Last Thursday was the beginning of it all. Every team has reported for the start of the NFL season.
I have no idea what the Arizona Cardinals' season 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 horse. Unfortunately, there's one major issue keeping them from being included in any postseason 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 that opened the door for other teams in the division, meanwhile erasing everything they previously accomplished. Due to those decisions, it will take quite a few lucky breaks for the Cardinals to compete for the postseason 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. I then highlighted the overarching questions for the season.
Today's close-up is the negatives.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Jim Harbaugh has been an NFL head coach for two years and he's coached in two NFC Championship Games. This organization is not what it was in the 1980s, but it's closer than it has been since.
The Percy Harvin news is not devastating, but it hurts. The catch is this team made the NFC's final four without him last year and it has the ability to do it again. Russell Wilson is a gym rat and the age of a veteran. He can be counted on to continue to improve. It's a franchise that averages 5.2 home wins a season. That might not sound like much, but some of those teams were seven teams going 2-6 on the road. It's not a stretch to say they go 6-2 at home and 4-4 on the road this season, and that normally means playoffs.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
I'm not sold on them but they did have the best intra-division record of the four teams last season.
This is a big time talent for the Cardinals. In order to be suspended for non-PED drug use, he had to test positive at least twice and, more than likely, three times. He was trending to be a great inside linebacker. He is also accused of grabbing his ex-girlfriend by the neck and shoving her to the ground.
Why should the Cardinals waste time getting him ready for the season when he has to disappear after the last preseason game? When Washington comes back, every snap he's on the field is one more play he's taking from Kevin Minter or another linebacker that can be groomed to replace Washington in the future. If he was selfish enough to test positive for drugs once and not learn his lesson, the team could be wasting its time with him. This is not a case where someone deserves a second chance; he already had one and showed his lack of appreciation. There is an advantage to playing in Phoenix versus a market like New York or Philadelphia where the media and fans would have eaten him alive. What's next is not just up to him but also up to a judge, jury, a defendant and a prosecuting attorney.
Being a husband and a father of two daughters, I'm very biased. It's supposed to be about football. It's hard for me to believe someone can be about football with all these self-inflicted distractions brought on to the team. Long gone are the days when people could just be angry and hit someone. Defenses are complicated machines that must have 11 focused players. How can anyone be sure he's one of them?
He owns a tiger and wants to own a monkey. He's been a hair above worthless the last few years, but because of the big contract and odd personality, people assume he's been productive. He whined for money years ago and the Cardinals gave it to him. He hasn't matched the sack total from his contract year since. He averages just four sacks a year (2.5/year the last two seasons), yet he's seen as a leader. He's never had a double-digit sack season. He's been openly insubordinate. He's had one of the best teammates and better players in football share the line with him yet he can't free himself to make plays. He's rarely double-teamed anymore.
I still have no idea if I did a poor job evaluating his skill level with Green Bay when I supported the free agent signing or if he grew complacent after his big money deal. Colledge has only been saved because he's not the level of bust Adam Snyder was. The above average fan can see a left tackle on an island get beat so they think Levi Brown has been a problem. The knowledgeable football fan sees how often a quarterback can't set his feet with Colledge in front of him.
Colledge is slow coming across the line when he pulls, creating a logjam. He lacks the foot speed to get his hips around a defensive tackle to create the hole, and has no drive left to maul defenders lined up across from him. Mix in the occasional holding penalty and you have a guy saved by the lack of production from everyone around him, so there's little time to focus on his issues.
There's always a chance I could be way too hard on a guy who's simply doing the job his coaches asked him to do. Maybe the Whisenhunt offense was not his strength. If that's the case, this isn't his fault. Someone offered him a lot of money and he took it and did the best he could in a system not suited for his skills. This whole time, Colledge may have been the most professional player in the league with a desire to scream his frustrations at the coaches, yet he held it inside knowing he was made to look the fool. If that's the case, after the season you will see an entire blog devoted to how wrong I have been about ripping him the last few years. If I'm right, Colledge won't be a Cardinal next year.