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Online Cardinals Lines & Predictions - Arizona Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Arizona Cardinals Season Preview

2006 Cardinals NFL News - September 1st, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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Do Arizona Cardinals fans dare and raise their expectations? Can they look at the team's sparkling-new, state-of-the-art stadium and not expect that the play on the field will match the beauty of the field itself?

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Will they note the presence of two quarterbacks, one a two-time NFL MVP, the other perhaps the finest quarterback to come out of the 2006 draft, and assume that one or both of them might lead the franchise to greatness?

Shouldn't they behold the site of two of the league's best wide receivers, two guys for whom the age of 30 is not even a distant blip on the horizon, and deduce that these guys will be suiting up for playoff games sooner rather than later?

How can they stifle their excitement when the man brought in to re-energize their running game is a four-time 1,500-yard rusher, is eighth in NFL history in 100-yard games, and won't hit the drop-dead age of 30 until 2008?

Cynics could easily answer all of the above questions in the negative, dismissing any trickle of enthusiasm by saying only, "C'mon, these are the Cardinals."

And while the history is all right there on paper - no division titles since 1975, two postseason appearances since that year, one playoff win since 1964, one winning season since arriving in Arizona in 1988 - as the roof of Cardinals Stadium retracts, revealing the bright blue sky of the Grand Canyon State, a long-suffering fan could be led to believe that a new day is indeed dawning for a formerly hapless organization.

Or maybe those folks are just being blinded by the sun.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Arizona Cardinals, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 5-11 (3rd, NFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 1998, lost to Minnesota, 41-21, in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Dennis Green (11-21 in one season with Cardinals, 108-83 overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Keith Rowen

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast

OFFENSIVE STAR: Larry Fitzgerald, WR (103 receptions, 1409 yards, 10 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Adrian Wilson, FS (109 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 INT)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 32nd rushing, 1st passing, t17th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 10th rushing, 12th passing, t26th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Seattle (9/17), St. Louis (9/24), Chicago (10/16), Dallas (11/12), at St. Louis (12/3)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Matt Leinart, (1st Round, USC), RB Edgerrin James (from Colts), WR/RS Troy Walters (from Colts), TE Leonard Pope (3rd Round, Georgia), OL Brandon Gorin (from Patriots), G Milford Brown (from Texans), G Deuce Lutui (2nd Round, USC), DT Kendrick Clancy (from Giants), S Jack Brewer (from Eagles)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Josh McCown (to Lions), FB Harold Morrow (not tendered), OL Ian Allen (to Chiefs), DT Russell Davis (to Seahawks), DT Ross Kolodziej (to Vikings), S Quentin Harris (to Giants), KR Reggie Swinton (not tendered)

QB: Kurt Warner (2713 passing yards, 11 TD, 9 INT) showed he could still play in his first season with Arizona, nearing the 3,000-yard mark despite playing in just 10 games due to injury. Warner is clearly comfortable in Dennis Green's offense, but he's 35 and injury-prone (his last full season was 2001), which prompted the team to select Matt Leinart (USC) with the No. 10 overall pick in the April draft. Leinart, who threw 99 touchdown passes versus just 23 interceptions in three years at Southern Cal, was seen as the most polished quarterback available in the draft, and at the first sign of trouble with Warner, he's likely to be given a shot. Behind those two is third-year-pro John Navarre (174 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), who has played meaningful minutes in a couple of games but has little chance to move up the depth chart.

RB: The Cardinals came close to becoming a historically bad rushing team last year, waiting until Week 10 to notch their first ground touchdown of the season and posting just one more rushing score the rest of the way. The two rushing TDs were just one off the dubious league record of one, set by the Brooklyn Dodgers (in 11 games played) in 1934. Though the offensive approach and the work of the line had much to do with that trend, the Cardinals also lacked a credible No. 1 running back, which is precisely why Edgerrin James (1506 rushing yards, 44 receptions, 14 TD with the Colts) ended up in the desert. James, a four-time Pro Bowler and 1,500-yard rusher, is 28 years old but the team believes will hold up for at least a couple more years. Relegated to backup roles following James' arrival were 2005 second-round pick J.J. Arrington (370 rushing yards, 2 TD, 25 receptions), a major disappointment as a rookie, and Marcel Shipp (451 rushing yards, 35 receptions), who has managed to start 22 games since the 2002 season without scoring a touchdown. Obafemi Ayanbadejo (46 rushing yards, 34 receptions) is back at fullback, and converted tight end John Bronson is likely to stick as his backup.

WR/TE: Though their individual success and unquestionable skills have yet to lead to a great number of wins, Larry Fitzgerald (103 receptions, 10 TD) and Anquan Boldin (102 receptions, 7 TD) are arguably the top receiving duo in the entire NFL. Fitzgerald and Boldin last year became the first teammates to post 100 catches and 1,400 yards in the same season since the Lions' tandem of Herman Moore and Brett Perriman did so in 1995. More scary than their numbers is the fact that Fitzgerald just turned 23 years old, and Boldin is only 26. The presence of that duo should mean lots more wide-open opportunities for former first-round pick Bryant Johnson (40 receptions, 1 TD), and though Johnson has underachieved during his career, he may have turned the corner with a huge preseason. Ex-Colt Troy Walters (14 receptions, 3 TD with Indianapolis) looks like the fourth receiver. With projected No. 5 receiver LeRon McCoy (18 receptions, 1 TD) expected to miss the first month of the season following thumb surgery, players like rookie Todd Watkins (7th Round, BYU) and holdover Carlyle Holiday saw their chances improve. Tight ends Adam Bergen (28 receptions, 1 TD) and Eric Edwards (12 receptions, 1 TD) both return, but third-round draft choice Leonard Pope (Georgia) could take time away from both.

