Unfortunately for them they couldn’t keep it up.
They went on a losing streak that served to highlight how poor a job the Cardinals had done in finding the talent necessary to compete in the NFL. Now, with a new head coach and general manager at the helm, it’s time to fix those weak spots and get competitive in the NFC West.
Let’s take a look at the biggest needs, while you can find a list of all Cardinals free agents here.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the Cardinals biggest problem was this year.
Indeed, so bad was their play from the quarterback spot that if you added the entire unit together you’d get a score of -38.3. Ouch. Yet the most disappointing thing for the team has to be that they weren’t able to properly evaluate Kevin Kolb in game situations. He managed only 357 snaps and was largely decent, but not in a way that would make you want to take a wait and see approach with him.
What we did learn is that John Skelton isn’t an NFL caliber quarterback, while Ryan Lindley was a long way from being ready for the responsibility placed on him. Skelton (64.7%) was ranked last in our Adjusted Accuracy signature stat, with Lindley (63.5%) only being spared because he didn’t play enough. The two were part of an Arizona passing attack that combined for a humiliating 11 passes all year over 20 yards in the air.
The Free Agent Fix: Matt Moore
There’s been a lot of talk about Alex Smith coming in once the inevitable happens and he is let go by San Francisco. In looking at the big picture here, is Smith a guy you have faith in? His success in San Fran was built on a strong running game and not turning the ball over. In Arizona he won’t have the running game or pass protection that hid his weaknesses so well, and it’s hard to see him offering more (especially for the price he’d command) than Kolb.
So what about bringing in the underrated Matt Moore for a quarterback competition? Moore isn’t the long-term answer, but go back to 2011 and see how he played. He was ninth in our quarterback rankings despite starting the season off the bench, and made some big time throws. It’s hard to see either man winning you any championships, but why not save some money and give him the chance to compete.
We often tell you to look past sack stats, but in the case of the four apiece Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield managed, they paint a pretty good picture. Neither man seized their opportunity to start and make an impression, as they registered just 53 combined sacks, hits and hurries on a total 591 pass rushing snaps. What’s worse is that 12 of these quarterback disruptions came unblocked.
The result? Both men finished in the bottom 13 (out of 30 3-4 outside linebackers who rushed the passer at least 200 times) in our Pass Rushing Productivity rating, while their run defense ensured that Schofield had our ninth-lowest grade at his position, and Acho the fifth. It’s saying something that the play of both means that Quentin Groves should be considered to have a legitimate shot at starting next year.
Free Agent Fix: Victor Butler
The sad news for Arizona is that recent deals mean they’re going to have to do some reworking just to fit under the cap. That means big money moves for guys like Anthony Spencer and Paul Kruger are unlikely to come off, and maybe that’s a good thing given their recent forays into free agency.
Instead, how about looking at another Cowboy and be the team that gives Victor Butler a chance to start? Butler was asked to play 300 snaps for the Cowboys this year and really impressed, with some strong work in the run game and generating pressure at a decent rate. Since an ineffective rookie year in 2009, the former fourth-rounder has graded positively every year for his pass rush, so why not take a chance on him? Of course there’s no guarantee, but when you have little money to work with and a depleted market you’ve got to do a bit of projecting with guys.
It was unknown to most, but the Cardinals line actually got a lot better throughout the year, and it could make some steady improvements just by getting players back. The big loss, and I never thought I’d write this, was that of Levi Brown. A career underachiever and walking punchbag for most of his career, his finish to 2011 was akin to a switch being flicked, because, hey presto, he could suddenly play tackle in the NFL.
His loss meant D’Anthony Batiste was forced to start and, as his -38.6 grade suggests, it wasn’t pretty. He gave up 12 sacks, seven hits and 35 quarterback hurries in one of the all-time bad left tackle seasons, before Nate Potter replaced him. However, with Potter showing some promise, Bobby Massie improving as the season went on, and Brown set to return, the Cardinals might want to ignore the tackle market for now. Instead the focus needs to be on the interior, and particularly at right guard.
We criticized the move at the time, and once the 2012 season had played out it didn’t look any better. Spending any money on Adam Snyder to be a starter was never likely to work, and while he did get better as the season went on, it wasn’t to a level where you should feel comfortable with him starting. At the very best his time at center proved him a serviceable and versatile backup, but this line needs to get more push in a run game that saw 27.4% of runs go for no gain or a loss (the highest in the league).
Free Agent Fix: Geoff Schwartz
The Cardinals got a decent guard in Daryn Colledge in free agency, but don’t be fooled in to thinking they didn’t overpay there in an effort to find a quick fix. Instead, they need to get their scouts working overtime to look at guys who, for one reason or another, just aren’t going to be that highly sought after.
Step forward Geoff Schwartz. He was penciled in as the Vikings starting right guard until injury saw him miss his chance, serving only in a rotational role as the season progressed. As he did in 2010, he excelled and is too good a player not to upgrade the guard spot of some team. His ability to play tackle in a pinch can’t hurt either and he’d be a big upgrade to a team in desperate need of it.
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