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2013 Arizona Cardinals Team Preview: Can Palmer Bring Consistency to the Offense?

Eric Caturia

Eric Caturia

Eric is a writer/editor of MLB, NBA, and NFL content for RotoWire.

State of the Franchise

The Cardinals' 2012 season was one of extremes, as they found themselves the sole undefeated team in the league after four weeks, only to finish an uninspiring 5-11. The catalyst seemed to be a chest injury to QB Kevin Kolb in Week 6, after which the offense sputtered, scoring more than 20 points just once over the team's final 12 outings. Horrendous quarterback play characterized the run, as John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer all took snaps for the Cardinals. Overall, the least productive NFL offense resided in the Arizona desert, racking up a paltry 263.1 total yards per game, with a league-low 75.3 yards per week on the ground. Meanwhile, the defense fared slightly better, holding the opposition to 21 or fewer points in each of Arizona's first seven contests. The feat was accomplished just twice the remainder of the campaign, though, despite forcing 18 turnovers during that stretch.

To remedy what ailed the team in 2012, the organization moved on from coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves after a third consecutive lackluster season. In turn, reigning NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians was hired to implement open competition across the roster, while the team promoted Steve Keim to the helm of GM. The first order of business was jettisoning certain veterans: Kolb, RB Beanie Wells, G Adam Snyder, LB Paris Lenon, and safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, among others were let go, with the team officially embarking upon a youth movement of sorts.

The acquisition of Carson Palmer from the Raiders certainly isn't representative of this thought process, but he's a clear upgrade over the menagerie of quarterbacks assembled a season ago. With significantly more talent surrounding him in receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd, an enhancement of Palmer's 4,018 passing yards and 22:14 TD:INT ratio is plausible, especially within the framework of the downfield passing attack Arians is expected to implement. Furthermore, the Cardinals revamped their running back corps, with third-year pro Ryan Williams the primary holdover from 2012. The signing of likely starter Rashard Mendenhall in free agency, along with the addition of draft picks Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, should supply the team with a semblance of a running game.

On defense, the Cardinals' youth-based approach to the offseason emerges, as ample turnover took place. Of their 24 additions in free agency and via the draft, 15 were on the defensive side of the equation. The primary pickups included defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Tyrann Mathieu, to go with linebackers Lorenzo Alexander, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Minter. The suspension of LB Daryl Washington (9.0 sacks in 2012) for the first four games of the upcoming season could cripple the overall pass rush, but all the new blood should nonetheless aid in cutting down the team's comical 137.0 rushing yards allowed per game from last season.


Offseason Moves

KEY ACQUISITIONS

Carson Palmer - QB, Raiders

His addition revitalizes a passing attack featuring star wideout Larry Fitzgerald.

Rashard Mendenhall - RB, Steelers

Starts anew following a campaign derailed by injuries and a suspension.

Stepfan Taylor - RB, Stanford

(Round 5, 140th overall)

The durable rookie waits in the wings behind injury-prone veteran backs.

Jonathan Cooper - G, North Carolina

(Round 1, 7th overall)

His flexibility as a blocker should immediately improve a stagnant running game.

Kevin Minter - LB, LSU

(Round 2, 45th overall)

The rookie linebacker may start inside, acting as a volume tackler.

KEY LOSSES

Kevin Kolb - QB, Bills

The Cardinals decided upon another path after his two injury-plagued seasons with the team.

LaRod Stephens-Howling - RB, Steelers

Led a league-worst ground game in 2012 with 356 rushing yards.

Adrian Wilson - S, Patriots

A youth movement was pursued in Arizona, which left him expendable.

Team Notes

PALMER TO THE RESCUE

A passing apocalypse arose in Arizona after QB Kevin Kolb went down with a chest injury in 2012. Kolb himself completed a team-high 59.6 percent of his passes, while accumulating 1,169 yards with eight touchdowns and just three interceptions. On the other hand, the three remaining signal callers (John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer) totaled 2,214 yards with a 3:18 TD:INT ratio on a less than desirable 53.6 completion percentage. When free agency commenced in March, the perpetually injured Kolb refused to discuss a cut in pay, which resulted in his release just before he was due a roster bonus. Two weeks passed before a trade with Oakland was completed to obtain the 33-year-old Carson Palmer. Throwing to the likes of WR Denarius Moore and TE Brandon Myers last year, Palmer joined 10 other quarterbacks in surpassing 4,000 yards through the air. A much-improved receiving corps featuring Larry Fitzgerald, along with the ever-improving Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd, should produce sweet music.

FOUR'S A CROWD

The Cardinals completely overhauled the league's worst rushing attack by ridding themselves of Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling during the offseason. In turn, they brought Rashard Mendenhall, Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington into the fold, joining returnee Ryan Williams. The start of Mendenhall's 2012 campaign with the Steelers was delayed by his recovery from knee surgery and was later thwarted by Achilles' concerns. Overall, he tallied just 51 carries for 182 yards (3.6 YPC) in six contests, but now presumably healthy, he's expected to garner the first opportunity at nailing down the Cardinals' No. 1 running back gig. Williams, who is close behind him, has put in the work to (potentially) make his mark, but a previous torn patellar tendon could hang over his head like Mendenhall's prior ACL issue. Consequently, Arizona selected reliable backs in Taylor and Ellington, who could make their mark if either of the injury-prone options in front of them ends up sidelined. Ultimately, whoever takes the reins in the Cardinals' backfield will profit from seventh overall pick Jonathan Cooper, one of the most flexible blockers to enter the league in some time, likely taking over at left guard.

FITZ AND THE YOUNG'UNS

Larry Fitzgerald remains one of the top wideout talents in the league and represents a significant upgrade over any receiver at Carson Palmer's disposal with his former squad in Oakland. With a fairly accurate Palmer under center, Fitzgerald could form a connection similar to the one he previously held with an older and wiser Kurt Warner, a five-year stretch in which he hauled in at least 10 touchdowns four times, while recording 1,400-plus yards on three occasions. When combined with the up and coming Roberts and Floyd, the Cardinals will feature a passing scheme with three steady receiving options.

Value Meter

Rising: Larry Fitzgerald could return to his Pro Bowl caliber self while working with a competent quarterback in Carson Palmer, an instant upgrade over last season's revolving door behind center.

Declining: Ryan Williams is on notice after the free agent pickup of Rashard Mendenhall and selection of Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Sleeper: Michael Floyd's output in the final nine games of 2012 (37 receptions for 471 yards and one touchdown) should experience a modest uptick with Palmer directing the offense.

Supersleeper: Stepfan Taylor's success, or lack thereof, as a rookie is contingent upon the potential for injury to the veteran backs in front of him.

IDP Watch

Patrick Peterson - CB

Will occasionally get burned, but he's coming off a seven-interception sophomore season.

Daryl Washington - LB

He's the Cardinals' top pass rusher, but a four-game suspension caps his IDP potential.

Calais Campbell - DE

Despite facing numerous fleet-of-foot quarterbacks this season, he should post respectable sack totals.

TEAM DEFENSE

RotoWire Rank: 14