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2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Pete Prisco | Senior NFL Columnist

Offense

The Cardinals finished 24th in scoring last season, which isn't good enough. The biggest problem was the quarterback play, which is why they made a strong push to get Peyton Manning, only to fall short.

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Full 2012 Projections:
Pete Prisco • Pat Kirwan

Kevin Kolb, who came over in a trade, was expected to be the answer at quarterback but he struggled to pick up the system and missed seven games with concussion and foot injuries. He was 3-6 as a starter. In his place, John Skelton went 5-2 and showed off his big arm. He struggled at times, but seemed to play well late in games. He needed an offseason to work on his mechanics, which should help. It will be a camp battle to decide this job.

Whoever starts will be throwing to one of the NFL's best in Larry Fitzgerald. Even with the quarterback problems, Fitzgerald 80 catches and a 17.1 average. The Cardinals drafted Michael Floyd in the first round to help take some of the pressure off Fitzgerald in terms of coverage. It gives them a big pair of receivers.

The running game is led by Beanie Wells, but Ryan Williams might be ready to take some of his carries. Wells is a grinder, while Williams has that big-play ability. He missed his rookie season after injuring his knee in the preseason. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a nice back to have as a change-of-pace player.

The offensive line remains a major concern. They did pay Adam Snyder to come over as a guard from San Francisco, but he had problems with the 49ers and doesn't seem like a major upgrade. Levi Brown, who signed a new deal to stay with the team, played well in the second half of last season and the coaches want to see more of that. Second-round pick Bobby Massie could be the right tackle. Center Lyle Sendlein is the line's best player.

Defense

The 3-4 defense really showed improvement as the season moved along in 2011 and there are high hopes on that side of the ball.

Arizona finished 18th in total defense, but one number really stands out: They were first in the NFL in third-down defense. That is something to build upon.

It is an aggressive defense that comes at quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes. There are some talented young players to build around, including defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, inside linebacker Daryl Washington and corner Patrick Peterson. Veteran Adrian Wilson played all of 2011 with a torn biceps and still had an impressive season.

The key moving forward will be getting more from the outside rushers, but they like young players Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield.   

Key Changes

Roster Additions:  G Adam Snyder, CB William Gay, S James Sanders, WR Michael Floyd and T Bobbie Massie  

Roster Departures: G Rex Hadnot, CB Richard Marshall, WR Chansi Stuckey.  

Staff: John McNulty moves from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach after being offered the coordinator's job at Tampa Bay; Frank Reich takes over as receivers coach.  

In coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals have a rock-solid guy leading them. Whisenhunt knows when to push and when to pull back, a big part of the coaching job these days.  

The change to McNulty as the QB coach should help both Kolb and Skelton. He is a rising star in the profession and is on the fast track to being a head coach.  

As for player additions, Snyder and Massie should help stabilize a line that needed it. Floyd will certainly help the passing game. But the biggest move was one that wasn't made, which was trying to land Manning.    

X-Factor: OLB Sam Acho

He plays with a relentless energy that enabled him to get seven sacks a year ago as a rookie. A former defensive end from Texas, he has great size at 6-3, 257 pounds and fills the James Harrison role in this version of the Steelers-style of defense under former Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton, Arizona's defensive coordinator.  

Skelton or Kolb?

Whisenhunt doesn't mince words: This is a competition. It looks like Kolb, who they paid after trading to get, will go to camp with the lead. But the Cardinals like Skelton's ability to make plays when it counts. If Kolb struggles in camp, this job could go to Skelton and his big arm. If both struggle, Arizona will have to draft one next season.  

Will the quarterback be protected?

The Cardinals quarterbacks ran for their life much of last season. Arizona was 28th in sacks given up per pass play. That has to be better. That's why improving the right side of the offensive line was so important. Brown, who has been considered a bust after being a high pick six years ago, drives the coaching staff nuts with his inconsistency, but he showed at times last season he can do it.  

Can they build on last year's 7-2 finish?

The young players, especially on defense, grew as the season moved along. Peterson was playing top-level corner late in the season, which is a must in this passing era. As that unit's confidence grew, so did their play. On offense, the key will be whether one of those two quarterbacks can make enough plays when it matters. There is too much talent everywhere else to waste with an inability to throw it well.  

