Arizona Cardinals Team Needs

After finishing the 2015 season with the NFL’s second-best record, the Arizona Cardinals must advance with cautious optimism. Optimism, because the team won 13 games and dethroned the Seattle Seahawks to reclaim the NFC West crown for the first time since 2009. Caution, because this defensive unit that ranked in the top eight in points, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards, got absolutely torched by the Carolina Panthers in the Conference Championship.

While this unit is filled with both youthful, and experienced talent on both sides of the ball, there certainly are some needs that must be addressed.

After winning 13 games last season, the Cardinals proved they are a legitimate contender. With that, the front office should be more focused on filling gaps, as opposed to securing replacements for aging stars such as Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell. This team is poised to win now, assuming these voids are filled:

1. Cornerback

It may seem odd for the team that allowed the 8th-fewest passing yards to target a cornerback in the upcoming offseason – But that’s exactly what the Cardinals should do. In early January, Pro Football Focus released their list of top cornerbacks in the league. To no surprise, Tyrann Mathieu ranked first and Patrick Peterson came in ninth. With Mathieu playing primarily out of the slot, however, this means there’s another cornerback on the field.

Jerraud Powers, who ranked 75th on the list, served as the Cardinals’ starter opposite Peterson, while Justin Bethel, ranked as the 63rd best cornerback, is slated as Powers’ backup. Any time a team has a dominant cornerback, opposing quarterbacks tend to avoid that side of the field, meaning the team’s other starter will see a lot of throws. While Powers certainly is a serviceable player, Arizona would be wise to find another highly ranked corner to play alongside Peterson and Mathieu, especially as Powers’ contract is set to expire this offseason.

2. Offensive Tackle/Guard

Let’s face it, Carson Palmer isn’t getting any younger – that would be weird. Although, between Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson, this offense looks like a Madden 2009 dream team. But if this trio of aging stars is going to keep drinking whatever is in the Arizona water, this offensive line must improve. On Palmer’s blind side, Jared Veldheer is about as good as it gets, ranking among Pro Football Focus’ top-10 offensive tackles. Bobby Massie, on the other side, is a liability. While the Cardinals only allowed 27 sacks, the fifth-fewest in the league, Palmer was hit 103 times, the 10th-most. It’s safe to assume Palmer can’t maintain his elite level of play (ranked as 2015’s top quarterback by both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus), if the pressure continues to get to him.

As for the interior line, this is where the Cardinals must improve their ground game. As a team, Arizona ranked 8th in rushing yards. When running to either the right or left, the Cardinals ranked in the top 10 in preventing negative plays. When going up the middle, however, Arizona was dead last with 20 rushes for negative yards, according to NFL.com. While part of this is due to the fact that none of Arizona’s running backs are highly adept at running up the middle, it’s still not a good sign that there is no interior push. Since Second-Team All Pro guard, Mike Iupati, likely isn’t the issue, Arizona must look to sign or draft an answer at center or right guard to help create more space in the ground game.

3. Tight End

Where does Darren Fells fall within this offense? Entering his third season in the NFL, but set to reach 30 years old in April, Fells is quite the head-scratcher. At times, he has looked like a potentially elite pass-catching tight end, and even ranked third on Football Outsiders’ list of top tight ends of 2015. While Fells caught 75 percent of his targets, the third highest mark among tight ends receiving at least 25 targets, the 6’7” pass-catcher failed to carve out a significant enough role in this offense to make a legitimate impact.

With a plethora of outside receivers for Palmer to work with in this offense, it would set this passing attack over the top to add a go-to tight end to lessen the burden on Fitzgerald to continue going over the middle.

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