OL: The major Achilles heel for the Cardinals offense last season was across the line, and though the organization made some small strides in the interests of improving this area for 2006, the group is still viewed by many as a bottom-tier unit. The tackles were again supposed to be Leonard Davis on the left side and Oliver Ross the right, though Ross, who missed four games with a broken hand in 2005, was expected to miss the first month with a torn meniscus suffered in training camp. With Ross out, either former Patriot Brandon Gorin (8 starts with New England), converted d-end Fred Wakefield (nine starts in 2005) or Jeremy Bridges (3 starts) will be the next man in. Returning to the starting lineup along with Davis are center Alex Stepanovich, who missed seven starts with a shoulder injury last year, and left guard Reggie Wells, who was out the same number of games with a broken ankle. Ex-Texan Milford Brown, a 12-game starter in Houston last season, looked to have an edge on rookie Deuce Lutui (2nd Round, USC) for right guard duties as the preseason neared its conclusion. Nick Leckey, who has played in 30 games as a Cardinal over the past two seasons, can back up either the center or guard slots.

DL: The Arizona pass rush hit the skids when defensive end Bertrand Berry (33 tackles, 6 sacks) was lost for the year to a torn pectoral muscle suffered eight games into 2005. Berry is back and healthy, and will combine with fellow end Chike Okeafor (51 tackles, 7.5 sacks) to rush the passer. On the interior, the team acquired Kendrick Clancy (37 tackles, 2 sacks with the Giants) in free agency, and Clancy will combine with holdover Darnell Dockett (29 tackles, 0.5 sacks) in an attempt to stifle the run. Backups at end should include Antonio Smith (16 tackles, 3 sacks), who was decent in eight starts after Berry went down last season, and either '05 practice squad member Tyler King or '06 undrafted free agent A.J. Schable (South Dakota). At tackle, holdovers Tim Bulman (7 tackles) and Langston Moore (9 tackles, 1 sack) will have to hold off draft picks Gabe Watson (4th Round, Michigan) and Jonathan Lewis (6th Round, Virginia Tech) to remain on the roster.

LB: There is trouble brewing in this area, as the team's most talented linebacker, strong side man Karlos Dansby (88 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 INT), took up residency in Dennis Green's doghouse after seemingly nursing small injuries throughout the preseason. When and if Dansby comes back, his spot might have been given to converted defensive end and 2003 first-round pick Calvin Pace (11 tackles, 1 sack), who had a terrific training camp and preseason. Slated for duties in the middle is Gerald Hayes, who missed all of 2005 with a knee injury but appeared to have the edge on incumbent James Darling (88 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) as the regular season neared. Darling and Dansby could both be candidates for time at the weak side linebacker position, where 2005 third- round draft pick Darryl Blackstock (12 tackles, 1 sack) and veteran Orlando Huff (69 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) were also vying for time. Either Huff or Darling, who have a combined 14 years of NFL experience between them, will likely be excised if fifth-round draft choice Brandon Johnson (5th Round, Louisville) makes the team.

DB: The secondary has the potential to be the strength of the Arizona defense, though health will be a major factor in that development. Cornerback Antrel Rolle (28 tackles, 1 INT) struggled with a knee injury throughout his rookie season, but the No. 8 overall pick in the 2005 draft appears to have put those troubles behind him. The other corner, David Macklin (61 tackles, 2 INT) has been among the team's most reliable defensive players and should be able to hold off second-year man Eric Green (41 tackles, 1 INT) in maintaining his starting status. The Cardinals' top playmaker is strong safety Adrian Wilson (109 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 INT), who set an NFL record for sacks from a defensive back a year ago. Free safety Robert Griffith (64 tackles, 1 INT) will retain his starting job, but Green is also high on second-year man Aaron Francisco (7 tackles). Holdovers Robert Tate (28 tackles, 2 INT), Ernest Shazor (1 tackle) and journeyman Jack Brewer (3 tackles with the Eagles) are fighting for at most two reserve jobs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Neil Rackers (40-42 FG) emerged from relative obscurity to set the NFL single-season record for field goals last year. The Pro Bowler was 6- of-7 on kicks of 50 yards or longer last year, and at just 30 years old, should be a fixture in the desert for years to come. Trusty punter Scott Player (43.9 avg.) is back as well. Bryant Johnson was penciled in for punt and kickoff returns in the preseason, though newcomer Troy Walters also has NFL experience in both areas. Nathan Hodel is back for his fifth season as the Cardinals' long-snapper.

PROGNOSIS: It's a year later, but are the Cardinals a year better? The team's perceived areas of weakness heading into 2005 were the running game, offensive line, and linebacker, and heading into 2006, only the running game has been fully addressed. James is a major upgrade in the backfield, but will he find any holes running behind the porous Arizona line? Will that same group be able to keep Warner, Leinart, or whoever plays quarterback upright, and allow Fitzgerald and Boldin to get downfield where they're most dangerous? Will the defense be able to stay healthy for an entire season, and will any consistent playmakers step up? These questions are legitimate, and there is historical precedent to suggest they won't be answered in the affirmative. But based on the talent that is in place, based on the number of close games Green and company lost last season, and based on the continued weakness of the NFC West, you can make a case for the Cardinals threatening for a playoff berth. They'll need much better luck than the franchise has had for the past 50 years or so, but the possibility indeed exists.


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