The Arizona Cardinals approach the 2013 NFL Season looking to improve on a dreadful 2012 campaign that saw the team start hot and finish limping into last place in the NFC West. The Cardinals started the season out well, winning their first four games, but then dropped 11 of their last 12 to finish with a 5-11 record and leaving a lot of room for improvement.
Coach Bruce Arians has stated that the Cardinals are “reloading, not rebuilding” (source: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000213814/article/bruce-arians-arizona-cardinals-are-reloading-not-rebuilding) with a promising pack of draft picks and a stingy defense that has mostly stuck together. And on the offensive side of the ball you can't forget about wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald looking to break out after a disappointing 2012 season and with a new quarterback.
The Cardinals’ improvement starts with the off-season acquisition of that quarterback: Carson Palmer. The veteran Palmer hopes to bring stability to a position that was a revolving door last year with four different quarterbacks suiting up just to get knocked around behind a porous offensive line that gave up 58 sacks on the year, meaning that quarterbacks found themselves on their backs with the football either in or knocked out of their possession nearly four times a game last year.
While Palmer has certainly had his struggles the past few years, the Cardinals have shored up their offensive line by acquiring Jonathan Cooper through the draft for the guard position and the return of offensive tackle Levi Brown from a torn triceps that caused him to miss the 2012 season.
The Cardinals remain lack depth at wide receiver but do have some reason to be optimistic with Fitzgerald looking to rebound from a 2012 season slump that was mostly in part to inconsistency at the quarterback position. Training camp and the preseason will give the Cardinals plenty of opportunities to fill out the rest of their slots, and of course the presence of Fitzgerald on the field will allow other members of the receiving corp to get open to catch passes. Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd return and will look to step up and give Palmer some open targets to throw to this season.
The off-season signing of long-time Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall adds a potential big threat to the Cardinals’ backfield. Mendenhall has had some injuries the last few seasons, and a team suspension for conduct detrimental to the team had many teams looking the other way when he came on the free agent market. The Cardinals have decided to take a risk and hope Mendenhall will be healthy enough to be the breakaway back they need to help the Cardinals mix in the run to support Palmer’s passing game. However, much like at receiver, the Cardinals appear perilously thin at the running back position. Ryan Williams has also been injury-prone and found himself sitting out the ends of the past two seasons due to injury. Rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington are expected to compete for playing time in the Cardinals’ backfield.
The defensive line remains strong. Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams all return to wreck opposing offensive lines and work on replicating and possibly improving a pass rush that recorded 38 sacks last season. The linebacker position may be a little thin to start the season, but figures to improve significantly when Daryl Washington returns from a four game suspension to start the season. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander will also find himself in the defensive backfield in Arizona after seven seasons with the Washington Redskins and will help steady the ship in Washington’s absence.
Tyrann Mathieu and Yeremiah Bell join the Cardinals to help steady the safety position. They will look to fill the hole created when 12 year veteran Adrian Wilson bolted for the New England Patriots this off-season.
The Cardinals appear to have a solid defense in place. However, an offense that was among the league’s worst in every category last season must improve for the Cardinals to compete with the 49ers, the Seahawks and the Rams in the NFC West. If Carson Palmer can right the ship, if Rashard Mendenhall can find some of the magic that made him a featured back in Pittsburgh, and if Fitzgerald can recover from a poor 2012, the Cardinals will find themselves in a much better position by season’s end this year than they did last year.