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Monday, 12 January 2015

Arizona Cardinals: What Went Wrong, 2014 Final Report Card

What tale will be told about the Arizona Cardinals after a 2014 campaign that had them looking like the team to beat in the NFC, and possibly the whole league? It really is a story of what went wrong on the road to what should have been another great Super Bowl run.

1. Quarterback catastrophe...

Riding the arm of Carson Palmer is not a bad deal, but losing the star QB for the season in November was not Bruce Arian's plan. Palmer had missed multiple games after week 1, but was never in doubt as the starter. His 62.9% completion rate and 11 TDs vs 3 INTs had led the team to six of their eight victories.

In Palmer's stead, Drew Stanton performed fairly well, with the full confidence of the coaching staff. But his 55% rate, 7 TDs vs 5 INTs was a far cry from Palmer's. He also contributed three losses in the eight games he started. But ona fateful Thursday night, Stanton also went down, paving the way for the saddest chapter of this story.

Ryan Lindley was then pressed into service, contributing two more losses to end the season and limp into the playoffs. His 59% rate, 2 TDs and 3 INTs proved that this team needed their leader to complete the story.

Grade: A solid A that degraded to a solid F by season's end.

2. Offense spinning its wheels...

It wasn't that Arizona didn't give their QBs the weapons to succeed; injuries also decimated the running game and receivers. Andre Ellington was an integral part of this offense for 12 games before landing on IR. Larry Fitzgerald was a shadow of his stellar self due to a lingering knee injury. He still managed 784 yards, but only put up two TDs. Michael FLoyd became the go to guy, and he added 841 yards and six TDs. Rookie John Brown was the next best thing to a threat with 696 yards and five TDs on the year. As the season wore on, the production took a dive. BY the time the playoffs arrived, the Cardinals couldn't muster more than a whimper.

Grade: Another case of... a B that degraded to a D by season's end.

3. Strong defense...

Arizona has one of the best defenses in the league. While that wins championships, the offensive implosion doomed the team. The defense simply couldn't do it all. In points allowed, the Cardinals ranked fifth. They were stingy. They were 7th in interceptions with 18, 3 of those for TDs. But as the season progressed, their load was too great, seeing way too  much playing time as the offense collapsed.

Grade: Solid B.

4. Special Teams not so special...

This was not a strong point overall. Ted Ginn Jr. handled the return duties, and didn't stand out in any category. His total return yardage was respectable at 417, but he only scored one TD, a 71 yard punt return. It was enough to put the Cardinals in good field position on several occasions. Chandler Catanzaro was a very average field goal kicker at 88%; simlly put, he was unreliable from 30 yards and out. In the punting dept, Drew Butler was disappointing taking over for injured Dave Zastudil. He was third worst in total average yards per punt and fifth worst in net yards. Wha that does show is that Arizona had good punt coverage, never surrendering a TD on punts.

Grade: C+.

The bottom line for this team, the disappointing reality, was the injuries at key positions. The sky would have been the limit in a perfect world; but the NFL is not a perfect world. This team has some big needs and issues to address in the off-season. I think a solid and healthy back-up QB is the top priority.

As long as Arians is in charge, this team has no where to go but up. Between coaching and ovrall performance, I think we can still grade the season a solid B.


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