PFF Preview 2011 – Arizona Cardinals

| August 15, 2011

After months and months (though it felt like years and years) of the NFL lockout and a week or so of a crazy free agency, we’ve made it to the stage where football players are hitting other football players on the field.
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And doesn’t it feel good?
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It also means that it’s about the right time for us to start breaking down what teams are doing, and what could be ahead of them for the rest of the season. And where better to start than a team like the Arizona Cardinals. We’re nothing if not alphabetical.
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Five Reasons to be Confident
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1) The Three Up Front

Much of the focus on the Cardinals’ defensive line is centered around the recognizable figure of Darnell Dockett. Given his contract and playmaking ability that’s somewhat understandable. Only for those watching in detail you may soon realize Dockett may be the least valuable starter on the line come the end of the year. That’s more a reflection of the ability of Calais Campbell and Dan Williams who have both shined brightly when on the field.

Campbell had one less (34) quarterback disruption than Dockett on 54 fewer pass rushes and was nowhere near the liability in run defense that Dockett can be. Meanwhile, Williams looks like the prototypical two-down nose tackle, offering little against the pass, but lots in run defense. Amazingly, despite only being in run support for 237 snaps, he was our 11th-ranked defensive tackle against the run. There’s talent there.
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2) In Fitz They Trust

It’s not exactly earth shattering news, but Larry Fitzgerald is pretty good. How good? Good enough to be our highest ranked wide receiver over the past three years. We’ll talk about Kevin Kolb later, but just having a player like Fitzgerald makes a quarterback more confident, knowing what he is capable of.
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3) Consistency At Quarterback

Four. That’s the number of quarterbacks the Cardinals used last year. Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall and Richard Bartel scored a combined -21.5 rating. Collectively, that situation even put the 2010 Panthers to shame. Furthermore that kind of instability doesn’t make it easy for the rest of the offense to find a rhythm. Whether Kolb is the guy is something I’ll touch upon, but it’s an upgrade nonetheless.
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4) Upgrading Inside

It was odd that the Cardinals seemed so intent on keeping Dan Williams off the field, but that was somewhat explained by some effort concerns in the eyes of management. It was harder to understand why the impressive Daryl Washington was kept to just 527 snaps. He outplayed the now departed Gerald Hayes, and is set to step up into an every down role that should take advantage of his tremendous upside. He finished last year with positive grades in run support, coverage and pass rushing to end the year with a +13.2 rating.
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5) Its Only The NFC West

Safe to say I think the NFC West is the weakest of all divisions. No team had a record better than 0.500, and most either have issues at the quarterback spot, or are playing young talent. In short, there’s no dominant team here and any of them can beat anyone else. Those kind of small margins could conceivably turn the Cards into a playoff team despite their issues.
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Five Reasons to be Concerned
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1) The Kolb Factor

Given how much money Arizona have handed to Kevin Kolb they’ve linked their fortunes to him. The only problem is he’s played so little, and impressed so infrequently, that relying on Kolb may set the franchise back years. Before Kolb went to Arizona this piece was written looking at some of the problems he had. Will running the team help him develop? Or is he a limited prospect?
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2) Feeling the Pressure

If you’ve clicked through to that article on Kolb, you’ll see he struggles when pressured, so you’d ideally want to limit those situations … only there’s a giant problem with trying to do that: Levi Brown. The massive left tackle is at the stage now where you can probably say he will never be the franchise tackle the Cardinals thought they had drafted. Struggling against nearly every pass rusher he’s faced since entering the NFL, his -41.2 rating last year was the lowest we’ve ever given to a tackle. Simply put, he is just woeful in pass protection.
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3) An Impotent Ground Attack

Brown isn’t the only problem on the offensive line. Deuce Lutui – so badly out of shape the Bengals wouldn’t take a chance on him – was our eighth-lowest ranked guard with his run blocking. Center Lyle Sendlein had a -5.7 grade for his run blocking. Combine that with the running being handled by a rookie and a former first round pick who has struggled to stay healthy, and you wonder how much they can help add balance for Kolb and the passing game.
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4) Making Life Easy For Quarterbacks

While the Cardinals threaten to give up a lot of pressure, they aren’t quite so likely to get them. The restructuring of Joey Porter’s contract was a disappointing move after Porter failed to generate consistent pressure and looks a largely spent force against even below average left tackles. That’s placing a lot of confidence in O’Brien Schofield to deliver pressure off the edge.
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5) Complementing Fitzgerald

While you can rave about their potential, that’s all it is until it’s proven with the Cardinals’ wide receivers. The rave reports about Andre Roberts won’t necessarily translate into the regular season, and Early Doucet has struggled to consistently produce. It’s a far cry from the Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston support act they once had.
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So there you have it. There are some big issues with the Cardinals but playing in the NFC West means anything is possible. Just how possible could come down to how shrewd an investment Kevin Kolb turns out to be.
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