Arizona Cardinals 2010 Season Preview: Where Have You Gone, Kurt Warner?
Kurt Warner helped the Cardinals put their image as laughingstocks to rest when he arrived in the desert and led the team to an NFC championship, then a second straight divisional title in 2009. It probably shouldn't be that much of a surprise, then, that his departure would have the opposite effect on the team.
There's more to the game than just quarterbacks, of course, but the bungled end of the summer in Arizona makes clear that they are unsettled at the most important position on the field. That's why it looks like their reign as NFC West top dogs has come to an end.
Offense -- Saying things were screwed up in Arizona is in no way an argument that it should have kept Matt Leinart around. It is an argument that the Cardinals should have done more to set themselves up with an alternative when he proved to be exactly the same quarterback he's been for several years. Derek Anderson isn't good enough, and you're jumping off a cliff with Max Hall or John Skelton. Not making matters easier will be an offensive line that isn't particularly good at protecting the pocket. At least Beanie Wells looks primed for a breakout year and, assuming the ball finds its way to him, Larry Fitzgerald is still a beast. Heat Index: 6
Defense -- If the Cardinals are going to hold onto the NFC West crown, this is the unit that will be responsible. That's impressive given the departures of Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle. They are strong all the way from tackle to safety and, in fact, Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson are two of the best in the league at those positions. They'll provide leadership while cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie handles big plays and, fingers crossed, Joey Porter brings the thunder off the edge. That last bit is questionable, which makes it a good thing that Greg Toler will continue to grow as a corner on the other side. Heat Index: 7
Special Teams -- Neil Rackers is gone after seven fine years as the kicker, but they got a strong replacement for him in Jay Feely. The loss of Anquan Boldin means Steve Breaston will play more receiver and do less punt returning. That will hurt the team, although LaRod Stephens-Howling has done a decent job on kick returns and should mitigate whatever loss is felt on punts. The punt team was mediocre last season, although the problem seemed to be more with the coverage unit than punter Ben Graham. Heat Index: 6
Coaching -- There's no doubt that Ken Whisenhunt has done a fine job since taking over the Cardinals, but his handling of the quarterback vacancy can be the kind of thing that dooms a tenure. He wasn't the one who invested in Leinart (or chose to send Boldin away, for that matter), but he's going to have to remake an explosive offensive team into one defined by a controlled running game and stingy defense. If it works, he's a genius, but these kinds of overhauls often hit snags that lead to changes on the sidelines. Heat Index: 6
Intangibles -- It is odd to see such a successful team undergo as many changes as the Cardinals did this offseason. When the changes include leaders and tough guys like Boldin and Warner, it creates a void that needs to be filled. The Cardinals have good candidates in Dockett, Fitzgerald and Wilson, but taking on a new identity isn't always the easiest thing to pull off on the fly. Heat Index: 5
Total Heat Index: 30/50 -- The Cardinals are a hard team to predict because they aren't going to look much like the last two incarnations of the team. At this point, however, they have more holes than the 49ers and that makes it impossible to leave them in the divisional driver's seat.