Failure In Progress: The 2016 Arizona Cardinals Story

A season that promised so much, but delivered so little for the Arizona Cardinals franchise. Superbowl winners, you’re having a laugh. But where did it all go so wrong? Here’s a look back at the Arizona Cardinals’ 2016 NFL Season…aptly titled ‘Failure In Progress’.

failure
noun
  1. lack of success.

The dictionary defines ‘failure’ as a lack of success and, looking at the 2016 Arizona Cardinals, failure is one word which most definitely describes the season as a whole.

One in which they were expected to be one of the front-runners in the NFC for the Lombardi Trophy but instead saw them stumble into Jeff Fisher territory and finish with a final record unfitting of a roster with as much talent as they have.

Perhaps that’s slightly biased but, looking at the roster which they had in the 2015 season and then looking at what they had in 2016, it’s clearly a much more talented roster. But, as has become evident, talent only gets you so far…and, for the 2016 Arizona Cardinals, it got them nowhere.

After the disappointing end to the 2015 NFL season, that saw their dreams of making the Superbowl disappear vs. the Carolina Panthers, there was a buzz off the field about the Cardinals but one which never seemed to materialize on the field. However long you decided to wait, the Arizona Cardinals we thought we would be getting in 2016 never showed up.

Eventually, the season petered out into nothingness and, though there were a couple of late seasons wins that pushed them out of the top 10 for the 2017 NFL Draft, it was quite simply a disappointing season for the Arizona Cardinals. But where did it all go wrong?

Off-Season Transactions

One of the biggest needs for the Arizona Cardinals heading into the 2016 NFL Season was a pass-rushing specialist that could get to the quarterback – something which the team’s defence had been sorely lacking. But this is the NFL and elite pass-rushers aren’t exactly easy to come across and, of the few there are, teams aren’t exactly willing to part with them unless they get significant compensation.

Fortunately for the Arizona Cardinals, there was one such player on the market. New England’s Chandler Jones, who had 30 sacks to his name over the past 3 seasons, seemed to be available given the Patriots not being able to pay everyone what they were deserving of. Eventually the two teams agreed to a deal which sent Jones to Arizona in return for a 2nd round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and the disappointing Jonathan Cooper – considering he left them only a few months later, giving the Patriots a 2nd round pick for a talent like Chandler Jones seems like a price well worth paying.

Whilst Jones was by far the biggest acquisition for the Cardinals in the off-season, they added a handful of free agents to their roster as they began to prepare for the 2016 NFL Season.

Veteran guard Evan Mathis, fresh from winning a Superbowl with the Denver Broncos, signed a one-year deal to effectively slot in where the departed Jonathan Cooper left a hole on the offensive line. If he had anything left in the tank, he was seen as a much-needed upgrade on the right side of the line.

Another addition to the Cardinals was versatile defensive back Tyvon Branch, signing on a two-year deal, he was seen by many as being a contingency plan given Tyrann Mathieu coming off another injury. In fact, speaking of Mathieu, the team announced during the off-season that they had agreed on a multi-year extension with the defensive back, tying him to the franchise through the 2021 NFL Season. A good decision if he is ever able to return to pre-injury form and not suffer any more season-ending injuries…

The team also re-signed the likes of Tony Jefferson, Jaron Brown, DJ Swearinger, Drew Butler, Chris Johnson, Josh Mauro, Red Bryant, Ifeanyi Momah and Jermaine Gresham to one-year deals.

Free Agency wasn’t the only place the Cardinals looked to improve as they prepared for the new season, the NFL Draft offered them even more opportunities to add some fresh talent to perhaps take the franchise to that next level.

The 2016 NFL Draft Class

Heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cardinals were already down one selection – though, considering they picked up Chandler Jones with that 2nd round selection, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad decision given they knew what they were to get with him rather than some rookie that could have ended up a “bust”.

R1 – Robert Nkemdiche – Like DJ Humphries the year before, Robert Nkemdiche seemingly struggled to adjust to an NFL way of life. Constant criticism from Bruce Arians in press conferences and then a lack of everything when he was actually active on game day, it was not a good rookie year from the first round selection. With doubts over whether or not Calais Campbell returns to the team for the 2017 NFL Season, the Cardinals are going to need Robert to have a DJ-like awakening this off-season so that the dreaded “bust” label won’t need to be used when talking about him.

