Cardinals Preview Capsule
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8)
New faces: Coach Steve Wilks, QB Sam Bradford, QB Josh Rosen, RG Justin Pugh, RT Andre Smith, S Tre Boston, CB Jamar Taylor, WR Brice Butler, WR Christian Kirk, RB Chase Edmonds, C Mason Cole, CB Bene Benwikere.
Key losses: Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, S Tyrann Mathieu, QB Drew Stanton, C A.Q. Shipley (injured), QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Jaron Brown, WR John Brown, OL Earl Watford, DT Frostee Rucker, DT Josh Mauro, TE Troy Niklas, ILB Karlos Dansby, OG Alex Boone, CB Justin Bethel.
Strengths: With return of RB David Johnson and addition of Bradford, Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Cardinals are building offense emphasizing running and short passing game. Johnson, NFL leader in yards from scrimmage and TDs two seasons ago, missed 15 games last season with fractured left wrist but returns healthy and hungry for new contract. Waiting on sideline is 10th overall pick Rosen should Bradford repeat his history of injury. Cardinals also are impressed with Edmonds, fourth-round pick out of Fordham, who could provide 1-2 punch behind revamped offensive line. Defense, with switch to 4-3 scheme, looks solid, particularly in secondary, where second-year player Budda Baker plays big role in “nickel” setup. With more zone play, Patrick Peterson might get more shots at making plays. He’s been mostly avoided by quarterbacks who take aim at receivers guarded by someone other than star cornerback. DE Chandler Jones led NFL in sacks last season (17). For what it’s worth, Arizona’s first three preseason opponents committed 16 turnovers.
Weaknesses: Arizona has great wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who enters 15th season after finishing second in NFL in catches (109) one year ago. But position is question mark behind him. Kirk, second-round pick from Texas A&M, has emerged as big-play threat in preseason and Chad Williams has shown improvement after rocky rookie year. Butler is looking to prove himself after parting less than amicably with Cowboys. But there is no consistent, proven receiver beyond Fitzgerald. Other main concern is lack of depth at linebacker and on offensive line.
Fantasy players to watch: Johnson, of course. He was just about everybody’s No. 1 fantasy pick in 2017, only to go down in opener. He returns in best shape of life and motivated to remind people how good he is. As reminder, Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and caught 80 passes for 875 yards in 2016. He topped 100 yards from scrimmage in first 15 games that season, only player in NFL history to so. He also led NFL with 20 TDs.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 120 to 1. Over/under wins 6.
Expectations: Judging from Vegas and national predictors, expectations aren’t very high. But Wilks, former Carolina defensive coordinator, has worked to install tough, physical mentality and is building around team’s top players: Johnson, Peterson, Bradford, Fitzgerald, Jones. Still, it’s uphill climb in NFC West. Don’t expect Rosen to play unless Bradford goes down with another injury, or team slumps. Schedule is brutal, with non-division games at Minnesota, Kansas City, Green Bay and Atlanta. Cardinals might exceed Las Vegas’ expectations, but most likely not by much.
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