Super Bowl: Cardinals Laying Bricks

No matter what happened in Super Bowl XLIII, this season was going to be an unqualified success for the Cardinals. Losing to the Steelers, 27-23, obviously was a sour way to end a glorious playoff run that shocked nearly everyone that follows the sport. It shouldn't, however, stain what the Cardinals accomplished.

The Cardinals did a solid job of laying a foundation for future success.

What went right: The Cardinals grew up. They made plenty of mistakes, to be sure, but they learned from them. Through the regular season, they lost road games on the East Coast, a problem for years, yet won in Carolina in the playoffs.

They struggled to run the ball for most of the season, yet found a competent running game in the playoffs. They had difficulty stopping the run intermittently throughout the regular season, yet clamped down in the playoffs.

There were many points this year where the season could have been lost and the locker room might have fractured. From receiver Anquan Boldin's contract situation to the decision to start Kurt Warner at quarterback over Matt Leinart, to the benching and reinstatement of Edgerrin James as the starting running back.

The players remained loyal to coach Ken Whisenhunt and trusted that he was making the right decisions for the club.

Most importantly, the Cardinals found the style they have to play to be successful. On offense, that means continued reliance on the pass. It would be foolish to get away from that as long as Warner and Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are healthy and under contract.

Defensively, the Cardinals learned they can't take plays off, can't lose their discipline and can't lose their focus. When they follow their schemes and are mentally into them, the Cardinals have a solid defense.

When they freelance and slack off mentally, the unit is well below average.

What went wrong: Most of the Cardinals' problems this year were mental, not physical. They were not a mature team and the performance suffered when the players thought there was little on the line.

It's a mistake to call the Cardinals a young team. There are solid veterans throughout the lineup. But it's an immature group, especially on defense, where emotion and passion is so important.

The running game still needs to develop. It improved greatly at the end of the season, but the Cardinals lacked balance for most of the season.

At some point, coaches must commit to the run and avoid the temptation of abandoning it when the initial results aren't pretty.

There isn't much depth along the offensive line, and there were some games in which key defensive players such as end Darnell Dockett and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, didn't make much of an impact.

It's questionable, too, if the front office has done enough to keep this team together.

Boldin is still unhappy with his contract. The club didn't make an effort during the season to re-sign Warner and Dansby, two key veterans who are due to be unrestricted free agents.


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