kept scoring off the charts every game, finally finishing the regular season with the NFL’s best rushing defense (holding foes -24.9 percent on the average expected play), the fifth-best passing defense (-11.2 percent) and second-best overall defense (-16.4 percent), according to FootballOutsiders.com. Such numerical dominance might make one skeptical of the metrics, but the old-school scouts would all point out they have never seen three freaks of nature like the defensive leaders of the team, giant lineman Calais Campbell, speedster corner Patrick Peterson and unstoppable safety Tyrann Mathieu. Shoot, even 36-year-old stalwart linebacker John Abraham stood out on the middle row, playing like his younger brethren, piling up 11.5 sacks and 4 forced CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES SPORT SCOREBOARD 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFF FINISH - - - - Div REGULAR SEASON W-L 10-6 5-11 8-8 5-11 10-6 POINTS PER GAME 23.7 15.6 19.5 18.1 23.4 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 20.2 22.3 21.8 27.1 20.3 YARDS PER GAME 346.4 263.1 330.8 269.3 344.4 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 317.4 337.8 355.1 373.6 347.1 TURNOVERS 31 34 28 35 36 TAKEAWAYS 30 33 26 30 29 Calais Campbell (#93) and Dan Williams (#92) fumbles at the grand age of 36. Can they continue their dominating ways? These four, yes. The rest of the defense is where the real question lies. Abraham’s linebacking corps is the most susceptible to a drop-off, with no one thinking injured ex-Steeler Larry Foote and second-year Kevin Minter can hold down Cardinal starter positions this season, which is similar to the doubts expressed in 2013 when fellow linebacker and former Raider Matt Shaughnessy was also thrust into a starter position. Well, regardless of perception, all three need to step up as starters, especially since standout linebacker Daryl Washington isn’t coming back for another year, after suffering his third drug-related suspension by the NFL. Key Additions: T Jared Veldheer, LB Larry Foote, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Ted Ginn, C Ted Larsen, TE John Carlson, CB Antonio Cromartie Key Subtractions: CB Javier Arenas, CB Antoine Cason, LB Karlos Dansby, TE Jim Dray, LB Daryl Washington Rookies: S Deone Bucannon, TE Troy Niklas, DE Kareem Martin, QB Logan Thomas Defensive Player to watch Campbell is the best NFL player yet to play in a Pro Bowl— he was an alternate in 2013—yet there are some who will top that description and flat-out call Campbell the best defensive end in the game. The 6-8, 300-pounder not only anchored Arizona’s league-leading run defense, Campbell also sacked the quarterback nine times, showing a defensive dominance you don’t see from a player every year. Cardinals Special Teams Special teams is certainly not a strength of the Cards, with punter Dave Zastudil being the only player posting above-average metrics at FootballOutsiders.com. Hyped returner Patrick Peterson and teammates were really among the worst punt-return crews in 2013, ranking second to last. Yes, the 6.0-per-puntreturn man is not the same threat he was in 2011 when he returned four punts for touchdowns and a 15.9 average. Kick return wasn’t much better, which is why that responsibility is now in Ted Ginn’s hands. Kicker Jay Feely had trouble with both his kickoff game and—more importantly—his field goal/extra point responsibilities. Prediction There is a 50-50 chance the Cardinals will be good, a 50-50 chance they will be bad and also a 50-50 chance they’ll be just OK. Yes, we know the math does not add up, but neither does this Cardinals team that has some of the finest offensive skilled position players (Ellington, Fitzgerald, Floyd) and pass-coverage defenders (Campbell, Peterson, Mathieu), with questionable support all around them.
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