This series is something new that I’m trying this offseason so that we can all get our football fix during the gray days of late winter and early spring. I’m going through all 32 teams in alphabetical order and reviewing all of their 2012 games, discussing each offensive-skill position group and wrapping up with a one-paragraph overview of the defense.
First up are the Arizona Cardinals.
The Offense: The Cardinals were one of the most pass-happy teams in the league this season. Unfortunately, they weren’t good at it, and they were forced to throw due to constantly trailing on the scoreboard. The offensive line was historically bad in pass protection, giving up the most sacks in the league (58), while the running game didn’t offer any help as they cycled through different ball-carriers all season long. This offense was probably one of the worst at running and setting up screen plays as well.
Kevin Kolb: Kolb can be an adequate starter if he gets time to set and throw, and he’s at his best when he can get the football in the hands of his receivers in the short-to-intermediate range and between the numbers. ... This was evident on the game-winning drive in Week 1 versus the Seahawks as Kolb moved the chains with Larry Fitzgerald on quick slants and hooks before finding Andre Roberts on a simple out route for the game-winning eight-yard touchdown. In Week 3 versus the Eagles, Kolb effectively sold a play-action fake and found a wide-open, streaking Fitzgerald for an easy 37-yard score over the middle of the defense. ... Outside the numbers and further than 20-25 yards downfield is where Kolb struggles, especially with pressure around him. ... Kolb missed a wide-open Todd Heap down the right seam in Week 2 in New England that would have gone for an easy 20-yard touchdown. A few more examples of this are in Week 5 against the Rams when he missed three potential touchdowns. One was a 55-yard shot to Roberts, another a would-be 27-yard play to Fitz, and before those two he simply didn’t see a streaking Fitzgerald on the opening drive. The offensive line ineptitude really started to faze Kolb in Week 6 against the Bills when he sacked himself in Arizona’s own end zone for a safety. Pressure was bearing down on him from both sides, but instead of stepping up in an open pocket, Kolb crumbled and gave up two points. Overall, Kolb showed more good than bad in 2012, but his future with the organization is obviously unclear for salary cap reasons.
John Skelton and Ryan Lindley: Take the names and numbers off these guys’ backs and you could hardly tell the difference. Skelton and Lindley yo-yoed between the bench and starting roles after Kolb’s injury. ... Although strong-armed, neither signal caller showed any semblance of consistent accuracy, while both threw mind-numbing interceptions and frequently missed high. Skelton was benched on two separate occasions, the first in Week 11 at Atlanta when he started 2-of-7 and missed an open Fitzgerald on what would have been an easy 18-yard touchdown. He didn't start again until Week 14 at Seattle, and wound up throwing four interceptions by halftime. Lindley replaced Skelton in both contests but wasn’t any better. The sixth-round rookie had the ability to get in grooves with easy pickups in the short passing attack, but he’d then get comfortable and throw soft tosses off his back foot that defenders would gobble up with ease. The two pick-sixes to Rams CB Janoris Jenkins in Week 12 are perfect illustrations of this. At this stage of his career, Skelton simply lacks ball placement to be an NFL regular. Lindley remains a huge project.
Ryan Williams: Coming off a torn patella tendon that forced him to miss his entire rookie year, Williams got his first NFL game action this season. ... Williams seems like a natural pass catcher out of the backfield, shows some vision, and has the ability to shed tackles. ... His best game of the year was in Week 3 versus the Eagles, but a large chunk (63) of his 83 yards came in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand. One run really sticks out, though. On a designed run to the right, the right side of Arizona's line was overwhelmed, so Williams rolled off the wall of bodies and cut it all the way back around left edge for a 20-yard pickup to get the offense in the red zone and into clock-killing mode. He broke a handful of tackles in the game. ... Williams does have a fumbling issue, didn't display game-breaking speed, and struggled in limited blitz-pickup opportunities. ... Williams lost a fumble in each of the first two weeks of the season. His second was nearly a back-breaker in New England. Williams was asked to kill the clock with Arizona up by two points, but with 1:01 left, he fumbled it away and set up the Pats for an easy field goal opportunity. Fortunately, they missed it. ... Overall, Williams was probably the best back on the team in 2012. I'm excited to see whether he'll recover some short-area burst in 2013, a full year removed from the knee injury. On the rare occasions Arizona's offensive line did give Williams space, he didn't explode through the hole.
Beanie Wells: Wells battled hamstring, toe, and knee injuries all year and was limited to eight games. ... For such a big back, he really didn’t show much power to run through defenders. ... The most memorable example was in the Week 14, 58-0 blowout loss in Seattle. It was late in the game and Wells got a carry around the right edge. He had just Richard Sherman and himself in the open field. Instead of running over smaller Sherman, Wells did a little tap dance and was ankle-tackled with ease. ... Not breaking news, but Wells offers nothing in the passing game. ... He was later benched for the remainder of the season in Week 16 after getting a handoff in the shadow of his own goal posts and slipping and fumbling the ball away for a gimme Bears touchdown. ... Wells broke maybe a handful of tackles all season long.
