After the departure of several marquee names from the roster, it’s easy to dismiss the Cardinals as a playoff contender. I think that conclusion is a bit premature.
Much of the focus has been on Matt Leinart replacing the retired Kurt Warner. We’re told that Leinart has matured, learning how to play the game at the NFL level by working with Warner, a man who works very hard on and off the field. If Leinart managed to capture some of that maturity from Warner, I am not worried about the quarterback position.
The departure of Anquin Boldin has people talking, but the Cardinals still have some of the most potent offensive tools in the league. Early Doucet and Steve Breaston have both proven themselves to be competent wide receivers, and the Cards do still have Larry Fitzgerald. On the other end of the offense, the Cardinals have young Beanie Wells, who has the potential to become a hall-of-fame caliber running back. If he can solve the fumble problems, watch out, because this guy is a tank who can run through a defensive line, or just single-handedly push them back five yards before going down. Tim Hightower may not be as good an athlete as Wells, but Wells pushes Hightower to make his game better, too. Together, they fit Coach Whisenhunt’s smashmouth model pretty well.
It’s the defense that holds the questions. The Cardinals acted very quickly to fill the hole at free safety when Antrel Rolle left, but Karlos Dansby will be harder to replace. And replacing Dansby only brings the team back to where they were, which is not good enough. The defense was leaky and inconsistent at best, and the Cardinals were able to overcome only because the offense could post astronomical numbers. With Warner gone, its a different offense. It’s still powerful, but I question whether it’s 51-points powerful.
Unless the Cardinals make some serious acquisitions on defense, as it stands, I project an 8-8 season.