2013 NFL season preview: Arizona Cardinals

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Arizona Cardinals 2013 season preview (CBSSports.com graphic)

Boy, that really got out of hand fast, didn't it? The Cardinals started out 4-0 in 2012, looking like a playoff stunner out west and promptly collapsed down the stretch, winning just one more game the rest of the way. Gone are Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt, in are Steve Keim (promoted from within) and Bruce Arians (finally given a chance to run a team full time). Even a reasonably competent quarterback job probably would've gotten Arizona into the playoffs last year. The Cards got out to their 4-0 start by averaging 22.8 points per game but averaged just a paltry 13.3 points per game in their other 12 games (take out a 38-point aberration against Detroit in their only other win and it was an embarrassing 11 points per game).

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The Kevin Kolb Experience is, mercifully, over and Carson Palmer's instead getting another chance at redemption and/or keeping Larry Fitzgerald from going postal on the greater Phoenix area. Expectations are reasonably low for 2013 but thanks to an impressive first offseason from Keim, there's reason to expect another surprisingly strong performance out of Arizona this season, except this time it should be more consistent over the course of the season.

Offense:

Even a reasonably competent quarterback job probably would've gotten Arizona into the playoffs last year. The Cards got out to their 4-0 start by averaging 22.8 points per game but averaged just a paltry 13.3 points per game in their other 12 games (take out a 38-point aberration against Detroit in their only other win and it was an embarrassing 11 points per game). The Cardinals hope a few additions for 2013 cure the woes of last season. Namely Palmer, the first real quality quarterback Fitzgerald's seen since Kurt Warner retired. Palmer threw for 4,018 yards with the Raiders last year but much of that was accumulated in garbage time. Can he complete enough deep passes and stay healthy enough in Arians bomb-heavy, accuracy-free offense to succeed? Regardless Fitzgerald is going to see an upgrade and it should help Andre Roberts and popular breakout pick Michael Floyd see big seasons.

Cardinals' Rivals: NFC West
St. Louis Rams
2013 PreviewSchedule
Rams @ Cardinals: 12/8 (4:25 p.m. ET)
Cardinals @ Rams: 9/8 (4:25 p.m. ET)
San Francisco 49ers
2013 PreviewSchedule
49ers @ Cardinals: 12/29 (4:25 p.m. ET)
Cardinals @ 49ers: 10/13 (4:25 p.m. ET)
Seattle Seahawks
2013 PreviewSchedule
Seahawks @ Cardinals: 10/17 (8:25 p.m. ET)
Cardinals @ Seahawks: 12/22 (4:05 p.m. ET)

After all, don't expect the Cardinals to run much. They stunk at it in 2012 (LaRod Stephens-Howling led the attack with 357 yards on 111 carries) and even though the Cards boosted the offensive line by guard Jonathan Cooper (before he suffered a broken leg) and signing Eric Winston, expecting the running game to suddenly dominate is probably a stretch, particularly with the personnel involved. (Cooper, for the record, is one of my favorite draft picks: he has incredibly nimble feet for a man his size and few players get to the second level as quickly as he does.) Free-agent signee Rashard Mendenhall is a former Arians favorite who's had success with a bad offensive line before, but he's averaged just four yards a carry on 279 attempts since his 1,200-yard season in 2011. Ryan Williams can't stay healthy, which is very sad, and Stepfan Taylor's an upside-filled rook who will probably struggle as much as anyone behind this line.

The long and short of this offense is it'll probably end up looking pretty darn similar to what Arians ran with the Colts last year. Fitzgerald is going to move all around the field a la 2012 Reggie Wayne and that should equate to a renaissance season for the All-Pro after last year's traveshamockery. But the offense will hinge on Palmer's arm and whether or not he can get it down the field to his capable receivers.

