It seems like for the last two or three years many prognosticators projected that the Arizona Cardinals would be in the hunt for a playoff spot. But during those seasons, at times they played uneven and sometimes even dismal football. And so the question comes up yet again—is 2008 the year of the Cardinal?

There’s no doubt that Arizona has improved and that coach Ken Whisenhunt has put in the hours to try to remedy problems with his all-important offensive line. As that front line goes so too goes both the passing and running games. But there are also other team elements to consider.

It’s important that quarterback Matt Leinart stays healthy. Last season he played in only five games and the year before, his rookie season, he competed in 12. He has all the tools a NFL signal caller and field general requires to succeed. He is a natural leader, possesses fine technique and reads defenses well. But he must stay in the game and that means keeping off the inactive roster.

Running back Edgerrin James, who is 29 years old, is nearing that age when guys who run for a living in the NFL breakdown and wear out. Last season he gained over 1,000 yards and scored seven touchdowns. But he fumbled the ball five times, which is simply way too much. He’s a patient runner who can spot holes and get through them quickly. His speed, balance and acceleration are all good. He is, though, showing signs of wear and tear.

At wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, who is entering his fifth NFL season, has size, speed and agility. He’s a playmaker. Last year he appeared in 15 games and caught 100 passes for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns. For Fitzgerald, as it is for James, fumbles are a concern. In 2007, he had three and lost all of them.

Arizona’s rush defense was solid in 2007, placing ninth overall in rush yards allowed per game. The secondary notched 24 interceptions, which was second in the league; but at times they broke down, allowing big plays The defense had 29 takeaways, which was respectable, but the offense gave the ball away 36 times. That was second worst in the NFC and left the club with a minus-7 TA/GA differential.

Last season, Arizona went 8-8, which was their best mark since 1998. That’s a good sign. The receivers are excellent and the defense looks primed to play. The secondary has to stay away from giving up the game breaker. They have a talented quarterback in Leinart. But the offensive line must protect Leinart and open up holes for the backs. Look for this club to give the Seattle Seahawks a run for their money in 2008.

Paul mroczka
Sports Pundit member

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