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!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NFC West Overview: Arizona Cardinals

And here we are again, my friends.

Back, once again, in what is probably my fifth preview of Arizona in the young history of this blog.

I ask for it every time, not just because I live in Phoenix, but because I care. I care about our readers, I care about the Hawks, and I care about reality. Realism.

However, readers might notice a change in my previews of the Cardinals this time around. Why, you ask? Because the talent they have assembled on the offensive side of the football has started to hinge on "awesome". This year we're not talking about Kurt Warner and J.J. Arrington and how THEY will propel Arizona to the promised land. No, we're talking about Edge, Leinart, Pope, Fitzgerald, Boldin, Lutui, Davis, Johnson, etc., who won't probably propel them to the promised land this year (Leinart probably won't start until around Week 5, when Warner inevitably goes down with a strained hip flexor), but come 2007, if this team isn't, at the very least, FIGHTING for a playoff spot, then Denny Green needs to be fired.

However, last time I checked the calendar, THIS year is 2006. Rinse. Repeat. 2006.

Thus, it is up to me to provide balance to the Sean Salisbury's (top 5 offense in the NFL) of the world and honestly give a fair opinion of where the Cardinals stand at this point. Before I begin, no offseason overview of the Cardinals would be complete without mentioning that they are moving into a new stadium that is ALREADY sold-out. In May. That's right, the Cardinals will actually have a home-field advantage for the first time since moving down to Phoenix from St. Louis, and that should make a difference. Heck, the decibel level should move beyond "Seattle Mariners home games" territory into "immigration rally" levels.

2005 record: 5-11 (they sucked, in other words)

Kurt Warner - DPAR 36.4, DVOA 8.7%
(Matt Leinart, R)

So we have a quarterback leading the troops who performed even worse than Marc Bulger last year, a quarterback who is brittle beyond all getout standing behind a line that hasn't improved all that much. In other words, the world should prepare for the beginning of Matt Leinart's career sooner rather than later. Leinart, in my opinion, will be a good quarterback in this league. I'm not convined that he will be a great quarterback (a la Carson Palmer), but surround him with talent like Boldin and Fitzgerald..... he's smart enough to make the right play. Now, the whole Super Bowl in 2008 thing is a tad overstated before the guy even takes a snap, but his talent level should, at the very least, propel this team into respectability fast while teams like San Francisco and Detroit continue to flail because of their quarterback situation. Seriously, Detroit. You would rather have Jon Kitna than Matt Leinart? You honestly think you have a better chance to reach the Super Bowl with Jon Kitna? Stupid move, and the Cardinals benefited.

Running Back:
Edgerrin James - DPAR 50.8, DVOA 16.6%
(J.J. Arrington)

Those are elite numbers, folks, and we're all about to find out how much of those elite numbers were due to Peyton Manning and the Colts' offensive line. I don't expect him to post those kind of numbers this year, but I DO expect him to boost the running game (he can't HELP but boost the running game, they HAD no running game). This was an incredible situation that James fell into the Cards' laps, and they better get an offensive line NOW to utilize his tremendous talents before he inevitably starts to decline at about the same time that Shaun does. Another huge plus for the team from this offseason, and one that should show immediate benefits, especially catching balls out of the backfield. I was excited for Cardinals' fans when I heard about this.

Wide Receivers:
Anquan Boldin - DPAR 23.0, DVOA 4.5%
Larry Fitzgerald - DPAR 31.5, DVOA 13.2%
Bryant Johnson - DPAR -1.5%, DVOA -18.7%
Leonard Pope (TE, R)

It is time for Bryant Johnson to step up and become an actual talent in this wide receiving corps, because all the physical skills are there for him to take his game to the next level. Fortunately for him, Warner, and Leinart, Arizona is blessed with perhaps the second best 1-2 punch in the game (outside of Harrison and Wayne), as Boldin and Fitzgerald are just beyond awesome. They are physical, they are fast, they time their jumps well, they are excellent route-runners, and they can bail out Warner many a time. Their one weakness is in the red zone, where they find themselves triple-teamed with no room to run. Enter Pope, who is a beast of a man and should GREATLY help the absymal red-zone offense that was in Arizona last year. Pope was a 1st round talent that somehow slipped to the third round. Sure, he might not be that good of a blocker, but how many tight ends are? These guys can make a HUGE difference. Just ask Big Ben about that.