Defense:

The real shame in the offensive train wreck from 2012 is that it wasted an impressive defensive performance: the Cardinals were a top-ten team in defensive DVOA last season. The 2013 version should have a chance to flirt with a similar ranking, but there were plenty of changes from last season. Mainstay safety Adrian Wilson is gone, Kerry Rhodes remains a free agent and Greg Toler took decently big bucks in Indianapolis. Plenty of talented personnel remains, though. Calais Campbell, Dan Williams and Darnell Dockett form a formidable front on a defense that purportedly will remain as a 3-4 under Todd Bowles. And, all due respect to Bowles, but the loss of blitz-happy Ray Horton to the Browns could end up hurting in the long run.

Fortunately Bowles had his secondary re-stocked. Arizona drafted the polarizing Tyrann Mathieu and the team's incredibly high on the former LSU star, having used him to much success as a chess-piece-type weapon on the defensive end of things. The Honey Badger and his de facto football sponsor and studly cornerback Patrick Peterson will combine with free agent additions Yeremiah Bell, Antoine Cason, Jerraud Powers and acquired-through-trade speedster Javier Arenas to form a very intriguing secondary.

Once sack-happy Daryl Washington returns from suspension, the linebacking corps, with Sam Acho, Karlos Dansby, Jasper Brinkley Lorenzo Washington and combing for a solid -- albeit potentially less impressive in a new defense? -- group of players. In a division stocked with really, really good defenses, the previous iteration of Arizona's defense was absolutely competitive. Retaining their ranking depends largely on personnel, where the Cards should be fine. But the other fact that will affect their performance is scheme and that's very much up in the air.

Arizona Cardinals: 2013 schedule predictions
DateOpponentTime (ET)Pete Prisco's PickWill Brinson's Pick
Sep. 8at St. Louis4:25 p.m.
Sep. 15Detroit4:05 p.m.
Sep. 22at New Orleans1 p.m.
Sep. 29at Tampa Bay1 p.m.
Oct. 6Carolina4:05 p.m.
Oct. 13at San Francisco4:25 p.m.
Oct. 17Seattle8:25 p.m.
Oct. 27Atlanta4:25 p.m.
Nov. 10Houston4:25 p.m.
Nov. 17at Jacksonville1 p.m.
Nov. 24Indianapolis4:05 p.m.
Dec. 1at Philadelphia1 p.m.
Dec. 8St. Louis4:25 p.m.
Dec. 15at Tennessee1 p.m.
Dec. 22at Seattle4:05 p.m.
Dec. 29San Francisco4:25 p.m.
Arizona Cardinals' 2013 projected record:9-78-8

Final thoughts:

Just like every year since Warner's departure, the Cardinals success will depend primarily on their quarterback. Palmer's a better gamble than Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley or Brian Hoyer but let's not act like the former Bengals and Raiders signal caller is a lock to flip this franchise around. He could easily struggle connecting on the deep ball accurately enough or staying healthy enough behind a questionable offensive line to resurrect the Arizona offense.

You can be as bullish as you want on Drew Stanton -- and, actually, I quite like him as a backup -- but if he's seeing a bunch of snaps for Arizona, something went horribly wrong. Like the Rams, the Cardinals are victims of a poor combo of geography and timing, otherwise they might be a playoff sleeper. They can still contend in this division, but, again, it all depends on Palmer. I'd call that a 50/50 proposition at best, which makes 8-8 a logical leap for this transitional franchise.

More 2013 NFL season previews: Select a team
AFC NorthAFC SouthAFC EastAFC WestNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC EastNFC West
Baltimore RavensHouston TexansBuffalo BillsDenver BroncosChicago BearsAtlanta FalconsDallas CowboysArizona Cardinals
Cincinnati BengalsIndianapolis ColtsMiami DolphinsKansas City ChiefsDetroit LionsCarolina PanthersNew York GiantsSt. Louis Rams
Cleveland BrownsJacksonville JaguarsNew England PatriotsOakland RaidersGreen Bay PackersNew Orleans SaintsPhiladelphia EaglesSan Francisco 49ers
Pittsburgh SteelersTennessee TitansNew York JetsSan Diego ChargersMinnesota VikingsTampa Bay BuccaneersWashington RedskinsSeattle Seahawks
 
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