Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

NFL Preview: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals:
2004 Record: 6-10
Projected 2005 Record By Every Pundit Known To Humankind:

11-5

*Sigh*

I don't want to have to do this. I like Phoenix, sans the mind-searing heat that saps the energy from your body leaving you a withered husk of a human being. There are some REALLY good restaurants down here, which Gavin can attest to. There are good malls (for my wife), good places to hang out, and a loose atmosphere where you can wear shorts to work because it's over 100 degrees outside. I like Phoenix.

Next, there's something to be said for hype. Hype doesn't come out of nowhere. You can watch a team cycle the drain for decades, and even a glimmer of improvements can be met with HUGE expectations and a prospect for winning that mars judgment. Hype makes you feel good. Hype seems to say, "You were right to keep the faith all these long years. It is, finally, your time in the sun. Your time to shine."

Arizona Cardinals fans (the true ones) deserve a good team. They have sat through some pretty awful years, including a few performances from The Artist Formerly Known as David Krieg and the broken body of Emmitt Smith. Year after miserable year has come and gone. This is the worst franchise to all time. Worse then Seattle. They used to be able to commisserate with Tampa Bay fans, and then Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl. Detroit had Barry Sanders. Cincinnatti had a Super Bowl year, though they lost on The Drive. San Diego shows up once every six years and has a great season. The Jets are no longer a laughingstock and had Joe Namath to look back with pride. Arizona? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I'm just saying.... I understand where the hope and the hype is coming from. I get it. I understand. I empathize.

IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

There. I said it. Someone had to.

IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

I'm sorry. Really. One more time.

IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

How can you say that, Colin? How can you be so, so cruel? Why are you differing with the majority of football experts? What in the world is going on?

Well..... allow me to answer that by taking us on a magical journey through the actual personnel that the Arizona Cardinals have put together.

Key Losses: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, LB Levar Fisher, DB Renaldo Hill, TE Freddie Jones, QB Shaun King, RB Emmitt Smith, G Cameron Spikes, CB Duane Starks, DB Michael Stone, LB Raynoch Thompson, LB LeVar Woods

Key Additions: S Robert Griffith, LB Orlando Huff, DE Chike Okeafor, T Oliver Ross, QB Kurt Warner, CB Antrel Rolle, RB J.J. Arrington

Before I tackle the offense (pun definitely intended), allow me to look closer at these additions and their stats from 2005:

S Robert Griffith (from Cleveland): 35 years old, recorded 118 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT. He has had one Pro Bowl season in 2001 with the Vikings. A solid player, but one who's age might show up, well, now. Think John Lynch.

LB Orlando Huff (from Seattle): 27 years old, recorded 52 tackles, 1 sack. If anyone refers to him as a "playmaker" again I will vomit (on the inside). A so-so player that never gave Seattle anything special. Basically, a replacement player.

DE Chike Okeafor (from Seattle): 29 years old, recorded a career-best 8.5 sacks, 53 tackles, 4 forced fumbles. This guy got 5 years, $25 mill? A CAREER-BEST 8.5 sacks? Someone you could never really count for on 3rd down? The D-Line got GASHED last year. Again, a nice player, someone you like to have, but NOT an IMPACT player.

T Oliver Ross (from Pittsburgh): A semi-solid offensive line addition with little info available on him.

QB Kurt Warner (from Giants): 34 years old, a 86.5 passer rating, 2054 yds, 6 TDs, 4 INTs, 62.8% comp. pct. After two horrible years, Warner managed a mediocre year before ceding control to rookie Eli Manning. He can throw the deep ball, but makes VERY poor decisions under pressure and is the antithesis of "mobile". He is, quite definitely, NOT the savior of a franchise. Kelly Holcombe is a better quarterback then Kurt Warner. Trent Dilfer, very possibly, is a better quarterback then Kurt Warner.

CB Antrel Rolle (rookie): He should turn out to be a good one, but rookie cornerbacks have a longer learning period then other positions. Marcus Trufant should just be coming into his own in this, his third season. Ken Lucas took until his third season to shine. Champ Bailey took until his sophomore season. These things happen, they take time.

RB J.J. Arrington (rookie): Running backs, on the other hand, have the shortest learning curve. I liked Arrington, but he is undersized, and needs a strong offensive line to showcase his talents. I'm not sure whether he has that, or whether he can take the pounding of an NFL season. His upside is Warrick Dunn with less speed. His downside is getting knocked out by Week 4.

These are the new guys. Are you starting to understand the picture here? Let's develop it further.

Offense:

Quarterback: The aforementioned Kurt Warner. It should be noted here that Josh McCown was looking pretty good towards the end of last season. He lit up the Seahawks, throwing deep balls to Fitzgerald at will. But Denny Green has never been a big fan, and thought the Cardinals really needed to upgrade here. Fine. I can buy that. Kurt Warner is not a big upgrade. McCown is stronger, more mobile, younger, and has more potential. Warner is, well, Warner. Teams keep expecting him to magically revert to his MVP season. Why? Did Tim Brown magically turn it on for the Bucs last season? Did Warren Sapp for the Raiders? Did Marshall Faulk for the Rams? Did Mark Brunell for the Redskins? The facts are that as the quarterback ages, and your name isn't Brett Favre, your skills decrease. You can't throw the ball as fast or as far as you used to. You can't move as fast, and you get up slower from each crushing hit. You get injured faster, and heal slower. That's why Troy Aikman, Steve Young, and John Elway had to retire, and why even Favre all of a sudden looks human in the postseason at Lambeau. Warner will have a few good games if he has a good running game and decent protection. But this is the same situation as Drew Bledsoe in Dallas. It won't work in the long term. This is a push, or a small upgrade, over last year.

