While there has been many player changes to many NFL offenses, and while some have improved somewhat in the talent area, the top overall offense from 2015 is coming back with their whole squad intact.
From veterans like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, to the rising new stars like David Johnson and John (Smokey) Brown, this team has managed to keep all the major pieces that make their offense so potent… well, that, and some very ballsy play calling by Head Coach Bruce Arians.
They have guys that are faster than a speeding bullet, They have guys more powerful than a locomotive, and they most definitely have guys who can leap tall defenders in a single bound.
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a BirdGang! It’s the Arizona Cardinals!
This is a talented offense that plays very aggressive, both in the air and on the ground, but more so in the air. Arians is known for taking deep shots on first and ten, on second and whatever, and even on third down and short.
What this effectively does is leave NFL defenses on their heels. Now with the addition of a powerful running game in 2015, the Arizona Cardinals effectively become deeper than any other offense playing in the League today. If defenses stack the box, they are vulnerable to a deep strike, if they drop back into the secondary they are vulnerable to the run.
Sounds crazy right? Arizona running the ball? Actually, the Cardinals were ranked 8th overall rushing the ball. The acquisition of two players made this possible. The late signing of Chris (CJ2K) Johnson, and the drafting of David (Baevid) Johnson. They, along with Cardinal veteran Andre Ellington, paved the way for nearly 120 yards a game and five 40+ yard gains (tied for 3rd in NFL) through out the season.
- Chris Johnson
CJ2K was a top 5 NFL running back for much of the season. Through 11 games, he ran for 814 yards and was well on his way to a seventh 1000 yard season, before a chip fracture sidelined him for the duration. Six runs for 20+ yards, two runs for 40+ yards, he was averaging nearly 18 touches per game, his highest average since 2010.
- Andre Ellington
Ellington was scheduled to be the starter last season, but once again injuries took their toll on the 2013 draft pick. Ellington may have only ran the ball 45 times, but he did average a hefty 6.4 yards per carry. The former Clemson Tiger also had two runs of 40+ yards as well. When healthy, this back is dangerous, both on the ground & out of the flat.
- David Johnson
David Johnson… what can you say? Just like both of the previously mentioned backs, David Johnson can, and by the end of the season, was doing it all. Johnson took the League by storm with 8 rushing TDs, 4 receiving TDs, and a kick off return for you guessed it, a TD. Bruce Arians was worried early in the season about the rookie seeing so much time too soon but when both CJ2K and Ellington left in game 11 (vs 49ers), David Johnson became the bell cow.
David Johnson will be the team’s starter in 2016, but for obvious reasons, we can expect to see plenty of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington (who is returning kick offs as of late). Simply put, this trio is more than capable of becoming a top 5 overall run game. Barring injuries, and teams with QBs that rush for 10 TDs a season, we could be looking at the top rushing offense, period.
The Passing game
But onto the aerial assault, where “Air-izona” ranked second overall in 2015. The Cardinals threw for 4,616 yards, second only to New Orleans (4,970). Arizona scored 35 TDs by air, behind the Patriots and the Giants who had 36 TDs. They averaged 288 yards per game, and had the NFL’s highest average yards per completion with 8.5.
The Cardinals passing trio is to blame for these stats, or Larry Fitzgerald, Micheal Floyd, and John Brown if you want to name names. These three studmuffins went for over 3,000 yards combined, and we can’t forget Jaron Brown either. If any of the trio are banged up, or if Bruce Arians feels like going 4 wide, Jaron Brown can come in on any down. All four of these receivers have the “clutch gene” embedded in their DNA.
- Larry Fitzgerald
The future Hall of Famer known as “Fitz” found the fountain of youth in 2015, or perhaps Bruce Arians just spiked the kool-aid. Arians re-defined Fitzgerald’s role when he came to the desert, a role that had Fitzgerald kind of worried about in the beginning.
The superstar receiver was moved to the inside, where he learned new routes & blocking assignments. The move payed off big time as “Larry-zona” had career numbers in receptions (109), and one of the most glorifying overtimes in recent playoff history.
- Michael Floyd
This is your all around, powerful, catch the ball at his highest point, premier NFL type receiver. Floyd was hampered by the injury bug in 2015 but still managed to get 849 yards on just 52 receptions, which is a 16.3 yard average for you math geeks. With Fitzgerald handling the inside, and John Brown taking the top off, Michael Floyd basically finds his pay check in the creases of the coverage.
