Cornerback A.J. Jefferson is one of the young Cards' defenders looking to improve in 2012.
The Cardinals' defense is "light years ahead" of where it was back at the end of September, when it faced the Seattle Seahawks the first time.
"If that's all they go on, they'll be shocked at what they see," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "We played almost nothing in that game."
The unit has come a long way since then. Horton said he has available about 90 percent of the potential calls for the season finale. The Cardinals have defended well enough to climb back to a 7-8 record heading into the finale against Seattle Sunday.
Horton said there were two parts of the unit he first wants to focus on in the offseason: Creating turnovers and the Cards' goal line package. On the latter, Horton said the package has allowed too many scores.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have forced just 18 turnovers, a number much too low for Horton's tastes.
"We are glaringly not good at turnovers," Horton said. "We are not NFL-level on turnovers."
And on a day in which defensive end Calais Campbell was named team MVP by the local media and a week in which safety Adrian Wilson was named to the Pro Bowl, Horton said it was versatile defensive back Richard Marshall who would be his MVP. Marshall played some safety for the first time in his career when starter Kerry Rhodes got hurt, and also became a starting cornerback when A.J. Jefferson struggled.
"(Richard) allowed us, when Kerry (Rhodes) was hurt, to function with speed on the field," Horton said. "For me, he was my most valuable player, just with what he allowed us to do."
Rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson said he's been through this before, with young corners going through struggles. It happened when he first got to LSU in college, and by the next year, the Tigers had one of the better secondaries in the nation.
The same will happen next year when he and A.J. Jefferson can put to use what they learned in 2010. At least, that's what Peterson is "kind of feeling."
"We pretty much saw everything this year," Peterson said. "We had ups and a lot of downs."
The duo only had three interceptions between them. Jefferson was taken out of the starting lineup around midseason, replaced by Marshall.
"It's just a learning experience," said Jefferson, who spent almost all of his rookie year of 2010 on the practice squad. "I mean, this was for me really my first year. And I've experienced and learned from my mistakes."
Horton has talked about Peterson's progress often. Jefferson, he said, played well in the preseason but was "stagnant" during the season. "He's one of the athletic young guys who needs to understand what the NFL is about, and grow up and be responsible and accountable," Horton said.
The Cards will have Greg Toler returning next season, and could still re-sign Marshall. Peterson, however, will be the No. 1 corner, and he's already itching to go.
"I can't wait until next year," Peterson said. "I cannot wait. Because I know, from the learning experience I got from this year – and I have been through a lot – next year will be a totally different game. The back half of the season, what you saw of Patrick Peterson, it will be much more than that."
Peterson (Achilles) was able to practice – limited – for the first time this week and is questionable to play Sunday. He and safety Kerry Rhodes (ankle) will be tested before the game before seeing if they can play. Quarterback Kevin Kolb was officially limited, but coach Ken Whisenhunt said concussion symptoms have not yet subsided, which would mean Kolb can't play.
Tackle Brandon Keith (ankle) is out.
Also questionable for the Cards – although all are expected to be available – are safety Rashad Johnson (knee), running back Beanie Wells (knee) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring). Defensive backs Michael Adams (shoulder) and Sean Considine (foot) are both probable.