So here we are, less than 24 hours before the Cardinals first game, and here comes my offensive season preview. The reason this preview took so much longer than any other preview was that the offensive squad has the most questions. I waited until the last possible moment to see how many of these questions got answered, and will now answer the top questions going into the season.
Can the offensive line keep Carson Palmer upright?
This is going to be the most important question when it comes to the success of the offense. The starters will be, in the order they will be on the line, left to right: Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Paul Fanaika, and Eric Winston. Levi Brown missed all of last season but he is no longer the penalty laden, sack allowing Left Tackle that you may remember. In 2011, his last full season, he committed only 1 holding penalty, 4 false starts and allowed 11.5 sacks. That is a lot of sacks, but only 1 of those came in the last 8 games of the season. Brown has turned the corner and worked himself into a solid option at LT. Colledge and Sendlein are both good in their positions. Colledge is returning to the left side after spending most of the preseason on the right side due to rookie LG Jonathon Cooper. In Houston and with Kansas City, he was a part of offensive lines that were able to run the ball effectively and not get the QB killed. Paul Fanaika is a huge question mark, but he has performed well in the preseason and training camp. If there is a weak link in your offensive line, the best place to have it is at the right guard position. Not saying that Fanaika is the weak link, but he has the least experience out of the group. I think the group will be able to give Palmer enough time to complete passes to his offensive weapons.
Can Michael Floyd or Rob Housler step up to be a consistent threat beside Larry Fitzgerald?
If Palmer has time to complete passes, he is going to need somebody to step up to catch the ball who isn't named Larry Fitzgerald. The two players poised to break out seem to be receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Rob Housler. Floyd is in his second year and that’s typically the year that receivers began to play like they have a full grasp of the NFL game. Floyd has always been able to make the spectacular catch, but he will need to improve on catching the easier passes, and making the ordinary plays. Housler is in his third year and the league, and is at the point in his career that determines whether he will be a starter or a perennial backup. Housler has struggled with drops in the past, but has elite speed at his position. The offense that Coach Bruce Arians runs will allow Housler to utilize his strengths, so it is all up to him at this point.
Will Ryan Williams be healthy and productive?
I hope so. Injuries are never something you can predict, but if healthy Williams will provide a huge boost to this team. In the short time that he has played, he has exhibited flashes of greatness. In order for the Cardinals to compete for the division, his health and production will be necessary. The 2 injuries were both unrelated and seemed to be "freak" injuries. I hope that the pressure of needing to perform to make the team will carry on through the season and push Williams to that level that we as fans have been waiting for. Ryan Williams and the rest of the running backs have a lot of work to do in order to balance this offense and help keep the pressure off of Palmer.
Will the team be effective in the red zone?
The team has STRUGGLED in the red zone dating back to last season. There is no secret about it. This preseason the struggles may have been due to a lack of using the entire playbook more than a lack of ability to convert at that end of the field. Either way, it won't matter if the team is successful in this regular season. Unfortunately, the team may be in for some struggles in the red zone though, Indianapolis only converted 51% of their red zone trips into touchdowns last season w/ Arians at the helm. The Cardinals though are a different team and should have more success. Carson Palmer was 38-70 for 233 yards with 14 touchdowns and 1 interception last season in the red zone. That is with a much worse receiving corps than the Cardinals have. The jump ball ability of Fitzgerald and Floyd and a great slot receiver in Andre Roberts will create better opportunities for the team to improve upon its 2012 position, 31st in the league.
The Cardinals offensive unit has the most question marks when looking at this team. If the offense can move the ball effectively and keep the strong defense rested, good things are in store. If this team can go 5-11 with the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley at quarterback, I can see a 2 or 3 win improvement simply by having Carson Palmer on the roster. Now that I have given the preview for all 3 parts of the Cardinals, we are ready for the season to begin.
Good luck Cardinals!