2012 Pre-Season Rankings: #23 – Arizona Cardinals
If Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves had a time machine, he would set the dial for July 29, 2011. When he returned to that date, he would relive the conversation he had with the Eagles. And when asked to approve a deal to make Kevin Kolb his franchise quarterback, he would utter two words:
Unfortunately, time machines only exist in bad science fiction movies. The Cardinals are stuck with Kolb, at least until they can unload him elsewhere. It’s quite possible Kolb will be holding the clipboard on the sideline this season while watching John Skelton chuck the ball around the field.
The Cardinals went 6-2 under Skelton in 2011 after Kolb lost six of eight and the rest of his season to various injuries. The former resuscitated the brilliance of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whom Kolb somehow transformed into a pedestrian contributor. Arguably the finest pass-catcher in the NFL finished the year with 80 catches and 1,411 yards, but just eight touchdowns, six of which he caught from Skelton.
Now he has a promising partner in top draft pick Michael Floyd, who could give Arizona the premier 1-2 punch in the league. But if neither Kolb nor Skelton prove worthy of their talents, the Cardinals will still struggle offensively. Kolb was signed in 2011 to a six-year, $65 million contract, which might pressure coach Ken Whisenhunt to start him, but NFL teams simply cannot win without productive quarterback play.
They also struggle with mediocrity at running back and poor outside blocking. The Cardinals are cursed with both problems. Top back Chris Wells is injury-prone and 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams is unproven. Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Daryn Colledge are fine, but left tackle Levi Brown yielded 11 sacks. The last thing Kolb or Skelton need is relentless pressure.
Speaking of relentless pressure, the Cardinals brought it late in the year by producing 18 sacks in the last five games behind young linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield. Defensive end Calais Campbell and tackle Darnell Dockett anchor a decent line, but its scintillating second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson and Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson that give Arizona one of the top pass defenses in the NFL. Peterson doubles as arguably the most dangerous kick returner in the league.
The Cardinals entered the 2011 season as a team better known for its explosive offense than its struggling defense. It ended the year with more questions on the offensive side of the ball. A playoff berth is quite possible if Kolb or Skelton rise to the occasion. If not, a tremendous amount of talent will be going to waste.