The Arizona Cardinals continue to carry a roster stocked with talent at several key positions. Larry Fitzgerald continues to get the job done at a high level at 33 years old. David Johnson has become one of the league’s best running backs. The secondary is stocked with talented pieces and Carson Palmer is capable of playing at a Top 10 level for stretches at a time.
But inconsistency and an inability to get over the hump have plagued the Cardinals in recent years. With time running out for some of Arizona’s aging core, 2017 may represent the last best chance this group has of doing something significant. The Cardinals have to find adequate replacements for some key departures on the defensive side of the ball and hope that Palmer can have another one of his peak seasons.
However, the Seahawks remain the kings of the division until someone can knock them off the top of the mountain. The Cardinals may be the only team in the NFC West to challenge their standing this season. They may need many things to all go right to pull it off.
Biggest positive change: Going from Chandler Catanzaro to Phil Dawson at kicker seems like a minor move on its surface, but Catanzaro’s struggles last season were a constant issue. High profile missed kicks against the New England Patriots in Week 1 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7 likely cost Arizona two victories. Flip those results and the Cardinals would have been 5-2 through seven weeks instead of 3-3-1. While a 42-year old Dawson isn’t quite as reliable as during the peak of his career, he’s still more consistent than Catanzaro and should give Bruce Arians more confidence in his kicking game.
Biggest negative change: Losing two key defensive starters in Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson leaves Arizona with a massive production hole to fill. While Antoine Bethea and Budda Baker could provide enough to make up for the loss of Jefferson, Campbell’s departure could prove more difficult to withstand. Robert Nkemdiche will have to become a more reliable option in year two and show himself worthy of the first-round selection in 2016.
Coaching thermometer: Not hot, but not cold either. Bruce Arians is 64 years old and has dealt with multiple health issues in recent years. The Cardinals are aging in key places as well as Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald continue to prolong the twilight of their careers. It took Arians until he was 60 years old to get a head coaching job and he doesn’t seem intent on giving this one up anytime soon. However, when the Palmer era at quarterback comes to end – potentially without the Cardinals finding a way to return to the Super Bowl – the time may come to push the reset button altogether in the desert.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Tyrann Mathieu. A problem child while at LSU, Mathieu has developed into the consummate professional with the Cardinals. While it may have helped to be on a roster with a mentor in the secondary such as Patrick Peterson, Mathieu hasn’t let his issues from college follow him to the pros. He’s become a dynamic play-maker and a Pro Bowl caliber performer when he can stay healthy and in the lineup. Sitting down with Mathieu and reflecting on his journey would make for an enjoyable evening.
How they can prove us wrong: Carson Palmer manages to stay healthy and plays to peak form. David Johnson joins Le’Veon Bell as the best all-around running backs in the game. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden maintain their status as top quarterback sack tandem in the league. Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Antoine Bethea, Budda Baker and Deone Buchanon combine to give Arizona one of the more dynamic secondaries around.