The words Arizona Cardinals and optimism go together like peanut butter and jelly in 2014. In previous years, it was more like peanut butter and antifreeze. But how did we go from antifreeze to jelly?
The Cardinals made the right decision in bringing on Steve Keim as general manager. He took the reins and started making moves right away that helped shape the turnaround of the team. Signing Karlos Dansby and John Abraham were big keys to the defensive success. Drafting Andre Ellington and Tyrann Mathieu both paid off as smart moves as they both made headlines for good reasons. Jonathan Cooper will also be a factor on the offensive line in 2014.
Now he has a very big offseason ahead of him with a big free-agent class.
Keim’s hiring of Bruce Arians as head coach turned out to be a solid move. After a slow start, he got the team turned around and figured out how to get great results out of what many predicted to be a blah team in 2013. The stability of leadership this team has is a big reason to be optimistic.
Carson Palmer did okay in 2013 and that’s cause for optimism. He threw for more than 4,000 yards and became the first quarterback in league history to do that with three teams. He was able to complete high-percentage passes and bring his interceptions down at the end of the season. Once the team got rolling in the second half of the season Palmer was able to bring the offense to consistent, solid levels. That’s something not seen too often in Arizona. Neither is the same quarterback starting all 16 games which Arizona had this season for the first time in several years.
The Cardinals had the best run defense in football. The defensive front line of Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, and Darnell Dockett are all under contract for next season. Dansby and Daryl Washington are hopeful to be back and with an upgrade at outside linebacker Arizona will only get better.
Arizona was competitive in the toughest division in the league. No other division had three 10-win teams. The Cardinals went 2-4 in the division but one win was a huge on at Seattle and they took the 49ers to the limit in the season finale.
Arizona picked up momentum in the second half of the season by winning seven of their final nine games. They were the team nobody wanted to face had they gotten into the playoffs and that goes to show how put together it was.
The offensive line played better despite having unknowns on the line and some upheaval. Daryn Colledge is the usual right guard but was pressed into service on the left side after Cooper’s broken leg in the preseason. They got rid of Levi Brown and his bloated contract which also helped out too. Of course, it’s going to bite the team in the tailfeathers for the next couple seasons but it beats having a turnstyle at left tackle.
All told, the Cardinals surprised many people and energized their fan base. It’s six months until training camp opens and optimism is in the air in Phoenix just like the scent of orange blossoms.