New Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians inherited a mess.
That’s usually what happens when the predecessor is fired.
The Cardinals lost 11 of their last 12 games after starting the 2012 season 4-0.
The Cardinals’ problems are mainly based on the offensive inefficiency after missing out on free agent quarterback Peyton Manning last offseason.
Denver won eight games in 2011, many of them by close margins. With Manning this year, the Broncos won 13 games and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Cardinals won just five games in 2012. Is it a stretch to think Manning would have led the Cardinals to a double-digit win total? Not one bit.
Pick any offensive statistic from the 2012 season. The Cardinals were probably dead last in the league.
They were last in the NFL in total offense (4209 yards) sacks allowed (58), yards rushing (1204), yards per passing attempt (5.6), interceptions (21), QB rating (63.1), first downs (246) and third down conversions (25.2 percent).
Where does Arians begin?
The offensive line is a start. No team will accomplish anything unless the big guys up front do their job. The line needs to be able to protect Kevin Kolb or whoever the next quarterback is.
Which brings it to the quarterback situation.
Kolb is often knocked for always being injured. In limited action last year, Kolb looked efficient. He threw eight touchdowns against just three interceptions. The rest of the Cardinals quarterbacks threw three touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Arians and the Cardinals need to determine if Kolb is the team’s long-term “franchise quarterback.”
Given the stellar play from young quarterbacks across the league and the fact that Kolb can’t stay on the field, the Cardinals can’t go into the season with Kolb as the primary option.
According to Arizona Republic Cardinals beat writer Kent Somers, Kolb is “due to make $9 million in salary (in 2013) and collect a bonus of $2 million if he’s on the roster in March.”
The Cardinals’ alternatives if they get rid of Kolb aren’t good either. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. doesn’t have any QB’s in the first round of his latest mock draft. The demand for the position will likely push a few signal-callers into the first-round.
It would be wise for the Cardinals not to reach for a quarterback given recent history.
The last few “reaches” haven’t panned out in the NFL.
Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Mark Sanchez were all considered reaches.
It was smart for the Cardinals to hire an offensive coach. It’s clear the offensive side of the ball is where the team needs the most help.
Losing defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a huge blow to the defense, which was the strength of the team.
Arians may be a brilliant offensive wizard, he mentored quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Arians doesn’t have a gunslinger nearly as talented in Arizona as he did in his previous two stops.
Another challenge Arians faces is the fact that the NFC is much deeper top-to-bottom than the AFC.
The NFC West is a competitive division. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks aren’t going anywhere. Neither is San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick.
In the rest of the NFC, the Packers and Falcons will likely be playoff teams for the next five years.
The Redskins and Vikings also look set for the future. That’s not even including the Cowboys, Giants and Saints, who should all improve next season.
Those nine teams are clearly better than the Cardinals right now. Only six make the playoffs. This is the competition the Cardinals have to face to make the playoffs.
Good luck, Bruce.
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