THE BELIEF A $455
million state-of-the-art stadium has cured the team's inferiority complex, and
the addition of charismatic running back Edgerrin James provides the missing
offensive link for a club that hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher-or made it to the
THE REALITY Since
coach Dennis Green was hired before the 2004 season the Cardinals have been the
Los Angeles Clippers of the NFL: a team that intrigues in the preseason but
disappoints on the field. Yet even after finishing 5-11 last year, they showed
why prognosticators loved them: Arizona was the only team in the NFL ranked in
the top 10 in offense and defense (eighth in both categories).
young receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin the attack was indeed
prolific-but at the same time deeply flawed. The Cardinals passed for 4,723
yards and rushed for 1,138, the widest disparity in the league, percentagewise.
And while they moved the chains plenty, they lost their mojo in the red zone,
with only 13 touchdowns in 46 trips inside the 20. Yes, placekicker Neil
Rackers made a league-record 40 field goals, but Arizona doesn't want him
scoring 45% of its points again.
improve inside the red zone, it's going to be a whole different season,"
says quarterback Kurt Warner, who missed six games with knee and groin
injuries. "If you're going to throw the ball every snap inside the five,
there's not a lot of places to throw it. So it gets harder the closer you get
to the end zone."
James, the former Colts All-Pro signed to a four-year, $30 million contract,
comes in. At 28 he isn't in the waning days of his career: Last year he had
1,506 rushing yards and an NFL-best 115 first downs on carries and receptions.
"He brings a winning attitude," says Boldin. "He brings a
confidence, a swagger. But most of all he brings a running presence."
production will be hard to replicate behind a line that's not nearly as sturdy
as Indianapolis's. How weak is that unit? It expects a boost from former Texans
right guard Milford Brown-and Houston allowed the most sacks in the league last
year. But left tackle Leonard Davis was a Pro Bowl alternate in '05 and will be
motivated to play even more impressively this year, the last on his contract.
Most promising, Green replaced inexperienced line coach Everett Lindsay with
the respected Steve Loney from the Vikings.
defense was ranked higher than such established units as New England's,
Seattle's and Washington's. But blitz-happy Arizona struggled to prevent
red-zone scoring (24 TDs in 44 chances, 24th in the league). The return of
defensive end Bert Berry, who had six sacks in eight games before a
season-ending knee injury, will help, as will the continued development of
young linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Antrel Rolle and safety Adrian
Spirits are so
high in the desert that season tickets sold out for the first time since the
franchise arrived from St. Louis in 1988. And the new climate-controlled
stadium enables Arizona to host an opening-week game for the first time.
Is all this
optimism justified? Hey, the Clippers made the playoffs this year-they even
advanced to the second round. "We have the talent, we have the right
coaches," says Boldin. "The only thing we have to do is come