COMMENTARY | The final installment in a seven-part series predicting statistics for key Arizona Cardinals players in 2013 brings us to the ever-important secondary. Led by cornerback Patrick Peterson and veteran newcomer, safety Yeremiah Bell, there is plenty of talent and leadership to go around.
It is impossible to quantify what the Cardinals lost in on-field production with the release of safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, but what is clear is that the unit will have a vastly different look in 2013.
Though some of you still hold out hope Rhodes can be re-signed due to the eight-year vet still being on the market, the chances are slim-to-none that he returns. If there were a way to keep him after the changeover, it likely would have been worked out already.
And while cutting the franchise's best defensive draft pick of the last two decades had to be difficult, it will be even more difficult to replace Wilson at strong safety. Bell is penciled in as the starting free safety, but he likely is a better fit to play strong safety, the spot Wilson occupied for so long.
Note: The number accompanying a player's name represents years of NFL experience.
Yeremiah Bell, 9
To expect greatness from Bell at this stage of his career may be asking too much. He still moves well on the field, but he has lost a step both in coverage and against the run. At age 35, this is no surprise.
Bell may be "a thoroughbred," but he is no Adrian Wilson. I mentioned he would be best as Wilson's replacement at strong safety, but that is not because he fits there best. It is a way to ensure he is as productive as he can be, because he does not have the range he once did. Those who play free safety need more range than those who play strong.
Plus, with the other athletes able to play free, he can play down in the box to help cover tight ends and running backs--when he does play, that is. Bell may start Week 1 at one of two safety spots, but I don't see him staying in that role long.
Predicted Season Stats: 51 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 passes defended
Rashad Johnson, 4
With a new three-year, $4.8 million deal signed this offseason, safety Rashad Johnson can focus on learning the nuances of coordinator Todd Bowles' defense.
Like Bell, Johnson is penciled in as one of the two starting safeties. He has played both strong and free safety in the past, playing well enough to earn a new contract to continue his Cardinals career with the new regime.
Johnson's versatility in the secondary means coaches can put him where they need him on one play, then have him do something completely different the very next play--blitzing from strong safety on second down, then covering the entire deep half of the field as the single-high free safety on third down, for example, is not out of the question.
That means he should earn a lot of playing time this season. He may not be cut from the same mold as Rhodes or Wilson, but he is a hard worker on the field and can be a good weapon.
Predicted Season Stats: 64 tackles, 1 INT, 7 passes defended
Tyrann Mathieu, 0
There comes a point in every man's life where he is forced to choose one life over another. A point when he realizes it's time to grow up and stop doing certain things. For rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, that moment came just in time, before he had done irrevocable damage to his reputation.
This could be his one and only shot at an NFL career, and it could not have come from a better organization.
His best friend and mentor is Peterson, the former LSU standout and two-time NFL Pro Bowler. Mathieu turns to Peterson when he needs a friend, and the Cardinals are hoping he can stay out of trouble. If he does so, Mathieu has all the ability in the world to be just what he was drafted in Round 3 to be: a ball-hawking free safety who helps create turnovers for the defense.
His physical gifts and natural football instincts have gotten him to the NFL; now it is up to him to take the next step and turn that potential into reality. He could start at free safety from Day 1. If he does, it means he has impressed coaches enough to bench a veteran. Nothing will be given to him (except up to 10 drug tests per month, per NBC Sports).
Predicted Season Stats: 65 tackles, 4 INT, 10 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
Former University of Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason is back in the Grand Canyon State in hopes of turning around his career. While in San Diego, the former first-round pick of the Chargers struggled as a zone-coverage corner. In Arizona, he will be asked to play more man-coverage, which suits his game well.
He can rely on his athleticism and length to cover wide receivers and not have to worry about where to be in coverage.
Cason has 12 career interceptions entering his sixth NFL season. His best year for picks was in 2010, when he recorded four. That season he was rated as the No. 11 cornerback in the league, according to ProFootballFocus.
Even considered one of the top cornerbacks that year, Cason still allowed five touchdowns. In fact, he has allowed more touchdowns than interceptions every season as a pro, totaling 25 touchdowns allowed to his dozen interceptions.
He will battle Jerraud Powers for the No. 2 cornerback role, and the loser should play plenty as the nickel corner. I see Cason winning the battle.
Predicted Season Stats: 62 tackles, 2 INT, 16 passes defended
Jerraud Powers, 4
Powers was signed by Arizona just before Cason was. Like Cason, Powers spent most of his time with his drafting team--in this case, the Indianapolis Colts--surrendering touchdowns and disappointing hoards of fans.
In four seasons, Powers has allowed 10 touchdowns and has picked off six passes. He hasn't been as productive--or destructive (TDs)--as Cason, but he has been dealing with something more troubling.
Where Cason has been durable, not missing a single game in five seasons, Powers has been dubbed as "officially injury-prone," by Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
Kuharsky noted that Powers has ended the last three seasons on the injured reserve list, missing 18 regular-season games over that span due to various injuries.
Said Kuharsky: "It may be a string of bad luck, but if you've got a string of bad luck like this one, you're officially injury-prone."
Predicted Season Stats: 40 tackles, 6 passes defended
Patrick Peterson, 2
The only players in Cardinals history with more interceptions through two seasons than Peterson (9) are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (10) and Lionel Washington (13). That same pair are at the top of the list of INTs through three seasons as well. Peterson would need six picks this season to surpass Washington's franchise record of 14, which he set from 1983 to 85.
That should be no problem for Peterson if he has the kind of year in 2013 as he did in 2012, when he recorded seven interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl as a corner (his Pro-Bowl appearance following his rookie season was as a returner).
Peterson can be left alone on one half of the field to cover the opposition's No. 1 receiver. That will allow Bowles the freedom to play more of a single-high safety look and have his strong safety play mostly in the box.
It's what we saw from the New York Jets when Darrelle Revis was there.
That kind of isolation resulted in 95 targets to receivers he covered in 2012, which is a lot. It could be that way for another year or so before teams start game-planning around him the way teams currently do for Revis, and that should mean another year packed with Peterson picks.
Predicted Season Stats: 76 tackles, 6 INT, 2 returned for TD, 22 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Shaun Church has covered the Arizona Cardinals for more than three years on various online publications and considers himself a life-long fan. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, Football Nation, The Boston Metro, ESPN.com and more.
Questions or comments? E-mail Shaun at firstname.lastname@example.org
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