Shutdown Countdown: Arizona Cardinals hope to find some offensive punch

Frank Schwab
Shutdown Corner

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There was a time last year when the Cardinals were 4-0 with wins against Seattle and at New England.

They won just once after that, a surprisingly easy victory against a Detroit team mailing in December, but the hope for Arizona is that the seeds of the team that started so well last year still exist somewhere on the roster.

It's not often you can hire the reigning coach of the year, but Bruce Arians was an unusual circumstance. He comes over from Indianapolis, hoping that new quarterback Carson Palmer helps him improve a terrible offense and revive a franchise that looked terrible after such a good September.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: The Cardinals didn't lose a ton, so the roster is probably better. But we're still skeptical over some of the additions. Rashard Mendenhall and Palmer were good once, but the shine has worn off. Many of the defenders Arizona brought in came at a discount because they were coming off bad years. The draft could bear some fruit. The roster might be better, but not much.

Best offseason acquisition: The answer is probably Arians, but we'll keep it to the guys on the field. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is coming off a 134-tackle season with Miami and is still very productive at age 31. On a one-year deal he can be solid in the middle, and help the defense while it waits for Daryl Washington to return from a four-game suspension (more on that in a moment).

Biggest hole on the roster: The offensive line was bad last season, and while rookie first-round pick Jonathan Cooper will help at guard right away, not a lot was done to fix the problems. Left tackle Levi Brown is returning from an injury that wiped out his 2012, which actually counts as an upgrade for this woebegone line.

Position in flux: The Cardinals have one star cornerback in Patrick Peterson and ... did we mention they have Patrick Peterson? Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers will battle for the second cornerback spot in camp, and it's pretty clear whoever wins that battle will get a lot of balls thrown their way. Third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu is playing free safety, which is a shame because it seems there would be a chance for him to compete at cornerback, the position he excelled at in college.

Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: OK, you've heard of receiver Michael Floyd, but you're excused if you've forgotten about him. The former first-round pick out of Notre Dame never created any positive buzz going into his rookie year, then was largely invisible during the season, but he finished well. In Week 17, long after anyone was keeping track of the 2012 Cardinals, Floyd had eight catches for 166 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. With Arians running the offense and the quarterback position upgraded from horrible to possibly mediocre, Floyd could have a surprising season opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

Stat fact: The Cardinals were 3-3 in games decided by less than a touchdown. Why does that matter? That means there was no bad luck involved in the Cardinals' horrible 5-11 season. They lost eight games by a touchdown or more. Their bad record was well deserved.

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: Given the division, anything but a last-place finish would be pretty good. For that to happen, Palmer has to be above average, which hasn't happened since 2007, but perhaps with Arians around that can change. If nothing else, hopefully Larry Fitzgerald's career doesn't continue to be wasted by horrible quarterback play. The defense isn't that bad, so if the offense comes around maybe there are some more wins to be had.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: If Palmer isn't good, there's really no backup plan. Mendenhall isn't the same back he once was, Ryan Williams' promise has been sapped by injuries, and rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington are no sure things, so the running game is tenuous too. The line is a problem, so there's a chance the offense is just as bad as it was a year ago. At least they don't play in a division with three punishing defenses or anything.

The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Washington is a great player, but he's going to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy and is facing charges for assaulting his ex-girlfriend (and this isn't a very good time to make commissioner Roger Goodell angry). Washington is one of the league's best linebackers, but he won't help Arizona as long as he's barred from playing.

The Shutdown Countdown previews you might have missed
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars

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