Put in unimaginably difficult situations, defending horrible field position, and struggling to find reasons to even show up anymore, the Arizona Cardinals defense still found a way to keep their team in it game after game. This unit's success over the last two years -- thanks to great direction from Ray Horton -- needs a whole lot of nothing to happen. The personnel is there, be it the coaches or the players, and a lot of them figure to get better as they continue to develop. A lot can be said for continuity on defense, just look at the Steelers.
It was a breakout campaign for a lot of young Cardinals on defense. Especially in the linebacking corps. Sam Acho, Daryl Washington, and (albeit in a season shortened by injury) O'Brien Schofield really made their mark this year. Especially Daryl Washington. Although, much to my chagrin he was denied a spot on the pro bowl, but still managed to gain recognition as one of the league’s best interior linebackers.
Best of all for the Cardinals, and whoever takes over at GM, much of this group is signed going into next season. O’Brien Schofield is the sole free agent of the aforementioned linebackers, and Cardinals management would be wise to sign him long term. It was the shortest season of his young NFL career, yet he still came only half a sack away from tying his career high of 4.5. I see big things for Schofield if he can get a full season in next year.
Ranking fifth against the pass, I think it’s safe to say that the Cardinals secondary held up it’s end of the bargain as well. Unlike the linebackers, or defensive line though, this groups faces a few question marks going into the off season. The biggest of all has to be what to do at strong safety. It has been widely speculated that this could be Adrian Wilson’s last season in the desert, but there is just so much uncertainty surrounding the his future, and the future of strong safety for the Cardinals I can’t quite put a thumb on where he’ll be next year. They’ve yet to resign his backup Rashad Johnson, who Horton seemed to take a liking to, but based entirely on stats, and a cheap cap hit why get rid of the beloved veteran Adrian Wilson. Better yet, what about the possibility of bringing them both back next year? Only time will tell what the Cardinals have in store. Of the starting corners, recently turned nickel cornerback Greg Toler is also set to hit free agency. My feeling is the Cardinals will let him go in favour of a cheaper, younger cornerback, but who knows at this point. He played really well coming back from an early season injury, and would be worth keeping around as far as I’m concerned. A whole lot depends on who takes over at GM and coach, which I’m sure has them all a little restless.
The defensive line was probably the weakest of all the Cardinals defensive cliques. As good as the Cards were against the pass, they were nearly as bad defending the run. Much of this might have something to do with the fact that most teams were defending leads, and running down clocks for large chunks of time against the Cards, but regardless there is room for improvement. I don’t expect a whole lot of change for this group though. One would have to think that any uncertainty regarding Dockett’s future with the club could have vanished with Whisenhunt’s job. Bidwell has deep pockets, very deep as a matter of fact, and I’m sure he’ll want to protect his investment. His aging, declining, and grossly overpaid investment.
They’re one of the league’s best, and should be the same next year barring some sort of roster blow up or a slew of horrific pre-season or training camp injuries. They have a few free agents to deal with, but I expect next year’s group could look more or less the same as this years. Any hope of the Cardinals being a competitive football team next season lie solely on this defense's shoulders, so like I said, I think the best moves for the Cardinals, will be the ones they don’t make.