Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald leaps to grab a pass against Buffalo this season. Fitzgerald made the catch, but couldn't get two feet down inbounds.
Back in September, when the Cardinals were winning games and talk of a coaching change would have been folly, the offense was doing enough.
The unit wasn't scoring like some of the top offenses in the league, sure, but no one could say they couldn't have given Tom Brady a run for his money because indeed, the Cards and Kevin Kolb outscored Brady's bunch one sunny Sunday afternoon.
The way the defense played, 20 points was a magic number in 2012. If the Cardinals scored at least 20 points, the defense found a way to make it stand up. If the Cards scored less than 20, they lost.
"It's never going to be good enough but I think we showed (offensively) we are capable with competing with the top teams in the league," wide receiver Early Doucet said. "When everybody is healthy and we are playing good football we can compete with anybody in the league. That's a positive.
"At the same time, it's a long season, you have injuries, things don't go the way you want at times. But we can't allow that to happen."
"That" was an offensive meltdown, enough so that it swept half the coaching staff out of the building. The statistics were hard to digest. The Cardinals finished in the bottom of the NFL in rushing yards (75.3 a game), passing rating (63.1) and yards per game (263.1). They were 31st in points scored and offensive touchdowns (21).
Aside from the rotating quarterbacks, the face of the struggles was Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald having a not-Pro Bowl season. With just 71 catches for 798 yards and four touchdowns, it was his worst statistical season since his twisted-ankle-troubled rookie campaign and the fewest scores he had ever had.
"We have a core group of players I feel good about on offense," team president Michael Bidwill said. "It's not a team without talent. We just need to get some leadership on offense, accountability and performance."
New general manager Steve Keim acknowledged the quarterback was "the million-dollar question." Consistency there is crucial. When Kolb played, it wasn't as if he dominated but he did connect for eight touchdown passes and only three interceptions. After he went down in the sixth game of the season, Cardinals quarterbacks combined for just three TD passes and 18 interceptions.
LaRod Stephens-Howling did have two games where he rushed for 100 yards, but injuries torpedoed the planned-for duo of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. Even if they had been healthy, the injury-riddled offensive line frequently struggled to create room in the ground game.
On the offensive line, Keim called the problems running the ball "a huge issue and that needs to be fixed."
"I think we have some of the perimeter weapons with Michael Floyd, Fitz and Andre Roberts in the slot," Keim said. "(Tight end) Rob Housler is an emerging star in my opinion, creating mismatches in the slot and outside. I think that there is obviously some talent there, but I think we need to play in unison, we need to play with an identity and those are the issues we are going to correct going forward."
Other than in-house candidate Ray Horton, the head coaching interviews have all been those with an offensive mind – Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden (and maybe, according to Steelers president Art Rooney, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.) That wasn't unexpected after the issues of the season, and as Gruden noted Thursday, "when you're looking for a new head coach, there are problems, and a few. It's not like it is one problem."
If the Cardinals can continue to trend up on defense, however, repairing the offense at least enough to give the Cards a chance to win could be within some tweaks rather than a major overhaul – assuming they can find someone to give them the quarterback play necessary.
"As an offense," Doucet said, "we have to find a way to get better."