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Unknown, But Important Contributors: Arizona Cardinals

With the first game of the season almost here (FINALLY!!!), the 2014 version of this weekly article returns. So, which Cardinals’ players will Coach Arians be depending on Monday Night, that us Bolts fans do not know too much (or anything) about?

Christian Petersen

Welcome to the 2014 Season!

Yes, I changed the title. When one’s English Major Daughter points out that you are a published writer and, as such, you should not be butchering basic grammar, one at least thinks about that. And last season, many readers mentioned that the acronym for the original title [Most Important Guys You’ve Never Heard Of] (MIGYNHO) sounded like the possessive preposition combined with abbreviated vernacular of a lady parts doctor. Hence, the title change. And with that paragraph, I stop trying to please the English Major daughter…

Remember the ground rules for this article from last year:

  1. Brief Scouting report on the opposing team this week...
  2. With detailed description on offense and defense of players from any position that are pretty much unknown outside of their own fan bases; but...
  3. Have played (or need to play) a key role for the opponent that week to do well against the Bolts.

The players described in these articles may be unknown because of position (linemen), being lower round draft picks or UFA’s that are emerging as key members of the opposing team, or guys that were buried on a depth chart, not expected to start this season or even play much, but have to play because of injury or suspension (hold that thought). I’ll list at least four players; a primary player from both offense and defense, with runners-up on both squads. In the case of Jacksonville last season, I even included their punter as the unknown key contributor for the Jags offense.

And away we go…

The Cardinals are a 2013 10-6 team that did not make the playoffs last year, due to being in perhaps the toughest division in the NFL and being short on tiebreakers with the New Orleans Saints. The Cardinals are not a pushover and will provide a good test for the Bolts in Week 1. The Cardinals had a mixed off-season. It could be argued that the improvements they wanted to make to the offense were at least partly successful, but were offset by some talent drain, injuries, and other issues that could weaken what was a stout 2013 defensive unit.

UBIC: Cardinals Defense

The Inside Linebackers – I do not have an individual named here, because I expect several Cardinals to rotate into both ILB positions. Their team depth chart lists 34 year old Larry Foote at the top on the LILB position, but given his age (and associated loss of Foote speed), my suspicion is that we will be seeing a lot of Kenny Demens and perhaps even rookie Glen Carson playing in this spot.

The Cardinals are hoping a few guys to try replacing the productivity lost when Daryl Washington was suspended for all of 2014 because of violating the league’s substance abuse policy. (Washington also broke his girlfriend’s collarbone in a March 2014 incident, which resulted in a typical first offense slap on the wrist from the legal system, but which has not yet been considered by the NFL.) In 2013, Washington was 3rd on the team for total tackles, despite losing four games to his first violation of the league’s policy against recreational self-medication. He also chipped in 10 passes defended and 3 sacks. In 2012, he made the Pro-Bowl with 134 tackles and 9 sacks. Kenny Demens recorded 4 tackles in 2013.

On the other ILB position, longtime Cardinal Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland to get paid this offseason. The departure was made easier due to the Cardinals liking his expected successor, 2013’s second round pick, Kevin Minter. (BFTB readers may recall that several staff writers had both Minter and Kiko Alonso ranked higher than Manti Te’o going into that draft.) Minter may not play against the Bolts, due to a pectoral injury he received during the pre-season. This will leave Desmond Bishop as the primary ILB filing in for Minter. Replacing Dansby and his production (team leader in tackles with 114, 6.5 sacks, 4 picks and 19 passes defended) was already going to be a tall order, but will be a much tougher task with a one armed 2nd year player in Minter or career journeyman like Bishop.

With the Chargers liking to get some space in the 5-15 yard downfield area for all of their receivers, the Cardinals ILB corps on Monday may be a better bet than a deep and talented Cardinal secondary. Speaking of which, that secondary may not be quite as deep and talented when the game starts…

Honorable Mention – Defense

Rashad Johnson, Strong Safety: Johnson is listed on the depth chart as the back-up to starting free safety Tyrann ("Honey Badger") Mathieu. Stats from last year indicate that the Cardinals frequently played both at the same time. Mathieu has developed into a dynamic force in the Cardinals secondary, but is still recovering from a knee injury and at press time, it was open question as to whether he would be ready to play on Monday Night.

In order to make certain that Gates, Green, Royal, and Woodhead do not run wild on a shaky middle of the Cardinals defense, Johnson will need to play well if Mathieu does not play. Of course, Johnson will need to play well for the Cardinals defense to be close to fully effective, even if the Honey Badger is playing.

UBIC: Cardinals Offense

John Carlson, TE: Carlson is one of those players that could be used as a definition of "journeyman". He was permitted to test the FA market by Minnesota this past offseason and the Cardinals rewarded him with a 2 year contract. Coming into the league in 2008, Carlson has appeared in 74 games, catching 177 passes for 1,906 yards and 14 TD’s, 12 of which happened in his first two years in the league.

His best seasons were in 2008 and 2009, when he flashed the potential to be the next former basketball and football player to become an elite TE. That potential failed to materialize. His career indicates a peculiar drop-off starting in 2010 (with no reported apparent injury) and then a shoulder injury that cost him his 2011 season. He had two relatively uneventful and marginally productive 2012 and 2013 seasons in Minnesota before joining the Cardinals.

The Cardinals are hopeful that Carlson can be more productive than last year’s starter, Tim Housler. Housler is still on the roster, listed second on the depth chart. He was the team’s leading receiver at the TE position last year with a modest 39 receptions. The bar is not set too high for Carlson, which is good for him, as he has not had more than 40 receptions in a season since 2009. The Bolt’s Safeties and ILB’s are probably not too concerned with the threat from the TE position going into this game.

On a roster stacked with elite to good talent at WR, such as Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, TE targets are probably going to be an afterthought or a safety valve anyway. It would certainly be a benefit for the Cardinals if they had a viable 3rd option in the passing game, but for Carlson to become that option, he will need to show ability that seemed to have left him after 2009. As things stand now, the Cardinal TE’s do not present too much of a match-up concern for any defense, which will allow opposing defense to single up in the middle of the field while concentrating on Fitzgerald and Floyd. Of course, recent events have also moved an unknown RB or two into the thinking of the Cardinals.

Honorable Mention

Stepfan Taylor, RB: With the recent injury to Andre Ellington, the Bolts defense will probably be seeing a lot of Taylor in the backfield. While Jonathan Dwyer is officially #2 on the Cardinals depth chart, he is more of a goal line and short yardage specialist, weighing in at 230 pounds. Taylor, drafted in the 7th round in 2013, put up astronomical numbers in college and demonstrated good receiving skills at Stanford. This makes him more of a versatile threat than Dwyer. Taylor has a skill set that could present some problems in the rushing and passing game for Arizona, particularly against a defense focused on stopping Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.