R3 – Brandon Williams – One of the few criticisms levied against GM Steve Keim since he took over was the fact that the Cardinals went into the 2016 NFL Season with Brandon Williams, a former RB turned CB, as a starting cornerback alongside Patrick Peterson. Teams feasted on the rookie in his early-season games as he looked totally out of his depth. SK has found some gems in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft and, whilst it’s way too early to write-off Williams just yet, he’ll need to improve a fair bit this off-season if he’s to contribute in a significant way from 2017 onwards.

R4 – Evan Boehm – Another rookie pick that played very little in his rookie season but this was more owing to the fact that, in AQ Shipley, the Cardinals already had a solid starting Centre meaning that Boehm wasn’t needed. Late on in the season, he had to be forced into action at RG given a spate of injuries leaving the teams’ OL in tatters but perhaps he will see more of the field in 2017 if the Cardinals see enough of him to replace Shipley in the starting line-up.

R5 – Marqui Christian, Cole Toner – Well, one of these guys is no longer on the roster because they would rather keep Drew Butler on the active roster even with the injury and the other one spent more games ‘inactive’ on game day than Robert Nkemdiche. Which, given how many he had, that’s not a good sign. Then again, perhaps that’s a bit too harsh given the level of competition he came into the league from, he most likely wasn’t ready for action at any point in the 2016 NFL Season. Maybe in 2017, we’ll see him step up to a backup role?

R6 – Harlan Miller – Harlan spent the large majority of his rookie season on the team’s practice squad but, given a spate of late-season injuries in the secondary, he was eventually promoted to the team’s active roster and actually contributed to the team in the handful of games he was active for. Which, given how little the rest of the 2016 NFL Draft class did, is quite a surprise that a sixth round selection was the team’s most productive rookie. Go figure.

It’s fair to say that the Arizona Cardinals did not get what they were expecting from their rookie class from the 2016 NFL Draft.

The 2016 Arizona Cardinals Season

After a disappointing pre-season that saw the team finish with a 1-3 record, losing to Oakland, San Diego and Houston before a Week 4 victory over the Denver Broncos reserves, the 2016 season didn’t start off too well either.

With the “Deflategate” scandal has robbed the New England Patriots of the GOAT Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season, it was up to Jimmy Garoppolo to lead the Patriots and that included the Week 1 game vs. the Arizona Cardinals. It was a close game but, as was the case for most of the season, it was a special teams error which cost the Arizona Cardinals a win – a poor snap from rookie Kameron Canaday messed with Chandler Catanzaro’s kick and saw the ball drift wide of the mark, consigning the Cardinals to a 23-21 loss to begin the season.

Week 2 saw the Cardinals bounce back in very impressive fashion as they put the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the sword, putting up a 40-7 win over a team many considered as dark-horses for a spot in the playoffs come the end of the season. Carson Palmer put in one of his best performances of the season, tossing the ball for 300+ yards with a trio of touchdowns and no interceptions. On the other side, Jameis Winston threw 4 picks – including 2 to Marcus Cooper, 1 of which went for a touchdown – and fumbled the ball on 2 occasions. Would this be the catalyst to get the Cardinals season off the ground?

Well, in short, no. Week 3 saw them travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills – with HC Rex Ryan already on the hot seat given the teams’ start to the season, this looked like a good chance for the Cardinals to pick up another victory. But traveling to the East Coast and kicking off at 1 pm ET always seems to be a struggle for the Cardinals and this was no exception – an inspired performance from LeSean McCoy coupled by a terrible game by Carson Palmer and aided Furthermore by dodgier Special Teams play, saw the Bills triumph by 33-18. Keeping Ryan in a job…well, until the end of the season, anyway.

It didn’t get any better for the Cardinals in Week 4 as they returned home to the University of Phoenix Stadium to take on the newly renamed Los Angeles Rams. It was a low-scoring affair between the NFC West rivals but once again, the Cardinals were on the wrong side of the scoreline as they lost 17-13. Five turnovers didn’t help, nor did Carson Palmer being taken out of the game due to a concussion. 1-3 to start the season, not many had predicted that.

