34177

The NFC Blues: 11-5 Not Enough for Cards Playoff Birth

As the story goes… too little, too late.

That’s the feeling in Arizona after an unexpectedly “good” season for the Cardinals, where they finished 11-5 to wrap up the year; 5-1 in NFC West play.

What happened? 

Unfortunately, the only consistent thing about the Cardinals this season was their inconsistency. Despite their 11-5 record, Arizona ranked among the league’s worst when it came to total yards per game and passing yards per game. The only bright spot statistically on offense was the Cardinals’ second-rated rushing yards per game stat. Defensively, they were about as “middle of the road” as they come, ranking 13th, 14th, 16th, and 17th in points allowed per game, yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yards per game respectively.

Of the two, the defense was more frustrating for the Cardinals’ faithful.

Here are the opposing team’s point totals from each game in order: 3, 42, 38, 51, 14, 7, 7, 24, 40, 27, 17, 7, 33, 14, 6, 31. A model of inconsistency indeed. The defense would look all-world in games against playoff powerhouses New Orleans and Seattle, yet look completely inept against non-contenders in Dallas, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. Frustration doesn’t really do the feeling justice.

On offense things never really “flowed”. An aging offensive core of Julio Jones, David Johnson and Tyrod Taylor managed to get enough done to put Arizona in a potential playoff position, but not enough when the cards (no pun intended) were on the table. That said, brights spots did emerge in rookie wide receiver Raymond “El Loco Rapido” Fernandez and the young right-side of the offensive line in Cory Heinrich and Kevin Sweeney.

What can we expect this offseason?

Simply put, anything. The Cardinals are in a weird spot. Do you resign aging veterans to not-so-team-friendly deals to keep this thing going? Or do you rely on the youth acquired last offseason and this coming offseason to carry the torch?

Let’s look at some examples:

Quarterback

It was announced earlier today that the Cardinals are bringing back Tyrod Taylor for one more season (he will be 35 years old when the season begins) after reaching a one-year extension with the veteran. What remains to be seen is what the future holds at the position.

Is Taylor a bandaid for one more year as the Cardinals use their first two round picks to build the roster? Or do they use Taylor as a mentor to an incoming rookie quarterback?

Running Back

As sad as this day is, it’s the end of David Johnson in a Cardinals uniform.

To say DJ has lost a step, would be an understatement. This season, Johnson managed to muster only nine touchdowns, which is only the second time in his career with less than double digits in that category. While he did set an XCFL-high in yards, the burst and pizazz (if you will) just aren’t there anymore.

Arizona offered Johnson a one-year extension to match with Taylor, but he balked. Sources say that Johnson wants a three- year deal worth more than $30 million to stay on board. At 32, the Cardinals will likely not meet those demand, and for the first time ever Johnson will be a free agent.

Rookie Lynn Arnold offered some quality carries in relief of Johnson in 2023, but the speed necessary to be an every-down back for Arizona is lacking. Arnold is much more of a short-yardage back that lacks the burst and straight-line speed to be the featured back in Kurt Warner’s offense.

Receiver

Julio? More like Juli-no.

Jones finished 2023 with his worst stat line as a Cardinal (35 catches, 673 yards, 2 touchdowns). With Christian Kirk being Tyrod Taylor’s security blanket during Jones’ injury bug-plagued season and the emergence of Raymond Fernandez, it appears Jones’ days are numbered in the desert. Much like Johnson, rumors are floating that Jones wants a multi-year extension with a value well-north of his production.

While receiver isn’t an immediate need should Jones depart, the Cardinals still should be mindful. Kirk is no spring chicken, and Fernandez while a blazer is not a true #1 receiver in any offense. Pay close attention to the free agent market, as Arizona could add depth through the market.

Defensive Front Seven

If there has been one consistently great thing about this team for the last six seasons, it’s been the #BirdGang defense. The Law Offices of Reddick, Bucannon, and Jones have been nothing short of great, and the addition of Jabaal Sheard a few seasons back has certainly lead this group to great things.

Unfortunately, even against this group, father time remains undefeated.

All of the aforementioned defensive greats will be on the wrong side of 30 before next season begins, with the grandpas of the group at defensive end being 35 and 36.

The Cardinals are likely to bring back Jabaal Sheard on a one or two year deal, as he’s expressed interesting in finishing his career with Arizona, but the retirement question looms over Chandler Jones and Deone Bucannon despite Bucannon’s potentially Most Outstanding Player-caliber season.

Should either of the two retire (both are under contract basically until they decide to retire), Arizona’s front office will be scrambling to fill a void that they haven’t had to worry about in the better part of a decade.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.