Lets take a look at how the Cardinals are set for 2018
Reasons to be cheerful?
David Johnson is back!! The stellar Running Back returns to the fold after playing just 1 half of 1 game in 2017. Having wracked up over 3000 all-purpose yards in ’15 and ’16 combined Johnson had replaced WR Larry Fitzgerald as both the face of the franchise and its greatest hope for success, however a broken wrist sustained very early into the season opener last year curtailed the teams hopes from the get-go. Averaging 11.5 yards per reception and 4.3 yards per rush Johnson is a truly dynamic 3 down back who immediately makes The Cards a contender in virtually every game they play.
Speaking of Fitzgerald, he enters his 15th(!) season as the Teams most established star,still capable of putting up great numbers. Over the last three years he’s averaging around 1100 yards per season and 7 TD catches. Whilst his targets per game may suffer slightly with the return of Johnson (did I mention David Johnson is back?!) There is little competition at WR and opposing teams will have to build their defensive plans around stopping the run game.
Also, the Cards have hugely upgraded their O-Line with the signing of Justin Pugh (From the Giants) and Andre Smith (From the Bengals). This was an area of huge concern after the team allowed the third most sacks (52) last season. Why is this so important? Well….see Q12.
Reasons to be fearful?
In short, Sam Bradfords health. The Cardinals selected Josh Rosen 10th overall in this year’s draft with a view to allowing him to sit and learn behind a veteran QB. He attempted just 29 passes in the preseason games and was held out of the pre-season finale all together. Many observers felt that Rosen was the most NFL ready QB in the draft in terms of mental ability, so maybe we need not worry about his progression at this point, but if Bradford were to go down early it seems unlikely that Head coach Steve Wilks would feel comfortable turning the team over to a rookie with such little game-time under his belt. You know what that means? That means it’d be Mike Glennon time in Arizona… and no one wants that (except Glennon… who was 1-3 as a starter last year with a 4-5 TD-INT stat line and 3 lost fumbles). Bradford played in just 2 games last year before his career-threatening knee issues reared their head again, but, he played 29 of the previous 32 games, winning 15, (39TDs-29INTs) and looked like the 1st round pick that he always should have been. Keep him upright and feeding the ball to Fitz and Johnson then the team can be competitive, but if he folds early you risk exposing an unprepared rookie (Nate Peterman last season anyone?) or a struggling vet on a downward spiral.
Also, don’t forget that the Cards allowed The Honey Badger to walk away and join the Texans afetr a “down” year. Keep in mind that Tyrann Mathieu played 1261 snaps last season-more than any other player, and that he didn’t allow a single TD over the course of those snaps. Yes he has an injury history, but letting him leave could be a huge mistake (and a great gain for the Texans) with the team allowing 24 passing TDs and 12 rushing TDs with him on the field-you have to bet that both those numbers will rise without Mathieu defending the middle.
What does their season look like?
The NFC west will be a battle-ground this year, the Rams are clearly the best team in the division but the other 2 (Seattle and San Fran) are on a similar level competitive-wise to the Cards. With a great running game and the best proven QB in the division (Goff and Garroppalo are not thoroughly tested yet) Arizona should be hanging in there each week, but they face tough match ups with the NFC North (Vikes, packers etc) and the Falcons and Broncos. As mentioned above the D has taken a hit which is not what you need when facing Cousins, Rodgers, Ryan Stafford etc. Ultimately it seems unlikely that Bradford starts all 16 games and if that’s the case,combined with the drop-off on the defensive side, I fear the season will be derailed.
Playoffs? Not in this loaded NFC.