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To say the Cardinals are in transition is an understatement in 2003. This team interests me in many ways in 2003 so I thought I would take a deeper look into this team and the value they may or may not provide for this season.
Three major moves were made in the off-season, QB Jake Plummer is gone to Denver, and WR David Boston is gone to the Chargers and in comes Emmitt Smith from Dallas. Also not overlooked is the loss of WR.s MarTey Jenkins and Frank Sanders, whose experience and talent will be missed. If I am not mistaken, the problem with Phoenix is defense, and to be more specific, a pass rush. Only 21 sacks as a team last season, the lowest in the NFL. Should the Cardinals have looked at defensive linemen in free agency? They rely on Kyle Vanden Bosch, a 3rd year guy out of Nebraska, who was not one of the Huskers best pass rushers of recent memory, and a guy I saw in play in person for 4 years while he was in Lincoln. He is above average at best. They have moved him to the left side of the line and are banking on him to have a big year, after a down 2nd year after blowing out his knee as a rookie late in the season. He is a hard working, blue-collar type of guy, but lacks speed at 280 pounds. They also drafted Calvin Pace out of Wake Forest and he will start as a rookie. A very good College player, but I doubt his abilities in the NFL, but he is quick. Fred Wakefield will see a lot of action at end as well, and at 6-7 can cause some problems, but is not a pass rusher.
Where do they go from there in a division that has excellent passing attacks, namely Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, and a much improved Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle. Well, you blitz, right? The problem is that.s puts you in man coverage in the secondary, and the DB.s are not a good unit. Shawn Springs is good, but injury prone, and rarely has his head in the game. You have Ken Lucas at 6-0 and 205 pounds, but speed is a problem, so hello Terrell Owens and Tory Holt. See my point here? The Cards top draft pick was stud defensive back Marcus Trufant out of Washington State, and he will be a good one. He is a big hitter with excellent speed, but at 5-11, may be outmanned early with the size of receivers in this division. I give the defense a D+ overall, and they will allow a throwing team a ton of yards for you fantasy football guys!
On offense, I see more problems. Bringing in veteran journeyman QB Jeff Blake whose best years are behind him, and Emmitt Smith whose best years are behind him. Drafting Bryant Johnson out of Penn State at WR was a much needed move, but chemistry will be a problem for a team that was woeful on offense that season, losing 9 out of their last 10 games, by not putting points on the board. Enter in new offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan, whose has a knack for a .pass first. type offense, which goes against Emmitt Smith.s ability to bang it off tackle and break some runs. I.ll bet you.ll see a ton of play action and pass.s to Emmitt in the flat, which can move the chains, but what about the deep threat and keeping defense.s honest? The best chance is to run the ball with an above average line, eat up the clock and keep the defense off the field for as long as possible, but will coach Sullivan do that? With the quick strike ability of division opponents this will be the key to success for the Cards on offense.
A new special teams coach should improve the development of a decent kicker in Gramatica and overall speed at return specialists, with the addition of rookie Johnson running back punts. Dave McGinnis is well liked by his players and seems to get the most bang for his buck with the talent he has, but overall a 5-11 record is not out of the question. Emmitt Smith could not alone save the ailing Cowboys last year, and does Jeff Blake, who throws the long ball well, and can scramble, have a year or tow in him? I say not, and the Cards are go against team in 2003. They open with Detroit, which is a game, they could win, but it is at Detroit and Steve Marriucci knows this team well from his days at San Francisco, then they have Seattle and Green Bay at home then travel to St. Louis. They could open up at 0-4, and then Emmitt Smith travels to Dallas to meet up with his old teammates. A rough start for sure, and then games at Pittsburgh, home against Cleveland, then to Chicago and San Fran to return home to play a solid Panther team. I do not know about you, but any team that can stop the run and rush the passer will have good days against the Cardinals this season. Another fourth Place finish for the Cards unless lightning in a bottle strikes.