Offensive Line:
LT Leonard Davis, LG Jeremy Bridges, C Alex Stepanovich, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Oliver Ross

As with San Francisco's wide receiving corps, we have now reached the crux of the matter. This team simply CAN'T radically improve without radical improvement from this group. Davis, while physically a beast, has consistently underperformed for his entire career. Stepanovich is, at best, a journeyman who has below-average skills, and Ross was a big disappointment coming over from Pittsburgh. Sure, drafting a guard is nice, and will help, but the center and tackle positions are way more important, and Arizona still seems to fall way short here. Can they open holes for Edge? Can they give Warner time in the pocket? Can they give the receivers time to get open? So far, I have to say that I doubt it, at least on a consistent basis, and this is the main reason why I have to tell Cards fans to wait one more year to really get the optimism meter running. Gavin, you might want to add your thoughts here, because this is probably the single most important unit in the NFC West as previews go.

Gavin: Well, Colin threw down the gauntlet, so I'll add a couple of thoughts here. It's difficult to understate just how bad the Cardinals offensive line was last season. From Football Outsiders, they were last in yards per carry and adjusted ypc, converted only 41% (incredible!) of their short yardage situations (also last in the league), and were stuffed (explanation at site) 32% of ALL running plays (last in league). These are extroardinarily bad statistics. They were middle of the pack in sack percentage, at 6% of the time, but again, that doesn't take into account how often Kurt Warner got hit when he dropped back. Getting Edgerrin James isn't the difference maker to the above equation. When there are no holes there are no holes. James made his living in Indy running around the corner, led by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. When the only difference is a rookie guard, albeit a fairly good rookie guard, this offensive line should NOT be looked at as improving considerably. Anyone who says differently in their NFL season preview is worthless. Any optimism about Matt Leinart is worthless. This crisis of a unit has not been addressed and until it is the Cardinals will never challenge the Hawks for NFC West supremacy.

Defensive Line:
Chike Okeafor, DE, Gabriel Watson, DT, Darnell Dockett, DT, Bertrand Berry, DE

Remember how Okeafor was going to completely revamp that defensive line? Um.... no. Arizona actually lost their best defensive tackle to us in Russell Davis, they have limited depth at the defensive end position (remember Anton Palepoi, Seahawks fans?), and, overall, there's not a lot of help for Dockett, who is a great player, and Berry, who is a superb player, barring injury. Again, this group could be average, and Barry will get to the quarterback (except against Seattle, where he meets a little someone I like to call Walter), but not a dominant unit by any means, especially up the middle. I predict many a run right at Okeafor during the two Seahawks games, since that guy can't defend against the run if his life depended on it.

Karlos Dansby, James Darling, Orlando Huff, (insert player here)

Again, you have one great player (Dansby), one solid player (Darling), one overhyped player (Huff), and etc., with little to no depth. We'll talk about this more in the next couple of days, but that is one thing that makes Ruskell so special. He cares about depth, and we are basically protected at all positions (except for quarterback, where Seneca Wallace isn't quite what we need there, as much as I like him). Listen. Injuries are a fact of life, and the fact is that the Cards are not protected against the inevitable Dansby/Darling injury.

Antrel Rolle, David Macklin, Adrian Wilson, Robert Griffith

Yawn. Nothing much to report here, as there is nothing really new to discuss, thus, we'll actually analyze this more later. As it appears, this is a semi-strong secondary with Wilson alone, but it remains if Rolle can step up with the talent that we all know he possesses.

So..... superior talent at offensive skills positions, another couple of stars at various positions (Berry, Wilson, Dansby, Rackers), and..... etc. No, this is not the team to upset the Hawks and take the NFC West this year, but if they don't win more than 5 games.... wow. As it is, terrific offseason for the Cards. Really. Fantastic.

posted by colin_hesse @ 2:05 PM  1 comments


At 11:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any way for you guys to make the column wider?


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