always sells the Cardinals short so why stop now.

  13. 1bigtex says: Jul 12, 2012 9:58 PM

    Ah yes, the Cardinals. A franchise that once spent a first round draft choice on a QB who was literally half-blind.

  14. alexmannsportskings says: Jul 12, 2012 10:55 PM

    Lol… some of these People do not know Arizona Football.. First off we did not cut our Starting RT, we had 2 RT tackles practically last season, and the guy we currently have was the better of the two. We drafted a second round talent, in the 4th which means in 2 years we should have a solid player there.
    Our RG wasn’t bad at all, he was a serviceable player who did his job, Cardinals saw an upgrade in Snyder and in rookie Kelemente hence letting him go, (Wasn’t cut, Cardinals let him walk) Thirdly, you’re making it sound as if our Defense got lucky. The Steelers still manage to shut teams down when they break out said “Schemes against Steeler Defenses”. As for your Skelton claim, he already had a year in this scheme, started a few games last year so he knew how our Scheme was run. Kolb came into an all new scheme. Whisenhunt and Miller didn’t adapt to the way he plays instead forced him to do what they like. When they did do that, we saw Success from Kolb (85 yard TD to Doucet, 73 Yard TD to Fitz).

  15. greej1938l says: Jul 12, 2012 11:35 PM

    Rankings are a total joke, Colts haven’t gotten better at all and there not one of the five worse teams? Cmon

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