The Arizona Cardinals were flying high in 2014 with an 11-5 record. Arizona started 11-3 but lost the last two games of the 2014 season and their wild card playoff game with their third string QB at the helm. The Cardinals went 7-1 at home and 4-4 on the road while losing at Denver, at Seattle, at Atlanta and at San Francisco (with 3rd string QB). The lone home loss was to Seattle with their 3rd string QB Ryan Lindley in Week 16. Arizona beat San Diego, Kansas City, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, and San Francisco in the desert. Offensive guru Head Coach Bruce Arians leads the Cardinals again for his third season and will be happy to get his top QBs back.
Stats and Upgrades
The Cardinals were 24th in offensive PPG scoring only 19.4 per game on the season. First string QB Carson Palmer only played 6 games and backup Drew Stanton played 7.5 games. Ryan Lindley did terrible in the final 2.5 games. Palmer was really good in 2014 mounting a 62.9 completion percentage with 11 TDs to 3 interceptions. Stanton did enough to get wins for the Cardinals but only completed 55% of his passed with 7 TDs and 5 interceptions. Lindley was terrible completing 48.4% of his passes with 2 TDs and 4 interceptions. The Cardinals limited their turnovers to 17 despite the QB changes and only allowed 28 sacks between all the QBs. However, Stanton was pressured on 30.2% of his drop backs and Palmer was pressured on 36.7% of his drop backs. Arizona responded taking 1st round offensive tackle DJ Humphries in the draft, grabbing center AQ Shipley in free agency and adding left guard Mike Iupati from rival San Francisco.
The Cardinals won with Stanton and Palmer due to a strong defense. The Cardinals allowed only 18.7 PPG which was 5th best in the league. The Cardinals defense led by DC Todd Bowles (now Jets Head Coach) forced 25 turnovers and 35 sacks. The Cardinals were low in hits and hurries in 2014 and responded by adding OLB Lamar Woodley and 2nd round pick Markus Golden from Missouri. Arizona struggled against the run though allowing 4.4 YPC and lost a good nose tackle run defender in Dan Williams in free agency to Oakland. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals defense responds without Todd Bowles running the defensive show in Glendale.
The Cardinals can move the ball with Carson Palmer under center. Palmer is a franchise QB coming off a torn ACL. He will be the key to the Cardinals passing game. Arizona has weapons in Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and deep threat John Brown plus Ellington is elusive as a pass catching running back. Palmer can make teams pay if he is protected properly.
On paper the Cardinals coverage looks very strong. Patrick Peterson is a shut-down corner, Tyrun Mathieu is a good slot corner and safety hybrid and Jarraud Powers played well in 2014 with a +5 coverage grade. Also, the Cardinals have several talented safeties between Rashad Johnson, 2014 1st round pick strong safety Deonne Buchannon, Tony Jefferson and Chris Clemmons.
The production didn’t match the hype as Peterson had a -3.0 grade. All of the Cardinals’ safeties had negative coverage grades in 2014 and Arizona was 29th in passing yards allowed and 22nd in yards per attempt allowed. The Cardinals also lose number 2 CB Antonio Cromartie to the Jets. The Cardinals did keep the TDs allowed low with 22 (6th best in league) and forced 18 interceptions. It remains to be seen how this team will cover without Todd Bowles.
The Cardinals were weak in pass rush in 2014 despite the blitzing of Bowles. Alex Okafor had a -12.6 grade and Matt Shaughnessy was average notching a .6 grade. Lamar Woodley was added after a down season in a 4-3 defense in Oakland. Woodley with the Steeler’s in 2013 had a +9.2 grade and should bolster the Cardinals pass rush.
Calais Campbell is a beast at 3-4 DE with a +31.1 grade. He can play the run and generates pressure. Corey Redding earned a +8.5 pass rush grade for the Colts and was added in free agency to share time with run defender Frostee Rucker. Kareem Martin is a 2014 2nd round pick that is developing at DE.
The Cardinals were terrible running the ball in 2014. Andre Ellington had a putrid 3.3 YPC as did backup Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinals interior offensive line and right tackle all graded poorly in run blocking. The Cardinals counter by adding 3rd round pick Running back David Johnson and Mike Iupati (+18 run grade) at left guard. DJ Humphries was drafted in the first round to take over for right tackle Bobby Massie. The Cardinals also hope top 10 pick from 2013 Jonathan Cooper finally develops at right guard. The Cardinals have addressed the issue but their run game still lacks the talent at RB and production.
Palmer and Stanton were pressured too much in 2014. However, the Cardinals have taken steps to solve this issue. Left tackle Jared Veldheer is a brick wall with a +16.5 grade. AQ Shipley was a strong addition at center along with Mike Iupati. However, Iupati struggles in pass protection and is strong in run blocking. First round pick DJ Humphries provides a talent infusion at right tackle but lacks experience and Jonathan Cooper has 1st round talent but needs to shake the injury bug.
The Cardinals allowed 4.4 YPC in 2014 and lost a good run stuffing nose tackle in Dan Williams. Corey Peters was added to play nose tackle but was average in 2014 with Atlanta and is undersized at only 300 lbs. Alameda Ta’amu is a large young nose tackle (340 lbs) from Round 4 in the 2012 draft that could replace the departed Dan Williams. Campbell is a beast in run defense and veteran Frostee Rucker had a +3 run defense grade.
The LBS and secondary struggled in their gaps in 2014 which led to the poor run defense. Larry Foote was terrible at ILB but is now a coach and not a player. Second year 2nd round pick from LSU Kevin Minter showed some promise with a +4.3 grade at ILB but lacked in coverage as a rookie. Stud ILB Daryl Washington still faces a suspension so the Cardinals can’t count on his production. Lorenzo Alexander returns from injury after only playing 50 snaps last year and oft injured Sean Weatherspoon was added from Atlanta. Shaughnessy had a +5 run defense grade but Woodley and Okafor struggle in this area. The Cardinals have some talent to stop to run but need to turn that talent into production.
Schedule and Outlook
The Cardinals have been 10-6 and 11-5 the last two seasons. They are a strong team with a good defense and enough offensive fire power. However, a step back could happen with the loss of Todd Bowles and the ACL problems of Carson Palmer.
The Cardinals travel to Chicago in Week 2 and to Detroit in Week 5. The Cardinals host the Vikings in Week 14 and Green Bay in Week 16. Playing in the desert is much tougher than facing the Cardinals on the road but Arizona can win any of the North matchups. Beware the Arizona Cardinals, especially if they improve their run game, protection and have Palmer for more than six games.