The Arizona Cardinals' development on offense will help to offset their losses on defense, resulting in a 2014 season that will closely resemble the success of their 2013 campaign and place them on the cusp of a playoff berth.
That's the overarching analysis from ESPN's Josh Weinfuss as part of their 2014 season preview.
With a full season to digest second-year head coach Bruce Arians' scheme, Weinfuss said the Cards' offense, which finished 12th in yards per game and tied for 16th in points per game in 2013, should be a more efficient unit this season -- as long as the offensive line gives quarterback Carson Palmer enough time to throw.
Instead of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd asking each other where to line up, the offense is operating seamlessly. And QB Carson Palmer, instead of watching cut-ups of Arians' attacks in Indy and Pittsburgh, is studying Cardinals film. For Palmer's sake, let's hope the revamped O-line doesn't need a year to catch on, too.
On defense, Weinfuss said it will be up to defensive end Calais Campbell to have a career season in order to compensate for the losses of key personnel such as defensive end Darnell Dockett (injury) and linebackers Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency) that led the Cardinals to an NFL-best 84.4 rushing yards allowed per game last season.
Campbell, who was a Pro Bowl alternate last season, has been labeled as underrated by more than just Arians. At 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, Campbell has a body that may be better suited to post up than chase quarterbacks, but he's one of two players currently on NFL rosters with at least 299 tackles and 36.5 sacks since 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2013, Campbell had a career-high nine sacks. There's no reason to believe that he won't top that in 2014.
Weinfuss expects the Cardinals to follow up their 10-6 record in 2013 with a 9-7 record and third-place NFC West finish this year, adding that their final three games will decide whether they will advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The Cardinals' toughest stretch comes at the end of the season. Arizona visits St. Louis on Thursday night in Week 15, hosts Seattle in Week 16 and travels to San Francisco for the finale. This stretch will dictate Arizona's New Year's plans, either propelling the Cardinals into the postseason or sending them packing to ring in 2015 on a tropical beach somewhere. Arizona's resolve will be tested.