However, what many people did predict was the terrible state of the San Francisco 49ers franchise in 2016 and they weren’t wrong. They were so bad that even a Drew Stanton-led Cardinals team were able to come out of the game with a 33-21 victory. Though Stanton didn’t deserve much credit for the win, David Johnson’s superb game on the ground most definitely did deserve credit; 157 yards and 2 touchdowns. Excellent.

Part 2 of the Cardinals’ prime time tripleheader saw them taking on the Todd Bowles-coached New York Jets on Monday Night Football and, after a poor start to the season, saw them claw their way to 0.500 with a 28-3 win over the Jets. The headlines once again belonging to David Johnson after contributing a trio of touchdown runs, including an impressive 50+ yard score that saw him weave in and out of countless Jets defenders. That boy good.

Week 7 saw one of the strangest games of the season as, once again gracing national prime time television, the Cardinals hosted NFC West rivals Seattle on Sunday Night Football. Deadlocked at 3-3 at the end of regulation time, the game headed to overtime and saw both sides add another field goal to their game totals…but then both Chandler Catanzaro and Steven Hauschka missed what would have been the winning field goals for their respective teams to see the game finish a 6-6 TIE. Quite incredible.

The struggling Carolina Panthers were next up for the Cardinals, a repeat of last year’s NFC Championship Game but with them at 2-5 and the Cardinals at 3-3-1. As everyone predicted. Carolina once again raced out to a big lead, going up 24-0 early on and then kept terrorising Carson Palmer whilst keeping David Johnson in check. Eventually, the Panthers won out 30-20, fighting off a spirited comeback attempt by Arizona.

3-4-1 at the midway point of the season. Not what you’d expect from apparent Superbowl contenders.

An ideal start to the second half of the season would have been a relatively easy game that they could get a win from – fortunate then that the NFL Schedule had handed them a home game against the San Francisco 49ers to welcome them back off of their bye week. This time around, it was a lot closer than the earlier meeting. Two touchdowns from David Johnson, again going over 100 yards from scrimmage for the ninth successive game, proved to be the difference though a solid outing from the maligned Colin Kaepernick kept the game close. Until a field goal as time expired from Chandler Catanzaro allowed the Cardinals to escape with a 23-20 victory.

Week 11 and 12 saw the Cardinals taking on the Minnesota Vikings and then the Atlanta Falcons – teams they would need to win against if they were to make the playoffs and, most likely, would have to play again if they were to make the post-season. However back-to-back defeats dented what little hope they had and saw them fall to 4-6-1 for the season. There was still a chance they could make the playoffs, but it would need wins and then other sides above them to falter.

One such game they needed to win was the Week 13 tie vs. Washington, another team in playoff contention. David Johnson once again showcasing his abilities as he recorded a rushing and receiving touchdown and over 100 yards from scrimmage for the 13th game in the row. Approaching record territory.

With one hand they giveth, with the other they taketh away – an idiom that sums up the 2016 Arizona Cardinals up perfectly. One week they look good and pick up a win, the next couple of weeks they flatter to deceive and fall to losses against teams they should really be beating if they were as good as they were made out to be.

Week 14 and 15 were pretty much the final opportunities the team had to pick up wins and stay in the playoff hunt but, again, disappointment followed even more disappointment and they were put out of their misery with a Week 15 loss to the New Orleans Saint in a game that was the definition of a shoot-out, finishing 48-41 in favour of the NFC South side.

At least at 5-8-1, they were heading for a Top 10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft…

Well, that was the case but the final 2 games of the season saw them take on the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. Pride was at stake and they actually came away with 2 wins from the final 2 games of the season, smashing the Rams by 44-6 and being able to outlast the Seahawks 34-31.

Sure, it may have ruined their chances of getting one of the Quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but at least they had the best divisional record in the division. Got to count for something…

Hopefully, 2017 is a much more successful season for the Arizona Cardinals and we’ll have better things to review in our 2017 Season Review.

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