La’Rod Stephens-Howling: "Hyphen" handled a lot of the passing-down work when one of Williams or Wells was healthy, but held his own when asked to carry the load in their absence. ... Despite diminutive stature, Stephens-Howling wasn’t afraid to run between the tackles. His Weeks 7 and 11 starts in Minnesota and Atlanta were prime examples. ... Against the Vikings, Arizona got the ball at the eight-yard line and gave it to LSH three straight times. He eventually pounded it into the end zone. ... The Cardinals tried to use him as a lite version of Darren Sproles, lining Stephens-Howling up in the slot a lot. ... Stephens-Howling, an impending free agent, is much better suited for a bit role on offense in the future, but he's shown enough to be No. 2 on the depth chart in 2013, if the Cards move on from Wells.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Larry Fitzgerald: The quarterback disaster really wasted a season of Fitzgerald’s prime. ... In six games with Kolb at the helm, Fitz put up at least 60 yards five times. But, down the stretch in the final ten games with Skelton and Lindley calling signals, Fitzgerald was just blatantly thrown at even if he was draped in double coverage. The high amount of targets translated to just two games with more than 52 yards receiving. ... If a real quarterback is under center in 2013, Fitzgerald should have no problem getting back atop 1,000 yards and to double-digit scores. He still has the ability to own the best corners in the league, and that showed in Week 16 versus Charles Tillman and the Bears. Fitz caught six balls against Tillman and posted his second 100-yard game of the year.
Andre Roberts: Roberts was more of a movable chess piece for the offense as the season went on. He had the ability to line up in the slot or out wide. Most of his production came as the result of being around the line of scrimmage, available on short throws for the inept quarterbacks. ... Roberts does need to correct his drop problem, though. He had double-digit drops on the season, and a few came on critical third downs. One was in Week 1 against Seattle, while another came in Week 6 against the Bills and forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal in a game they eventually lost in overtime. ... Roberts should still be a quality slot receiver in 2013, working between Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Michael Floyd: Floyd was my favorite Cardinals player to watch during the second half of the season. The first-round rookie out of Notre Dame didn’t do much with his early-year opportunities (three drops in the first three weeks) as he sat behind Early Doucet, but I really liked his play down the stretch. Floyd, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, adjusts well to the ball in the air, and was often the offense’s only big-play threat. ... Two efforts stand out. One came on a 37-yard catch on fourth-and-six against the Packers in Week 9. He contorted his body in the air to face the quarterback and reeled in a pass while reaching over the head of a defender. I also liked his Week 17 finale in San Francisco. Floyd was targeted a season-high 14 times and beat 49ers CB Chris Culliver like a drum. He finished the day with three separate catches of 34-plus yards. ... Floyd flashed tremendous run-after-catch ability, too.
Rob Housler: Housler was looked at a lot on third downs, has the ability to just run over opposing safeties and smaller corners, and is a good seam-stretching tight end when he’s matched up with linebackers. ... Housler breaks tackles by simply running through defenders. ... One of his better catches came in Week 3 against the Dolphins when he had a 33-yard pickup down the seam to set up a 46-yard touchdown to Roberts on the next play. ... Housler still isn't much of a blocker.
The Defense: Under since-departed Ray Horton, Arizona ran an extremely blitz-happy 3-4 and had at least one stud on each level of the defense. ... RE Calais Campbell wreaked havoc as both a pass rusher and run defender all season long. If it wasn’t for J.J. Watt, we’d be talking about Campbell as the best 3-4 end in football. ... ILB Daryl Washington was a beast in the run game and as a pass rusher. His second-level closing speed might be the best in the league. His only real struggles were with C.J. Spiller in Week 6 and Adrian Peterson in Week 7. ... Patrick Peterson isn’t quite at the shutdown level, yet, but he’s as close as you can get without being there. He was whipped by Michael Crabtree on a Monday night game in Week 8, and then was abused by Crabtree again in Week 17. In their two 2012 meetings, Peterson allowed four combined touchdowns to Crabtree. Peterson more than held his own with Brandon Marshall in Week 16, though, and wasn’t embarrassed by Calvin Johnson in Week 15. ... FS Kerry Rhodes also deserves credit. He was dynamite in coverage all season. ... The weaknesses on Arizona's defense were at outside linebacker, inside linebacker next to Washington, and cornerback opposite Peterson.
2013 Fantasy Player to Watch: Michael Floyd