Quarterback Carson Palmer and the offense know improvements on their side of the ball can help offset defensive losses.
Last season, the Cardinals’ defense was the safety net when things weren’t going right offensively.
Quarterback Carson Palmer would like to return the favor this season, especially in light of linebacker Daryl Washington’s recent suspension and other uncertainties on the other side of the ball.
“We have to step up,” Palmer said. “When you lose a guy like Daryl and lose Karlos (Dansby) to free agency -- and Tyrann (Mathieu) is not going to be back probably as fast as we like (from torn knee ligaments) -- you look at a team
that you have to transform, and that’s the NFL.
“Year in, year out, injuries, free agency, draft, these things change your team and change the dynamics of your team. You’ve got to adapt, and offensively, we have to pick up a ton of slack. We leaned on the defense a lot last year and we expect to be leaned on this year. We need to come through, and we will come through.”
The defense was impressive from start to finish a year ago, finishing No. 1 against the run and No. 6 in total defense. The offense struggled early, but as it improved, so did the team’s fortunes. The Cardinals averaged 19 points and 309.7 yards per game during a 3-4 start but improved to 27.3 points and 374.9 yards per contest while winning seven of their final nine games.
“That was definitely a good thing for us, to end the season a lot better than we started,” running back Stepfan Taylor said. “It showed us that we can do it, and now we have no excuse to go back.”
Many of the key pieces are still in the fold, and the early returns are promising on newcomers like tight end John Carlson and wide receiver John Brown. As the offense continues to make strides, Palmer feels like defense does not have to be the Cards’ sole identity in 2014.
“We don’t talk about specific numbers or goals, but we can be a top-tier offense in this league,” Palmer said. “And we
expect to be. We’ll continue to work toward that.”
Even without Washington and Dansby, the defense still has playmakers. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett lead a formidable front, while cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie roam an improved secondary. However, if there are hiccups next year, the offensive players said they are prepared to shoulder more of the load.
“You want to be a well-rounded team,” offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said. “They say defense wins championships, but without a good offense, there aren’t too many times when a team wins the ballgame. Of course we want to be equal, if not better than, the defense.”
Washington was suspended for the first four games of last season, and the Cardinals went 2-2 without him. Following his return, the team went 8-4. His availability wasn’t the only reason for more success. While the defense did allow nearly three fewer points per game with Washington in the lineup, the offense also improved by more than a touchdown (from 17.3 points per game to 25.8) after the first four games.
There’s no hiding the loss of a game-changing linebacker like Washington but the Cardinals believe their offense can help counteract that loss.
“Our offense has already improved enough this year that we should be able to carry our share of the load offensively,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re a better football team right now than we were last year, especially at this time of the year.”