To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it was the “best of times” and the “crummiest of times” for the Arizona Cardinals this year, who managed a tepid 7-8-1 record despite off-the-chart stats that would say otherwise.

The Joy Of Victory. The Agony Of Injury.

Even their final 44-6 rout of the hapless L.A. Rams was overshadowed by the loss of star running back David Johnson, who sustained an injury to his left knee in the first quarter, leaving the game with just 44 yards rushing. He, therefore, failed to achieve his goal of 100 scrimmage yards in all 16 regular-season games, which would have been a first in the NFL. Fortunately, Johnson’s MCL sprain is not serious, and he’s expected to make a full recovery. And that’s some good news for a team that’s seen more than its share of ups and downs during the year.

Nevertheless, the Cardinals’ dominance of the Rams, holding them to a dismal 2 yards per play, was just one of the bright spots emerging from the season’s last game. The Cardinals’ defense had Rams QB Jared Goff bottled up, sacking him 7 times and forcing 3 turnovers. The defense also held RB Todd Gurley to just 40 yards rushing, had 12 more first downs, and outgained the Rams with 344 yards compared to just 122 yards for the Rams.

phoenix-az-cardinals-linebacker

Outside Linebacker Markus Golden Celebrates A Sack. Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Pres

Stellar Stats Don’t Match Dismal Won-Loss Record.

What’s surprising, if not downright puzzling, is how this talent-laden and potentially Super Bowl-bound squad imploded; even though they put up some seemingly Super Bowl-sized numbers throughout the season. For instance, the Cardinals lost just 1 of 6 games in the NFC West, scored 418 points (the 4th most in franchise history), had the NFL’s 2nd-ranked defense, and led the NFL in sacks. Plus, Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 107 receptions, as well as gaining more than 1,000 receiving yards for the 8th time in his career.

Cards Not Firing On All Cylinders.

It was only last year that the Cardinals reached the NFC Championship game, and this year’s team looked primed to make a serious run at the Super Bowl. So, what went wrong? There’s plenty of blame to go around, starting with special teams that couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. Although Carson Palmer threw for more than 4,000 yards, his turnover problems dampened his efforts. Palmer was also limited by the lack of a true deep threat.

Cornerback play plagued the team and was, at times, simply horrible. Another disappointment was the play of rookies such as Robert Nkemdiche, Brandon Williams, Evan Boehm, Cole Turner, and others. Nevertheless, Arians is sticking by them with the hopes that their upcoming sophomore season will prove out his faith in their abilities. Injuries to key players also took their toll. In the end, it was a host of little things like missed snaps, blocked kicks, and other miscues, that shot holes in the season.

Free Agency A Big Question.

With this year’s effort mercifully in the record books, it’s time to turn toward the future. With 22 free agents on the roster, the makeup of the team could be significantly different. However, Arians is optimistic that a core of solid players will remain. Others don’t see it that way, citing stellar WR Larry Fitzgerald contemplating retirement, and standouts like defensive tackle Calais Campbell and safety D.J. Swearinger, among others, possibly considering off-season offers.

And yet, in his post-season press conference, Arians assured everyone that unrestricted free agent LB Chandler Jones will still be in a Cardinals uniform because “..if we have to, we will franchise (tag) him.” Tagging Jones means that interested clubs will pay a hefty price, including the loss of 2 number-one draft picks.

Sports columnist Ben Natan’s 2017 NFL Mock Draft forecasts the Cardinals using their 13th draft pick to select Florida cornerback Teez Tabor to help plug a gaping hole in the Cards’ secondary. Pundits suggest that his athletic ability and aggressive style will bring some needed toughness.

The 2017 schedule shapes up with home games against the Rams, ’49ers, Seahawks, Dallas, the Giants, Jaguars, Titans, and Tampa Bay. Away games include a trip to London against the Rams and trips to San Francisco, Seattle, Philly, Washington, Houston, Indianapolis, and Detroit.

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Sources:

http://arizonasports.com/story/981053/in-the-case-of-the-2016-arizona-cardinals-the-numbers-lie/

http://www.azcardinals.com/news-and-events/article-2/Cardinals-Fall-Short-Of-Expectations-In-2016/411497f0-8abb-443a-b8b4-dae45a778932

http://www.azcardinals.com/

http://www.revengeofthebirds.com/2017/1/3/14149184/arizona-cardinals-2017-opponents-set

http://www.bleedinggreennation.com/2017/1/3/14148070/2017-mock-draft-january-eagles-corey-davis-dalvin-cook-browns-deshaun-watson