An in-depth look at the offseason changes of the Arizona Cardinals. The toughest rival from last bolstered their defense, but question marks remain on offense.
As we approach mini-camps and off-season workouts I thought we should take a look at the other teams in Seattle’s division to see how they fared in the draft and free agency and how those selections might impact the Seahawks.
Let’s start with the 2015 NFC West Champion Arizona Cardinals.
On offense the Arizona Cardinals were already talented and did not have a lot of holes to fill. QB Carson Palmer was spectacular last season until he hurt his thumb in week 15. The WR core has three legitimate play makers (Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd) that move the chains and provide big play potential. David Johnson came on strong during the second half of the season at RB and flashed big play potential. However this is a team that still has some questions at tight end and the offensive line.
During free agency the Cardinals traded away guard Jonathan Cooper but signed guard Evan Mathis to join their starting five up front. The Cardinals also lost tackle Bobbie Massie to the Bears but they plan to move last year’s first round pick DJ Humphries into the RT position to replace the hole Massie left. The Cardinals resigned Jermaine Gresham to pair with Darren Fells at the tight end position.
The only offensive player they drafted was in the fourth round and was center Evan Boehm out of Missouri who will compete with veteran AQ Shipley to replace Lyle Sendlein as the starting center.
As long as Carson Palmer can stay healthy there is no reason to believe the Cardinals offense won’t be as good as they were last year. Although there are still some questions on the offensive line and at the tight end position. During their two games last season the Seahawks gave up 39 points at home and six points in Arizona to the Cardinals. Although it is worth noting that Carson Palmer was playing with an injured thumb in the second of those match-ups.
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Going into the 2016 season it is fair to assume that those two scores represent the high and low ends of the spectrum and that an average of 16 to 20 points a game to the Cardinals this season is reasonable. With the moves the Seahawks have made on defense the running game for Arizona should not prove a major stumbling block but the Cardinals air attack may present a problem for the Seahawks defense.
Like much of the league the Cardinals saw a dominate pass rush win Super Bowl 50 and they have done their best to improve their own pass rush going into next season. In a trade with the New England Patriot the Cardinals added pass rush specialist DE Chandler Jones and they also draft DT Robert Nkemdiche at the end of the first round. These two moves were aimed at improving the Cardinals pass rush going into the 2016 season.
The Cardinals lost CB Jarraud Powers and SS Rashad Johnson to free agency but should return a healthy Tyrann Mathieu who will be joined by newly acquired Tyvon Branch from the Oakland Raiders; who can play corner or safety.
The Cardinals also drafted two corners in the NFL draft; Brandon Williams (Texas A&M) was drafted in the third round and Harlan Miller (Southeastern Louisiana) was drafted in the sixth round. The Cardinals also added one safety in the fifth round Marqui Christian (Midwestern State) to help add depth to their secondary.
This was one of the better defenses last season and that should continue to be the case in 2016. In both games against the Seahawks last season the Seahawks offense eclipsed the 30 point mark. With the moves the Seahawks have made to get bigger up front and the improved Cardinals pass rush that 30 point mark might be difficult to eclipse again this season. The Seahawks goal on offense should be able to own the line of scrimmage which will allow them to control the tempo of the game and keep the Cardinals offense on the sidelines.
Through the draft and free agency the Arizona Cardinals added some pieces to solidify what was already good team with championship aspirations. The Cardinals should see a pass rush upgrade with Jones and Nkemdiche and even with some question marks along the offensive line, tight end, and in the defensive secondary this team should contend for the NFC West title yet again this season.
The Seahawks and Cardinals have a bit of a budding rivalry brewing and their two games during the 2016 season should continue to fuel that fire.
I expect both games to be close and like last year a season split is not out of the realm of possibilities. However, much of the Cardinals success in the 2016 season will be determined by the health of 36-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer, who the Seahawks should try to pressure as much as possible.