Running Back: Emmitt Smith actually had a decent year last year, rushing for just under 1000 yards and 9 TD's. Still, Arrington should be seen as a moderate upgrade, a back who could easily get 1200 yards if he stays healthy. He will not be a gamebreaker, but the Cardinals attack won't be built on the running game. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, having done that with Jeff Tedford at Cal. Again, small to moderate upgrade over last year.

Wide Receivers: Best part of the team, and the best corps outside of Indianapolis. Anquan Boldin is a proven posession receiver who holds onto the ball, unlike our own D-Jack. Larry Fitzgerald can LEAP, and sky for balls against mismatched and undersized corners. Don't forget Bryan Johnston, who had 49 catches last year and is a great 3rd option. This guys can spread the field, find mismatches, and exploit them. If they had even a Kerry Collins level quarterback, they could be scary. Heck, they were turning scary with Josh McCown throwing them the football. St. Louis has to be worried with their glaring weakness and lack of depth at the cornerback position.

Offensive Line: We move from the best part of the team to the worst part of the team. They suck. Hands down. And THIS will greatly impact the offense in all measures. Warner will receive a ton of pressure. Arrington will find it hard to use gaps to slither through. The receivers won't be able to complete their routes. They are a mishmash of question marks and hasbeens with the prominent exception of LT Leonard Davis, who has been improving though still not developing into the dominant lineman that was expected of him. They also have zero depth here, so ANY injuries will cause even MORE suckage than usual. IF..... IF they can keep it together, the offense can put up some points. However, I just don't see that being the norm.

Defense: This is obviously the strong point of this team. D-Coord Clancy P. brought a fast-based, blitzing scheme to the desert that caught multiple teams, including Seattle, by surprise. He won't quite have that element of surprise this year, and will have to rely more on actual personnel.

D-Line: Actually, a very good defensive line. DE Bertrand Berry might have been the best defensive player in the NFC last year, continually bullrushing the passer and causing mass confusion on his end. Darnell Dockett showed skills as a rookie and should continue to blossom this year. He is paired with Russell Davis, who is good (not great) and a solid contributer. The actual weak link of the line is Okeafor, who seemed to run out of steam as the season progressed. It remains to be seen if he can cause himself to be double-teamed, freeing up Berry to raise havoc. They have the pieces to be solid against the run and the pass, though again depth is an issue.

Linebackers: This corp was completely revamped, and I really don't know why. I liked their linebackers last year, and replacing them with players like Orlando Huff doesn't make sense. Huff never did anything in a Seahawks uniform. He wasn't a playmaker, wasn't a run stopper, wasn't terrific against the pass.... nothing. Gerald Hayes will be at MLB, and he will be assuming a much bigger role, having only 24 tackles a year ago. Karlos Dansby is a solid player at RLB, and don't forget James Darling, who had 93 tackles a season ago and, though losing time to Huff, should still contribute. I see this group as a tad weaker then a season ago, especially up the middle. Darling can stop the run, but I don't know how they will do in zone coverages.

Secondary: Their best cornerback was traded to the Patriots, but Cardinals management hope that Rolle can step into those shoes immediately. Those hopes are misguided. He will make some spectacular plays, but it is a given that he will be caught out of position multiple times this season, and that opposing teams will pick on him. David Macklin is an acceptable cornerback, but he's nothing to write home about. He doesn't have overwhelming speed, and uses his hands more than he should, especially with the tighter rules this year. Adrian Wilson is a stud at safety, and ensures that blitz schemes can happen because he can help the one-on-one coverage in reserve. He is smart and can read the quarterback extremely well. Newcomer Robert Griffith at free safety, if healthy, is a solid player as well. The cornerbacks are semi-weak, but the safeties are above-average and should help coverage.

Overhyped Myth: Where do I start? Well, how about that Kurt Warner is not the solution at quarterback, ESPECIALLY with a weak offensive line. He had terrific wide-receivers at St. Louis, and ended his career there just terribly. He had decent wide-receivers and a solid running game in New York and was inconsistent. He will get rushed, there is a high probability of getting injured, and I'm not so sure that Josh McCown isn't a better answer.

Understated Reality: This team has zero depth. None. A few injuries will severely hamper this team. Franchises like New England and Philly have excellent depth where injuries wouldn't kill their chances at a victory. Not so here. Injuries at running back, offensive line, d-line, or the secondary would rock this team. That's not promising when looking at a full season.

General Prognosis: Is this team a "better" team then last year? Probably, but not by as much as people would want you to think. Denny Green is a great coach, but he made several questionable choices last year and, very probably, will continue to do so. They will be exciting. The receivers will make great plays. They will be inconsistent. The offense is about the same or a little better, and the defense is about the same or a little worse. That should result in anywhere from 6-8 wins, but a division title is NOT in the, um, "Cards".

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 vs. St. Louis. This will be the first real test, at home, against the big boys. They beat St. Louis here last year, and stand a good chance to repeat that, but I will watch this game with great interest.

posted by colin_hesse @ 1:08 PM  0 comments

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