To say the Arizona Cardinals’ 2008 season was a storybook tale wouldn’t do it justice. The team won its first playoff game since 1998 and advanced to its first title game since 1947. All this, of course, came on the heels of a pedestrian 9-7 regular season.
Because of that fairytale run to the Super Bowl, expectations for this season are remarkably high for 2009 – the Cards should be at the center of much NFL gambling talk. A big reason for the optimism is the return of WR Anquan Boldin – after his highly-publicized blowup with former offensive coordinator Todd Haley (now the head coach in Kansas City) and summer-long contract grumblings, many figured he’d be dealt. But a trade was never consummated, and that’s fantastic news for QB Kurt Warner and WR Larry Fitzgerald who – along with Boldin – make up one of the NFL’s deadliest passing attacks.
Key Departures: RB J.J. Arrington, LB Monty Beisel, CB Eric Green, LS Nathan Hodel, CB Rod Hood, RB Edgerrin James, DE-OLB Travis LaBoy, DE Antonio Smith, FB Terrelle Smith. Key Acquisitions: Free Agents – TE Anthony Becht, FB Dan Kreider, LS Mike Leach, S Keith Lewis, CB Bryant McFadden, OT Oliver Ross, RB Jason Wright. Draft – RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, OLB/DE Cody Brown.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt continued to drive the Pittsburgh-to-Arizona bus this offseason. The former Steelers offensive coordinator plucked two ex-Pittsburgh players from free agency in fullback Dan Kreider and cornerback Bryant McFadden, shoring up two problem positions for the Cardinals a season ago. Whisenhunt also elevated former Pittsburgh offensive line coach Russ Grimm to offensive coordinator, replacing the aforementioned Haley. Grimm will be in charge of the run game, which will be bolstered by the blocking of Kreider, the return of Tim Hightower, the release of Edgerrin James and the new blood provided by Chris “Beanie” Wells, the former Ohio State standout that Arizona drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
On defense, the big change comes at coordinator where former linebackers coach Billy Davis replaces Clancy Pendergast. Davis inherits (and, according to reports, will retain) a suspect 4-3 defense that ranked 28th in the NFL a year ago, but is not without its merits. There are playmakers at all the key positions – DT Darnell Dockett, LB Karlos Dansby and SS Adrian Wilson – but the group lacks consistency. Former UConn standout Cody Brown – the hybrid DE/OLB that the Cardinals drafted in the second round – will add depth and some much-needed pass rushing, but the defense is still thin in terms of depth.
Notable 2009 Games: After bursting onto the national stage a year ago, the Cardinals were rewarded with some prime-time games this season. In Week 3, Arizona will host Indianapolis in a Sunday night affair featuring two of the best passing offenses in football. On December 14th, the Cardinals return to Monday Night Football when they take on the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. There’s also a big Week 7 matchup in New York on Sunday night – if you like watching prime-time games while partaking in your online sports betting, the Cardinals are a team to follow in ’09.
2009 Outlook: The Cardinals have a tougher schedule than a season ago, but get some relief at the tail end of it. Arizona closes out the season with four definitely winnable games – at San Francisco, at Detroit, then at home vs. St. Louis and Green Bay – so chances are the season won’t be decided until late. The Cards will have a huge collective target on their backs as reigning NFC champs, but still play in a relatively weak division and have proven to be a tough team at home. As such, another 9-7 season could be within reach, although don’t be shocked if they fall to 8-8 or 7-9.