I have no idea what the season for the Arizona Cardinals will bring. It's easy to assume there won't be a trip to the playoffs but in the NFL, there's always a surprise team.
The Cardinals have a lot of ingredients that would normally put them in the mix as being one of the teams that experts pick as a dark house. Unfortunately, there's one major issue keeping them from being included in any post-season discussion: the NFC West.
Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt did a masterful job of setting up the franchise to dominate the West at the beginning of their tenure together. As much credit as they deserve, they made a laundry list of bad decisions coupled with stubborn attitudes to open the door for other teams in the division while erasing everything they previously accomplished. Due to those decisions, it will take quite a few lucky breaks for the Cardinals to compete for the post-season in a division where a 3-3 record would exceed expectations.
So here we are in 2013 with the positives, questions and negatives for the season. Last Thursday we started with the positives. Let's look at the big category: the questions. Since this category is so broad, we focused on the offense Friday.
Tuesday's close-up is on the defensive questions.
There are huge questions and the main one is Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator. If you're typically skeptical, you must be concerned that a defense that was so strong last year is coached by a man that hasn't been a full-time defensive coordinator in 14 years -- and that was for a non-FBS college team. However, if optimism is you're game, Bowles shutdown John Elway as a Super Bowl-winning defensive back, has been both an interim defensive coordinator and head coach at the NFL level and learned football at the feet of Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells. Bowles is more than ready, but we don't know if he's good.
It's only been a few days of camp but this guy can play. He's still a question mark because he's a rookie in an extremely physical division, yet I think the question will be answered quickly. He will make mistakes and at that position mistakes are killers. The mistakes will be less frequent as the season moves along. He really enjoys crushing other human beings. In camp, he looks legit but all rookies are question marks.
Anyone at his age can go two ways: either he proves other teams the fool for not signing him or the team goes south and he packs it in due to age and signing a short-term deal. This signing was exactly what the Cardinals need, especially for the price.
There is a ton of optimism around camp about this group, I just don't share it. There are way too many questions for me to be positive. There's no doubt Patrick Peterson's career continues to trend upwards, but he's the only sure thing. There is real talent among the defensive backs, but what about chemistry? Who are the starting safeties? Yeremiah Bell is 35. Rashad Johnson has been an excellent backup safety, but the key is the phrase "backup."
There's a ton of competition for the cornerback spot opposite Peterson. Unfortunately, if Antoine Cason or Javier Arenas were great players, they would still be with their former teams. The other choices at defensive back are young and/or unproven.
Obviously he belongs in the previous category, but I think he's a question mark all to himself. The easy issue is his history of drug use. Will failure bring on a desire to use in order to escape reality? If he succeeds, will he decide he's earned the right to splurge and party? His mental strength and character are on trial much more than his football ability.
Sticking to football with Mathieu presents a different set of question marks. Is he competing for a spot at safety, nickel cornerback or both? SEC players tend to be by far the best in the NFL, but they also have a rookie arrogance that needs humbling early in their career (remember Peterson for the first two months constantly peeking in the offensive backfield because he could get away with it at LSU?).
It is only through their embarrassment that they embrace what the NFL truly represents. So many of them are such elite athletes that the NFL is the first time they are severely tested. Mathieu sitting out a year of football doesn't help him either. No matter how good he can be, it's wrong to expect him to be good early when his first game will be about 22 months since his last one.
Wednesday, we'll look at the negatives coming into the 2013 season.