- John Brown
Speed kills, when you can run the 40 yard dash in 4.34 seconds, it’s no wonder why John “Smokey” Brown is the designated streaker in the desert. The man continues to get behind defenses, even when they watch film on him all week. In just his second year Smokey went for 1000+ yards receiving, and had six receptions of 40 yards or deeper. It’s hard for safeties to concentrate on Arizona’s other receivers when this skill set enters the equation.
- Jaron Brown
This is more than just a special mention, Jaron Brown keeps the Cardinals on pace when one of the trio can’t go. He is also the 4th option when Arizona spreads the field. Plus, Jaron usually doesn’t draw the opponent’s top coverage, which plays right into his hands, literally. Jaron can make the types of tough catches that keep drives alive, and many suspect he would be starting on many other teams.
There had been a QB drought in the valley of the sun every since Kurt Warner retired. But finally, the heavens have blessed Arizona with a talented individual behind center. Opinions will vary, and sure, there’s always going to be some haters, but most people have Carson Palmer as a top 5 QB right now. Knock him all you like, but he was in the MVP conversation for the majority of the year.
Palmer possesses the experience needed to read NFL defenses. Palmer also has the weaponry to audible at any moment if he doesn’t like what he sees. The truth is, Carson Palmer needed Arizona as much as Arizona needed Carson Palmer. The veteran QB may have turned 36, but just like Fitzgerald, Palmer is achieving career numbers and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Palmer averaged 8.7 yards per completion, top in the NFL as far as regular starters go. He averaged 291 yards per game (5th in NFL), The 35 TDs was tied for 2nd best, and he had 15 completions totaling more than 40+ yards.
The one area where the Cardinals aren’t very deep at is quarterback. Drew Stanton is a serviceable number two, but honestly the Cardinals will only go as far as Carson Palmer takes them. This is the case for many NFL teams, but as for back ups, Drew Stanton is still above average.
The Arizona Cardinals used to be bottom tier in this department. But with the General Manger Steve Keim having his way, the protection has improved exponentially over the past 3 seasons. The Cardinals spent some serious coin on (LT) Jared Veldheer and (LG) Mike Iupati, both pro bowl caliber players specializing in Carson Palmer’s blind side.
The Cardinals haven’t stopped there though, recently acquiring (RG) Evan Mathis to fill out the right side along with Arizona’s 2015 first round draft pick D.J Humphries. The Center position will once again be anchored by A.Q. Shipley. This offensive line should be very capable in pass protection, and they will most likely excel with the running game.
The Cardinals are also pretty deep with back ups on the O-line. The guard, tackle, maybe even center known as Earl Watford can just about play anywhere. Evan Boehm (C) , Cole Toner (G), and John Wetzel (T) looked good in camp as well.
This is the one position where the Arizona Cardinals can not boast about a top 10 representation. But we won’t call them bottom of the pack either. Darren Fells, a former pro basketball player continues to improve in his new found occupation. The Cardinals have Jermaine Gresham as well, who could have a break out year if he stays healthy. Then we have Troy Niklas drafted out of Notre Dame.
I doubt we will see 1,000 yards from any of these tight ends. But in the grander scheme of things, all three can be very beneficial in the Cardinals offensive schemes.
Last but not least, we have Chandler “Cat Man” Catanzaro. The undrafted free agent signed in 2014 after winning the job, because as they say in Arizona – “The Cat Man can.” In the 2015 season Catanzaro made 28 of 31 field goals and only missed one from inside 49 yards. Arizona ranked 14th in three pointers last year.
The confidence is growing with the distance as well, as Cat Man kicked a 59 yard field goal in pre-season this year. It doesn’t get much deeper than that ladies and gentlemen.
Some will argue about better running back duos or trios on other squads, or better options at quarterback. They can bring up the offensive lines in places like Dallas, Green Bay, or Oakland. But we probably won’t hear much about a better receiving core, even when the tight ends are accounted for.
All and all, this looks like a team that can once again be the top over all offense. The Cardinals are just so deep, it’s hard to figure out how everybody will get touches & receptions, but somehow it all works out.
If you disagree, I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to comment here or you can hit me up on twitter @ShawnRivard777.
Thanks for reading, here’s to another great season, and be sure to check in each week for match up previews and post game recaps.
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