2014 NFL Season Preview, Fantasy Sleepers, and Predictions: Can the Arizona Cardinals Fight Their Way into the Playoffs?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 10-6 (3rd in NFC West)
Key Additions: WR Ted Ginn Jr., LB Larry Foote, RB Jonathan Dwyer, CB Antonio Cromartie, TE John Carlson, OT Jared Veldheer, LB Ernie Sims, S Deone Buchanan (1st round), TE Troy Niklas (2nd round), WR John Brown (3rd round)
Key Losses: RB Rashard Mendenhall, OT Eric Winston, ILB Karlos Dansby, WR Andre Roberts, G Daryn Colledge, CB Antoine Cason, S Yeremiah Bell
Games to Watch: Sept. 8 vs. San Diego, Nov. 23 at Seattle, Dec. 21 vs. Seattle, Dec. 28 at San Francisco
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
•1. Who replaces Daryl Washington?
More importantly, who replaces Daryl Washington AND John Abraham if both miss an extensive amount of time.
Abraham was arrested and charged with driving under the influence last month, after Atlanta police found the Pro-Bowler parked in an illegal area. This is Abraham's second arrest for DUI, the first time coming in 2003 while he was playing for the Jets.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't normally bring down the hammer on DUI convictions unless they involve egregious acts, i.e. Donte Stallworth pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter in 2009. Still, it's possible Abraham misses time, leaving the Cardinals without their top men up the middle.
Abraham's loss would hurt, but Washington's suspension is devastating.
Washington is the anchor behind a near-unstoppable run defense. He missed four games last season for violating the league's substance abuse policy but led the team in assists (16), placed second in tackles (75), and pulled in two interceptions.
Unfortunately for Arizona, Washington and his 98.5 tackles per season won't see the field in 2014-15.
On May 30, the NFL announced Washington would miss the entire season, again testing positive for a banned substance. It's the 2010 draft pick's third suspension in the last four years.
Arizona can't replace Washington's productivity. They can barely replace his speed. All they can hope is to piece together their defensive core.
Right now, it looks like Larry Foote-who only started one game for Pittsburgh last year-will get the nod at inside linebacker. He and former Cowboy Ernie Sims each signed one-year deals for the league minimum, though Sims' 2013-14 looked slightly better than Foote's.
Sims recorded 42 tackels -- 31solo -- and 11 assists with Dallas. A majority of his playing time came because Bruce Carter never met expectations, leading Sims to start 12 games.
If Sims can beat Foote out for the starting role and somehow resemble the player he was in Detroit from 2006-09, Arizona can still rank among the league's best run stoppers.
•2. Is Carson Palmer safe at starting quarterback?
Logan Thomas is Arizona's future at quarterback, but he's still a few years away from taking the reins. If Carson Palmer can't replicate last year's stellar nine-game stretch for more than half a season, Thomas' time may come early.
Palmer maintained a 97.7 passer rating in leading the Cardinals to a 7-2 record and near playoff appearance, even becoming the first road team to beat Seattle since 2011.
The former Heisman Trophy winner threw 13 interceptions through the first seven games. A year after being named the Raiders' offensive MVP, his job was in jeopardy and they hadn't even reached the bye week.
After posting an 11.3 quarterback rating against the Seahawks on Oct. 17, Palmer and the Cards went on a tear, winning seven of their last eight. He didn't throw picks in four of those games and accumulated 100+ passer ratings in five contests.
That is the Palmer Arizona needs; the one that led Cincinnati to two Wild Card berths in a five-year span. They need the Palmer who made back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances from 2005-06.
Head coach Bruce Arians has few other options. He could go with backup Drew Stanton, the journeyman who's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his six-year career. Or Arians can go with Thomas, the fourth-round draftee trying to nab the final third-string spot from Ryan Lindley.
Statistically Palmer had a decent year, throwing 24 touchdowns and a career-high 4,274 passing yards. The 22 interceptions were his downfall.
Regardless of which trend Palmer exhibits, Stanton and Thomas need to be ready for action.
•3. How much of an impact will second-year running back Andre Ellington make?
Arians claimed Andre Ellington will get somewhere between 25-30 touches per game, averaging out to 440 barring any injuries. Putting that in perspective, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy led the league last year with 366.
It's not a realistic mark, but should inspire confidence in Ellington.
Ellington hasn't played like a sixth-round draft pick. He led running backs in yards per carry (5.5) and ranked among the top ten in carries over 20 yards. Had Rashard Mendenhall slipped up, the starting slot could have gone to Ellington.
The Clemson grad gained 35 fewer yards than Mendenhall despite 99 fewer attempts. Ellington's 80-yard burst during a Week 8 matchup with Atlanta was pivotal in turning Arizona's season around. He notched a career-high 154 rushing yards and scored on running and passing plays in the Cardinals' 27-13 win. It was the cornerstone of their 7-2 run.
Ellington's packed on somewhere between 8-10 pounds this offseason in expectance of a heavier workload. Mendenhall retired and a battle is brewing between second-year man Stepfan Taylor and free agent pickup Jonathan Dwyer for Arians' one-down specialist.
Arizona may have found a diamond in the rough with Ellington. This is his year to prove the NFL's late-round selections aren't always busts.
Andre Ellington- RB
Fantasy owners take note: Ellington is ready to break out. At 5 feet 9 inches, he's smaller than the average running back, but his awe-inspiring 5.5 yards per carry last season greatly increase his value.
He's of the Darren Sproles variety, a speedy back whose versatility will give Palmer a dependable target in short-yardage situations. The only downfall is his lack of experience. Only time will tell how he adjusts to slotback formations.
John Brown- WR
The Cardinals signed Ted Ginn Jr. to be their slot receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. It may be rookie John Brown who ultimately makes the bigger impression.
He shone during OTA's and prompted Arians to say Brown is "way ahead of most rookies." Ginn hasn't done much to prove his worth. Brown has the ability to stretch the field. The Cardinals could have a dangerous receiving trio on their hands.
Prediction: 8-8 (3rd in NFC West, miss playoffs)
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