Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the Arizona Cardinals.
I'm going to miss Bruce Arians. From the dapper head gear, to the colorful language in "All or Nothing," and, of course, this gif:
It was an enjoyable ride for Arians in Arizona, one that I believe made him the best coach the team has ever had. And yes, I'm aware they had Don Coryell. Were you aware of that? But it's kind of a shame the Cards never made it to the Super Bowl under Arians. I mean, sort of. I'm a Bears fan. I'll never understand how somebody interviewed Arians -- who was the reigning Coach of the Year -- and Marc Trestman only to come away with the idea that the latter would be the best coach for the Bears. I pretty much made the same face Arians made above when I first heard that news.
You'll never get me to understand it. Much in the same way I'll never understand how Zack and Slater graduated from Bayside High, and then suddenly they were back in school and there was this new girl named Torri they were fawning over.
1) Larry the Legend
I mentioned this recently, but the Cardinals have a rich history as the NFL's oldest franchise. Hell I still sometimes slip and accidentally refer to them as the Morgan Athletic Club. And in this storied history, Larry Fitzgerald is the best player the club's ever had. We are witnessing it right now. And he keeps putting up huge numbers. He's coming off a career-high 109 receptions, one year after leading the NFL with 107.
Larry will be 35 when the season starts, but that won't be a huge problem for him. It's stunning to think he was in the same draft class as Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Two of those guys seem older than dirt and could retire at any minute. But Fitz looks like he could play for another five years no problem. It's like when I was watching "Black Panther" and you see Angela Bassett and realize she's damn-near 60. It doesn't seem possible.
2) A stable quarterback situation
I'm a big Carson Palmer guy. But my dude is like the opposite of Fitzgerald, in that he seems way older than he actually is. He's 38. Which stuns me, but maybe just because he first retired after the 2010 season with the Bengals. And then again after playing a season and a half with the Raiders in 2012. And yeah, I can't blame him. The Bengals and Raiders? No wonder he seems old.
But that's beside the point. The team is going to roll with Sam Bradford this year. And say what you will. Make your jokes about his jersey sleeves (which I kind of personally love), but he's a pretty good quarterback when he's healthy. He had 23 touchdowns and five interceptions in 17 games with the Vikings. So he's skilled. Don't be rude about it.
And if something were to happen to him, the Cards can turn to Josh Rosen, who was an absolute steal in the draft. Listen, I follow UCLA pretty closely, and this guy did not have great coaching in Westwood. The talent around him was fine, but directionless. He's going to be great. I'm also excited that the Cardinals finally have a young quarterback to get behind, instead of trying to patchwork the position with a couple of legends on their last stops.
Also note Bradford has actually served as a mentor for Rosen. Roethlisberger would be so disappointed. Seriously, I wonder if older, veteran quarterbacks will shun Sam for setting such a poor example when they meet in social gatherings.
3) David Johnson is back
Well, we hope.
Cardinals fans and fantasy dorks alike were rather morose when DJ went down last year. Especially my neighbor who is a long-time Cardinals fan and took Johnson with the first pick in his fantasy draft. That's the double whammy. That's not just rubbing salt in the wound. No. You treated that wound with your grandfather's famous dry rub, marinated it for a week and then slow-roasted it for 36 hours.
But hey, good news! Johnson looks like he's completely healthy and has no complications stemming from his wrist injury that kept him out of 15 games last season. Even better, he's not coming from a lower-body injury like Dalvin Cook, so there shouldn't really be any complications at all.
Wait, hold on. This is the Cardinals. And as my neighbor would say, you can't expect good things to happen. There is a potential holdout looming, as Johnson missed minicamp trying to work a deal because he has out-performed his rookie deal. And I have to feel for Cardinals fans here, who must feel like they can never catch a break. I mean, first, are we really sure Santonio Holmes got both feet down? And now this.
But come on, he's going to play this year. This dispute won't linger. Wilks has already said he wants to run the ball a lot, so there is no way they can let DJ hold out.
4) None of this matters if the O-line doesn't improve
The Cardinals' offensive line was very consistent last year, as it struggled both in pass protection and running the football. And when you bring in a quarterback who has some injury concerns, you want to make sure pass protection is one of your Achilles heels.
5) Patrick Peterson and the defense
Forgive me, I've sort of neglected the defense here. I mentioned Wilks is a defensive specialist, having worked with the Panthers for so many years. And he's going to have one of the best in Peterson. It will be interesting to see how Wilks works this. Because Peterson has been a travel corner for years, but will be asked to move around a little more and maybe even rush the passer on occasion. The goal, obviously, is to take advantage of Peterson's athleticism and give him the chance to make more plays. It also makes it harder for teams to game plan for the Cardinals' defense, because traditionally, you knew were the dude was going to line up. Now, not so much.
Overall, this defense should really thrive under new coordinator Al Holcomb and the new 4-3 system. There are a lot of good pieces with Chandler Jones, Budda Baker and others. One of the keys being DT Robert Nkemdiche, who I really liked coming out of college but needs to stay healthy and show some consistency. Overall, this Cardinals defense should be among the tops in the NFL.