They have a new coach who seems like an old soul.
Their aging wide receiver still plays like he’s brand new.
They have a veteran quarterback looking for a new start and a “pissed off” rookie quarterback who wants to grow old with this team.
Their old running back has returned, but they don’t know if he is really as good as new again.
And they have added a new look that they hope will bolster their old faithfuls on defense.
What does it all mean for the Arizona Cardinals, who will open the 2018 season Sunday in the newly renamed State Farm Stadium against the Washington team with the nickname we do not use?
This may sound like old news, but we haven’t a clue.
The oddsmakers aren’t high on the Birds. This summer, Las Vegas set the over-under on their expected victories at 5.5, tied for the lowest in the league with the, ugh, Cleveland Browns, who have only won one game in the past two seasons.
We confess that we’re not experts on football here at Phoenix New Times, but we’ll take that bet and predict the Cards will at least match last year’s 8-8 record.
We also know that most of our readers don’t care about our knowledge of the NFL, but here are five other takeaways on the new season that you can use to start a conversation with your friends who do. Just don’t bring up the national anthem if you want to remain friends.
No. 1: At 49, new coach Steve Wilks is 16 years younger than his predecessor, Bruce Arians, but often seems more mature. Arians was a quote machine, popular with fans and reporters for his salty language and sayings like “No risk it, no biscuit.” He acknowledged those loose lips when he took the job. “The thing at the beginning was, ‘Hey, I’m not changing who I am and how I coach. I’ll probably get a lot of Bibles in the mail.’”
Wilks is more into refined coachspeak. “We have the culture of winning here. We just have to be able to sustain it,” he told the team’s website, azcardinals.com. “It’s all about trying to get to the next level and the consistency you need to get to the next level. I believe building a culture is based on three things: Trust, commitment, and accountability.”
Arians in only five seasons was the winningest coach in team history, with 50 victories, but he won only one playoff game. We’ll see whose style is more productive.
No. 2: The talk at the beginning of every season seems to be that it will be 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald’s last, yet he’s aging like a good bourbon, a vintage Old Fitzgerald.
In each of the last three seasons, Fitz has caught more passes (109, 107, and 109) than any other in his 11-time Pro Bowl career. He is the NFL’s third all-time leading receiver with 1,234 catches, and if he comes close to last year’s total in the offense designed by new coordinator Mike McCoy, Fitz will pass Tony Gonzalez for second place behind Jerry Rice.
And it appears he may have some help from the receivers’ room this year. Rookie Christian Kirk from Scottsdale and second-year wideout Chad Williams have been impressive in preseason. But remember, they’re very young. Both were still in grade school when Fitz first suited up in Arizona in 2004.
No. 3: Who will throw the ball to Fitz? Thirty-year-old quarterback Sam Bradford has proven he can be one of the NFL’s best — when he’s healthy. In 2016, when he stayed upright for all but one of Minnesota’s 16 games, he completed almost 72 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. That’s Hall of Fame stuff. But Bradford has been injury-prone, missing almost 50 starts in his eight-year career. So he’s probably just keeping the center’s butt warm for the brash, 21-year-old rookie from UCLA, Josh Rosen.
“Nine mistakes were made ahead of me,” Rosen said, after the Cardinals selected him with the 10th pick of April’s draft. “Honestly,” he said later, “I was pretty pissed off as I saw teams going by, passing on me.”
He also, according to Rolling Stone, once wore a “Fuck Trump” hat at one of the president’s golf courses, but Rosen says he’s going to be careful about talking politics — at least until he becomes a starter.
Still, if he can throw as well as he can talk, he’s going to be fun to watch no matter who is in the White House.
No. 4: In 2016 David Johnson led the NFL with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns. Then New Times put him on its cover before the start of the 2017 season, and he injured his hand in the first game and was lost for the year. Did we jinx him? Perhaps, but to be fair, he also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the same week. Johnson says he’s fully recovered now and the offensive line ahead of him looks better than it has in several years. But we’re keeping him off the cover this year, just in case.
No. 5: The Cardinals’ defense, which was dominant at the end of last season, is led by superstar cornerback Patrick Peterson and NFL sack king Chandler Jones, along with several other returning starters. And although they lost the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) from the defensive backfield, they’ve got a player with just as cool a name to replace him — Budda Baker.
But Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb are changing the way the defense lines up, from a 3-4 front to a more traditional 4-3, which means they’ll usually start with four players on the line of scrimmage and three linebackers instead of the other way around. Why mess with a good thing? Well, the Cardinals forced 17 turnovers in four preseason games. So, again, we’ll see. Around this team, everything old seems new again.
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