Pretenders or Contenders? Breaking Down the Arizona Cardinals Offense

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Arizona Cardinals may be the most difficult team to read in the NFL. At 6-4 with wins against the Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers under their belt, they certainly have the resume of a legitimate playoff team. With blowout losses to the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, however, they have shown some chinks in their armor that may prove fatal when push comes to shove.

So which team is the true Arizona Cardinals? The one that we saw last week with an excellent defense and a galore of offensive weapons for quarterback Carson Palmer to throw to? Or is it the team that can't cover a tight end if their life depended on it and seemingly turns the ball over more than they score? Over the next few days I will be dissecting the Arizona Cardinals in every phase of the game to determine whether or not they are a contender or pretender. First up: the offense.

Quarterback: Ever since Kurt Warner retired, the Achilles' heel of the Cardinals has always seemed to be their quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals had fielded eight quarterbacks in the three years prior to this season, and this quarterback conundrum ultimately costed former head coach Ken Whisenhunt his job.

The lack of production from the quarterback position was expected to change when QB guru Bruce Arians was named head coach during the 2013 offseason and he brought in veteran signal caller Carson Palmer. Despite some bumps in the road and interceptions on the road there seems to finally be signs of life from this seasoned duo.

Carson Palmer has played a big part in the recent surge of productivity in the Cardinal offense, amassing 1090 yards with a 73.2% pass completion percentage and eight touchdowns compared to just four interceptions the past four games.

His numbers aren't eye popping for the most part, but he has played efficient football and should be able to keep the Cardinals in most games if he continues to limit the turnovers. That may be a problem, however, as Palmer has been plagued with turnovers throughout his career, usually back breaking ones at key points in the game. Which Palmer shows up in the home stretch will ultimately determine whether the Cardinals make the playoffs or not, so can the real Carson Palmer please stand up? And more importantly, not throw interceptions?

Running back: What If I told you before the season started that neither Rashard Mendenhall nor Ryan Williams would be the most productive back on the Cardinals roster this season? You'd probably ask who Arizona planned on signing, because sixth round running back Andre Ellington was considered too raw and too small to make an immediate impact.

Ellington has proven the doubters wrong, not only becoming the best back on the roster, but becoming the most productive player on the Cardinals offense in general, totaling 617 yards from scrimmage to go along with three touchdowns so far this season. The only thing currently stopping Ellington from breaking out into a legitimate offensive rookie of the year candidate is head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians thus far has shown blind loyalty to incumbent and unproductive starter Rashard Mendenhall and has maintained a stubborn viewpoint on Ellington's size, claiming that Andre is too small to be a featured back despite similarly sized Jamaal Charles tearing up the NFL for the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cards cannot keep getting 2.9 yards per carry from their starting running back and expect to compete with the NFL's elite teams. This issue has a relatively easy solution, but it may be one that Arians won't realize until it's too late.

Wide receiver: The receiving corps of the Cardinals has long been considered a strong point for the team, largely due to the presence of All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. While Fitzgerald is without a doubt an incredible talent and a future Hall of Famer, his protege, second year receiver Michael Floyd, has been stealing the spotlight as of late.

The 2013 first round draft pick has been a consistent option all season for Palmer to throw to opposite a bracketed and injured Fitz, but he exploded last week against Jacksonville. After a few drops on what should have been easy catches, the second year receiver beast moded the Jaguars secondary to the tune of six receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown. That was Floyd's second time surpassing 150 yards receiving in a game, whereas Larry Fitzgerald hasn't eclipsed 150 yards in a game since the 2008 season.

I'm not saying that Floyd is a superior receiver to Larry, as Fitzgerald constantly requires extra attention that frees up Floyd to make plays while defenses are focusing in on Fitz. What I am saying though is that this receiving corps is no longer carried by one player. All of the team's receivers, including Andre Roberts, Teddy Williams, Jaron Brown, and Brittan Golden, have made game changing plays, and help make the receiver position the deepest group of players Arizona has on their roster.

Tight end: It is amazing how well two tight end sets work when you have two capable tight ends on the field. When the Cardinals signed Jake Ballard to a one year deal earlier this season, it lit a fire under struggling starter Rob Housler.

Neither have posted eye popping stats, but they have shown up during key times in games and have banded together to put together the best play from Cardinals tight ends in recent memory. While that tidbit is more of an inclination of the terrible state the tight end position has been in in Arizona, it is nice to get some semblance of competence on the team.

Offensive line: The main question mark for the Cardinals offense is the offensive line. At times, they seem to gel together great, opening up holes for the running game and giving Palmer more than enough time to operate in the pocket. Other times, however, they look just like the terrible line that has been the stuff of nightmares for the Cardinals quarterbacks for what seems like ever.

This is the main area of concern for Arizona on the offensive side of the ball, and one that shows the least hope for the immediate future. Interior linemen Daryn Colledge and Lyle Sendlein are both quietly having good individual seasons, but Paul Fanaika, Eric Winston, and Bradley Sowell are all liabilities in both run and pass blocking, and negate any positives Colledge and Sendlein bring to the table.

The wildcard here is second year right tackle Bobby Massie. He finished last season off strong after struggling mightily in the first half of 2012, and was expected to be the anchor in a much improved Arizona line. He struggled to learn Bruce Arians' playbook and was replaced by free agent Eric Winston. Fast forward 11 weeks and Winston is struggling and Massie is getting reps in games. If Arians gives the young tackle a chance, this unit may just become solid enough to scrape by until next season.

Cody Milford is an up and coming sports writer hailing from Arizona. His passion is covering the Arizona Cardinals, and his work has been associated with Sports Kings, Yardbarker, Bleacher Report, and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter.
Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Baseball
View Comments