Normally when a team finishes with a 10-6 record it can reflect with some satisfaction on a trip to the postseason and a job well done. That this was not the case for Arizona last year owes more to the strength of their division than any major deficiencies in the team itself. The fact that the NFC Championship game was played out between the two teams that finished above them speaks volumes for the quality in the NFC West. In fact Arizona did what had previously been almost unthinkable in week 16; namely go to Seattle and emerge with a victory. A run of seven wins in eight games saw the Cardinals go from an average starting 3-4 to the cusp of the playoffs at 10-5, until a week 17 defeat to the 49ers ended their playoff hopes.
Carson Palmer had a solid season under centre and was the focal point for the Cardinals offensive production. A rating of 83.9 came off the back of 4274 yards and 24 touchdowns, although his 22 interceptions were higher than both he and the team would deem acceptable. On the ground, Free Agent signing Rashard Mendenhall struggled, racking up 687 yards at just 3.2 per attempt. Thankfully rookie Andre Ellington picked up some of the slack with 652 yards of his own at a significantly better 5.5 yards per carry. He will be expected to play a more prominent role in the offence in 2104. As always, Larry Fitzgerald was the pick of the receivers with 82 catches, 954 yards and 10 scores. Only Michael Floyd offered another consistent option for Palmer, with 65 catches for 1041 yards and five touchdowns. No other receiver broke 500 yards and this could be an area for improvement come May.
Karlos Dasnby lead the way with 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 picks, 19 passes defended and 2 touchdowns. His departure as a Free Agent to the Browns will be keenly felt as he was so influential on the defensive unit. In allowing just 20.2 points per game (7th in the NFL) and 317.4 yards on average (6th in the league), the Cardinals proved that they possessed one of the more effective defensive units in 2013. As well as Dansby, John Abraham (with 11.5 sacks) and Calais Campbell (with 9 sacks) were key contributors. In the secondary Daryl Washington (11), Jerraud Powers (17) and Patrick Peterson (13) all defended multiple passes and rookie Tyrann Mathieu began to contribute almost immediately with 68 tackles and two picks in his debut year. How the defence copes with the loss of Dansby will be a key factor in the Cardinals’ success (or lack of it) in 2014.
Javier Arenas handled kick-off returns solidly if unspectacularly, with an average return of 21.4 yards. In handling punts Peterson was equally insipid, with an average of just 6 yards per return. Jay Feeley hit on 83.3% of Field Goals, yet missed twice from under 30 yards and once more from under 40. Dave Zastudil managed a respectable net average of 40.1 yards per punt.
Head Coach Bruce Arians worked wonders in his first season in Arizona, doubling the Cardinals’ win total from the previous season and recording 10 victories in a season for only the second time 37 years. He will look to kick on from this great start in 2014 and try to take the challenge to the big guns in his division. Mixing it with Seattle and San Francisco will be tough, but is essential if his team are to make the postseason again.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Jonathan Dwyer’s arrival from Pittsburgh gives the team an extra option at running back and tight end John Carlson’s arrival from the Vikings could prove to be a shrewd one. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie (from the Jets) and tackle Jared Veldheer (from the Raiders) are other additions who will look to have a significant impact in 2014. With the majority of departures players who either underperformed or did not feature greatly in the 2013 campaign, Arizona are in the nice position of entering the draft in a healthy state. A potential replacement for Dansby could feature prominently and with the depth at quarterback the team could be tempted to try and pick up the long term successor to Palmer. Don’t be surprised too to see the powers that be look to further bolster the secondary or add another weapon to the passing game as the Cardinals look to find those missing pieces in the jigsaw and mount a serious challenge to the established order.