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Cardinals Dangerous On Both Sides Of Ball

Lofty height of a top-5 offense and defense seems in reach

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Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (left) and cornerback Patrick Peterson are stars on offense and defense, respectively.



In one big wave, defensive reinforcements rolled back onto the Cardinals practice field this week.

Three possible starters – safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive tackle Frostee Rucker and cornerback Justin Bethel – made their training camp debuts on Sunday, and first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche followed on Monday.

The Cardinals' explosive offense grabbed most of the headlines last season, finishing first in total offense and second in scoring as quarterback Carson Palmer turned out near-MVP-level production, and is expected to be among the league's best once again.

But now that Mathieu is back, it's clear the defense has no shortage of potential stars. He joins cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive tackle Calais Campbell, money linebacker Deone Bucannon and outside linebacker Chandler Jones as the cornerstones of a group looking to improve on last year's seventh-best scoring defense.

The Seahawks were the only team to finish in the top-5 in points scored and points allowed a season ago, and it's rare for a team to be balanced enough to be dominant in both areas.

Wouldn't that be something, if the Cardinals pulled it off in 2016?

"Hell, yeah," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "Is water wet?"

It seems like a lofty but realistic goal. The offense returns every skill player which gained a yard from last year's record-breaking unit and is littered with playmakers. As long as Palmer is something close to what he was a season ago, the offense should be high-flying again.

The defense' biggest weakness was its pass-rush, and while leading sack man Dwight Freeney was allowed to walk in free agency, the additions of Nkemdiche and Jones along with the progression of outside linebacker Markus Golden seems to have fortified that issue.

Mathieu was a monster last year, and one question mark will be his effectiveness early as he returns from a torn ACL. If Mathieu gets back to superstar status, the Cardinals have to feel confident about both sides of the ball in 2016.

"It's a well-built roster," Palmer said. "It's a great staff with the right coaches for the players we have and the type of scheme we run. The players fit the scheme very well on both sides of the ball."

Coach Bruce Arians knows he has a talented roster, but is less interested in the minutia and more in the big picture.

"I really don't put a lot of stock in stats," Arians said. "If you win 14, 15 games, you're going to (look good statistically). That's the only stat I care about."

In the NFL, though, there are different ways to get to that mark. The Broncos had an unenviable quarterback situation a season ago, but rode an unbelievable defense to the title. The Saints, Colts and Patriots have used dominant offenses to win Super Bowls.

The Cardinals offense feels like it has the tools to lead the team to the promised land in 2016. So does the defense.

"Most teams are one-sided," Minter said. "With us being so stout on both sides, it's a little surreal. It's almost like a created team (on a video game). We'll see how it goes, though. It's still any given Sunday. It's still the NFL, and those other teams, they've got players, too. Regardless of what we've got, we've still got to show up every week."

Sequence of DT Josh Mauro's tipped interception at Wednesday's practice



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