The magical season of the Arizona Cardinals came to a sad and disappointing end last Saturday in a 27-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Despite the early exit, it was an impressive year for the Cardinals, a season which was filled with adversity because of injuries and suspensions.
We take a look at the season as a whole, including our MVP’s on both sides of the ball, surprises, disappointments and finally what this team needs to address during the offseason.
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Heat Waved: Who was your MVP of the offense this season?
Brendan Kennealy: While healthy, I would have to say Andre Ellington was the MVP of the offense this year. In 12 full games, he had at least 70 yards from scrimmage in nine contests and other than the game against St. Louis at home, he had at least 50+ yards in each game.
His ability as a dual-threat running back was a main key to the Cardinals hot start to the year. He finished with 1,055 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns.
Kevin Bonneville: With how the offense struggled this season, there’s no really sure-fire guy for this category. If Carson Palmer would have stayed healthy, it definitely would have been him, but you can’t give it to a guy who only started six games.
I’m actually going to go with Jared Veldheer. For years, the left side of the Cardinals offensive line was a troubled spot and he turned a major weakness into a big strength. For a line that had their ups and downs during the year with inconsistent play and injuries to the interior, Veldheer was the one constant. It’s great to have him on board.
Tony Fischer: Larry Fitzgerald was easily the most consistent player on offense. Fitz got a bit of a bad rap for having a down season this year. Although his numbers were down (63 receptions for 784 yards and 2 TD’s) he still led the team in receptions and yards after catch (331).
His lack of production can be attributed to all of the issues the Cardinals had at quarterback. If he had a consistent passer getting him the ball, Fitzgerald probably would have had at least 1,000 yards receiving.
HW: Who was your MVP of the defense?
Jan 3, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) runs the ball against Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) during the third quarter in the 2014 NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
BK: My defensive MVP of the year is Calais Campbell. Campbell, like the rest of the Cardinals’ roster this year it seems, missed some time due to injury, but still racked up big totals. In 14 games, he racked up 58 tackles, seven sacks and nine tackles for loss. He was the catalyst to the Cards’ strong rushing defense this year and has consistently been a monster on Arizona’s defensive line for years now.
KB: I agree with Brendan. Campbell is an easy choice. There’s probably not one thing that Campbell does at an elite level, but he does everything really, really well. This defense took plenty of hits in terms of injuries before and during the season, but they probably would have taken a huge step back if Campbell would have sat more than a couple of games.
I’ll also give a special mention to Larry Foote. When the Cards signed him, I thought he didn’t have any left in the tank, but his 2014 proved that he has still plenty of good football left in him at age 34.
TF: Rashad Johnson. He led the team in tackles (93) and interceptions (4) and was second in pass deflections (8). He made the most of his role in the defensive scheme and should have received more consideration for the Pro Bowl this year.
HW: Who/what was your biggest surprise?
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BK: My surprise of the year is how well Drew Stanton played after Palmer went down with a torn ACL. Stanton hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2010 with Detroit and was able to keep the Cardinals in the playoff chase in his nine games (before he went down with an injury…go figure).
Stanton went 5-3 in his eight starts while throwing for just over 1,700 yards, seven touchdowns and only five interceptions. He brought the Cards back from being down 14-10 entering the fourth quarter on the road against the Giants to win 25-14 in his first start of the year.
If Stanton hadn’t been able to step in as well as he did, the Cardinals very likely could have missed the playoffs.
KB: Stanton is a good one to mention. I thought this team was in serious trouble when Palmer went down the first time, but Stanton played well and held down the fort until Palmer was healthy enough to return. He played well after Palmer tore his ACL too.
I’m going to go in a different direction though and say that my biggest surprise is how well this team played well, managing to win 11 games, despite all the things that went against them. The Cards lost a number of starters, due to injuries and suspensions, and still managed to have a chance to get home-field advantage in the playoffs heading into the last week of the season.
It’s a testament to the depth that Steve Keim put together on the roster and how good of a coach Bruce Arians is.
TF: John Brown. Although statistically he was the just the third best receiver on the team, he went from fighting for a roster spot in camp to creating a role for himself as the Cards big play specialist.
By no means should Brown be the No. 1 receiving option but every team needs role players and the rookie seems to have found his role with the Cardinals.
Dec 7, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett (90) looks on prior to the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
HW: Who was your biggest disappointment?
BK: Obviously with all the injuries that the team sustained, it was disappointing that a team with so much promise wasn’t able to move on to the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs. Losing Darnell Dockett before the year started, then Palmer in the middle of the year, and then Stanton, and then Ellington, and the list goes on and on.
It’s all apart of the game of football, but still the injuries the team had to play through this year were very tough with many of the key skill players going down.
KB: The finish to the season was obviously disappointing, but the biggest disappointment for me was this organization’s inability to find a veteran quarterback once Stanton was lost. With that kind of injury, it was always a long shot for him to return, so looking for his replacement was a must.
Ryan Lindley is probably a great person, but he’s not a NFL quarterback. Heck he might not be a CFL quarterback. To ask him to go on the road and win a playoff game against a defense that played great at the end of the season is too much to ask.
That’s not to say that a veteran quarterback off the street definitely would have won that game, but it definitely would have given the Cardinals a much better shot than throwing Lindley out there.
TF: Ellington. The second-year man out of Clemson was supposed to emerge as the Cardinals dual threat out of threat out of the backfield. Instead he averaged just 3.3 years per carry and was unable to handle the load physically.
Hopefully his third year in the league will be a little different for Ellington but he can’t be counted on to carry the full load in the backfield.
HW: What’s the biggest area of need that this team needs to address this offseason?
Jan 3, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) and Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Larry Foote (50) dive for a loose ball during the third quarter in the 2014 NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
BK: The depth at the linebacker position is the Cardinals key area of need. Alex Okafor, Sam Acho, and Foote are solid center pieces at the position, but the depth at the position is extremely limited.
The Cardinals should go after a linebacker with the 24th overall pick and if they are able to move up in the draft to take Vic Beasley from Clemson then that would fulfill their need in an instant.
KB: Despite this team winning 11 games, there are a lot of question marks heading into this offseason. What are they going to do with Larry Fitzgerald? Will they bring back Daryl Washington? Do they still think Logan Thomas is still a long-term option at quarterback? Those are just of a few.
One of the biggest issues that I see with this roster at the moment is the interior of the offensive line. I think they are pretty solid at both tackle spots with Veldheer and Bobby Massie, but the two guard spots are worrisome.
It’s too early to call Jonathan Cooper a bust, but he needs to prove that he can stay on the football field. He hasn’t been able to do that for two years now. I like Ted Larsen and Paul Fanaika more as depth guys than actual starters, so drafting or signing one guard is a must, maybe two depending on the Cooper situation.
If Washington isn’t brought back, then linebacker is definitely going to be addressed. Okafor was a very pleasant surprise this season, but it wouldn’t hurt to add another guy who can get after the quarterback on the outside.
TF: A strong ground game can make up for quite a few weaknesses in the passing game. That could have come in handy for the Cardinals this season instead they ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing offense. If the Cards are serious about competing next season, they must do a better job of running the ball.