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Offensive Line is Key to Arizona Cardinals Success in 2013

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COMMENTARY | With a better offensive line in 2012, former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb may have remained healthy. He may have continued leading the team to victory after victory, and he may have ultimately led the team to the playoffs.

That would have led to former head coach and general manager tandem of Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves sticking around a little longer, which would have led to the possibility of losing Steve Keim to a general manager job somewhere else around the league.

Here are a couple stats for you to think about while you read the rest of this:

Since the sack became an official stat for the 1982 NFL season, the last three seasons' worth of sacks allowed totals by Arizona's line (2010-2012) all rank in the top 12 for most allowed in franchise history. The three seasons prior to that in which Kurt Warner started the majority of games (2007-2009) represent the bottom three single-season sacks allowed totals.

"The Warner years" produced three non-losing seasons, two division titles and the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance. The last three "Post-Warner years" have given us three non-winning seasons, six starting quarterbacks and zero playoff appearances.

They say everything happens for a reason. Despite Cardinals players, coaches and fans suffering through another gut-wrenching season in 2012, it was a good thing last year turned out the way it did.

Why?

The 5-11 record and last-place finish in the NFC West prompted team president Michael Bidwill to make wholesale changes within the coaching staff. Everyone but tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens, strength and conditioning coach John Lott, and Lott's assistant, Pete Alosi, remained out of 17 coaches.

Keim and his new head coach, Bruce Arians, have created a new culture in the locker room in a remarkably short amount of time.

Their main focus this offseason was to fortify the offensive line. They did so by adding former San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears offensive guard Chilo Rachal through free agency, and by selecting guards Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford in the NFL draft.

Rachal is of no threat to start at guard, but he is comparable to right guard Adam Snyder. And at a cheaper salary, he can be a veteran backup on a team in need of them.

In drafting Cooper and releasing Snyder, Arizona made the biggest possible improvement to the roster. Even though Cooper has not played a single snap in an NFL game, he is already a better player than Snyder ever will be (that is not as much a knock on Snyder as it is praise for Cooper).

Just where Cooper will play is not certain yet. He was assumedly going to take over at right guard for Snyder, but with veteran left guard Daryn Colledge moving to the right side so Cooper can work out on the left, anything is possible at this point.

Keep in mind we are still months from seeing any real game action, however. What goes on in unpadded minicamps and organized team activities could be the law, so to speak, or it could mean very little.

Regardless of which guard plays where, the offensive line is more important to the team's success in 2012 and beyond than any quarterback playing under center.

An able signal-caller certainly helps, but even the best of quarterbacks can struggle with poor protection--save for Aaron Rodgers, who had to deal with a rather leaky line himself last year and still led the NFL with a 108.0 passer rating.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was one of many new additions to the team this offseason and is coming off one of his best statistical seasons as a pro. He threw for 4,018 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for an 85.3 passer rating. It was the third time in nine seasons he surpassed the 4,000-yard mark. He had a solid offensive line in Oakland, but the rest of the team around him lacked the drive to compete week in and week out. Therefore, the Raiders were putrid.

Palmer will not experience that in Arizona.

A new vision for the franchise starts with Keim, a former offensive lineman, and Arians, a former quarterback. They know an offense revolves around its line and that the only way to improve the Arizona's offense was to improve its line.

Cooper is a big upgrade, but do not forget returning veteran tackle Levi Brown. Before his triceps injury sidelined him for the entire 2012 season, Brown was among the most scrutinized players on the roster. At the season's conclusion, fans were left wondering what could have been if only Brown were healthy and playing left tackle.

D'Anthony Batiste was abysmal in replacing Brown. Rookie Nate Potter was better but not great in replacing Batiste. Brown provides a sigh of relief to Cardinals quarterbacks, knowing they do not have to withstand the beating last year's bunch did.

Last year's fourth-round pick, right tackle Bobby Massie, was among the top performers at his position over the back half of the season. He allowed 13 sacks the first eight games, but he was one of two right tackles who started all 16 games and did not allow a sack the final eight games--the other being the Atlanta Falcons' Tyson Clabo.

Center Lyle Sendlein will return from tearing the MCL in his left knee, and though he is not an elite lineman, he has been the rock on the line for the Cardinals since becoming the weekly starter in 2008. Before the injury, Sendlein had started 80 consecutive games for the Cardinals. He is the leader of the line, and the unit will benefit from his return.

A better offensive line makes the entire offense more consistent. Open running lanes makes the rushing attack more potent, in turn creating a better play-action attack, in turn creating a better passing attack. It is all connected, but the connector is the line.

Without it, all the talent in the world on one offensive roster is useless (again, save for Rodgers and Co.).

Shaun Church is a student of football statistics who looks for obscure numbers and provides in-depth analysis when something noteworthy is found. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, Football Nation, The Boston Metro, ESPN.com and more.

You can follow Shaun on Twitter @Church_NFL

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