Insider's Take

"I don't think they have a quarterback. Kevin Kolb looked bad last season. He didn't know the offense. That showed up. John Skelton is just a guy. They have issues there. They have talent at receiver, but it's all about the quarterback. Larry Fitzgerald is a star, but he needs help. I am not a big Michael Floyd guy. They have two good backs, but they have to stay healthy. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams have talent but neither stayed in the field. Their line is average at best. They have one or two decent players. They paid Adam Snyder, but he's average. The defense has talent. They have good personnel on their front seven. They are average in the back end. Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and Adrian Wilson are all good players. They need to get pass rush from the outside guys. That [Sam] Acho kid showed something last year. But what's it matter if they don't get the good quarterback play?"  

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

Cardinals' Rivals: NFC West
St. Louis Rams
2012 Preview • Schedule
Rams @ Cardinals: 11/25 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Cardinals @ Rams: 10/4 (8:20 p.m. ET)
San Francisco 49ers
2012 Preview • Schedule
49ers @ Cardinals: 10/29 (8:30 p.m. ET)
Cardinals @ 49ers: 12/30 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Seattle Seahawks
2012 Preview • Schedule
Seahawks @ Cardinals: 9/9 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Cardinals @ Seahawks: 12/9 (4:15 p.m. ET)

Call the Arizona offense west coast, or east coast, it really comes down to getting Larry Fitzgerald the ball and the QB that does that wins the job. Opposing defenses have to roll coverage to Fitzgerald creating opportunities to run the ball. Ken Whisenhunt knows rolled coverage means no 8th defender in the box so Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams need to take advantage. Arizona also knows Michael Floyd should see a lot of off and soft coverage until teams respect his game. When teams tilt the coverage to Fitzgerald the corner on Floyd's side plays off and gets no help. The offensive line is a question so expect a lot of shotgun fast passes and three-step drops by the quarterback. I like the Cardinals' '11' personnel package (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) with Early Doucet on the field for the fullback or second tight end. The matchups favor Arizona.  

As for the defense they get better pressure from their ends than most 3-4 fronts and that takes pressure off the outside linebackers. It is very difficult to 'fan' protect against the Cardinals. Fan protection puts the OT on the OLB and the guard on the DE. OLB Sam Acho will see more opportunities to rush against a running back and that should mean a double-digit sack year. If nose tackle Dan Williams improves to the point that he gets double-teamed more, the whole defense will take a big step. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was trained by Dick LeBeau and that means pressure calls from everywhere. Opposing offenses have to figure safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes for 6-8 sacks between them.

The Cardinals' special teams are all about their returners, Patrick Peterson and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Both can score and that means teams kick away from them and give up field position to prevent returns which should shorten the field for the offense.  

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst  

While I didn't have the same lofty grade on first-round pick wide receiver Michael Floyd that many others did, there is no denying the 6-3, 220-pound former Notre Dame star has the bulk, strength, soft hands and body control to give the Cardinals the best complementary option to All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald since the team traded Anquan Boldin to the Baltimore Ravens.  

Cardinals Draft Analysis

However, few rookie receivers play up to expectations in their first year in the NFL, and the most immediate impact player of the Cardinals' impressive 2012 draft could prove to be fourth-round offensive tackle Bobby Massie.  

Massie started each of his three seasons at right tackle for Mississippi, and has the talent, experience against top competition and durability to handle the assignment right out of the gate in the NFL.  

He's surprisingly quick off the snap for a man of his size and demonstrates the combination of power and nastiness that led to his No. 34 ranking on my Big Board. League sources told me he fell to No. 112 overall primarily because he showed little in terms of technical improvement over his career, raising questions about his work ethic and dependability.  

The rest of the Cardinals' picks:  

1st Round - No. 13 overall - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
3rd Round - No. 80 overall - Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
4th Round - No. 112 overall - Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi
5th Round - No. 151 overall - Senio Kelemete, OG, Washington
6th Round - No. 177 overall - Justin Bethel, FS, Presbyterian
6th Round - No. 185 overall - Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State
7th Round - No. 221 overall - Nate Potter, OL, Boise State

 
 
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