Cards could face major changes next season

The Arizona Cardinals aren’t even a week removed from losing Super Bowl XLIII and already they need to fill both coordinator positions, convince starting quarterback Kurt Warner to return next season and deal with wide receiver Anquan Boldin’s continued unhappiness. Oh yeah, and linebacker Karlos Dansby is also set to become a free agent.

On Friday, the Chiefs hired Todd Haley – the mastermind behind the Cardinals’ dynamic offense in 2008 – to become their next head coach. Not 24 hours later, Arizona fired coordinator Clancy Pendergast, despite his success coming up with defensive schemes to thwart top NFC runners Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Brian Westbrook and Willie Parker in the playoffs.

The loss of Haley is significant because he developed all the game plans and called the plays for the Cards’ biggest strength: their offense. It’s unsure at this point why the team fired Pendergast, but the franchise must have someone waiting in the wings because you don’t make a dramatic move like that without having a game plan in place.

If Arizona can’t re-sign Warner and Dansby, then has to part with Boldin because they can’t appease his contract demands, then we could be looking at a very different Cardinals team than the one that took the field last Sunday in the Super Bowl. By all accounts, the team shouldn’t have much of a problem convincing Warner to return, but Dansby will be a highly sought-after free agent who is only 27 and in the prime of his career.

Boldin’s situation is a different animal. He requested that the team trade him last preseason due to a lack of contract respect, and then threw a tantrum on the sidelines during the NFC Championship Game because Haley replaced him during a pivotal offensive series. Just recently, Boldin said that his relationship with the Cardinals was irreparable. At the end of the day, the team might not have a choice but to cut ties with the underrated receiver and trade him so his situation doesn’t continue to be a distraction.

In order for the Cards not take a major step back, the two coordinators that the team chooses will need to be sound hires. It would be wise for Arizona to then make re-signing Warner and Dansby their next priority, and then deal with Boldin since he’s already under contract and can’t bolt on his own accord. Nevertheless, this will be an interesting offseason in Arizona.

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Six Pack of Observations: Cardinals at Panthers

Here are six quick-hit thoughts from the Cardinals’ 33-13 victory over the Panthers in Saturday’s divisional playoff game.

1. Everyone was wrong about the Cardinals…
…especially me. I couldn’t have been more wrong about this team, but I make no apologies. The Cardinals were absolutely hammered on the East Coast during the regular season and played awful down the stretch outside of a Week 17 win over a hapless Seattle team with nothing to play for. But they have been beyond impressive the past two weeks and they not only beat the Panthers on Saturday, they crushed them in every facet of the game. I followed the masses and just chalked up a loss for ‘Zona because they were on the road. I thought a Panther win was a lock and I couldn’t have been more wrong or shortsighted. What a dominant performance by the surging Cards, who are now one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. Amazing.

2. Jake Delhomme is the most overrated quarterback in the NFL.
Jake Delhomme is brutal, terrible, horrible – beyond awful. He’s the most overrated quarterback in the league and I don’t just write that because he threw five interceptions against the Cardinals; I write that because he is. I realize Carolina collapsed when Delhomme got hurt last year, but everyone made it sound like he was the missing link to the Panthers not going to the playoffs. But Steve Smith makes him look better than he is and the team’s outstanding running game masked his weakness this season. The Panthers are overdue in grooming a young quarterback and after Delhomme’s performance tonight, it would be a shock if Carolina doesn’t draft a signal caller come April.

3. If you can’t get off the field on third downs, you’re not going to win.
The Cardinals were 10 of 18 on third downs tonight, which meant the Panthers’ defense couldn’t get off the field when it mattered most. Arizona kept drives alive all night and all Carolina’s offense could do was stand by and watch as the clock continued to tick away. The Cardinals created a perfect storm by capturing the lead, converting on third downs and taking the Panthers’ two backs out of the game. Of course, Carolina’s six turnovers certainly helped, too.

4. Where did this Arizona run defense come from?
Last week the Cardinals held Michael Turner to under 50 rushing yards. Tonight, they held the explosive duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to 75 combined yards on the ground. Granted, they did jump out to a big lead early so the Panthers had to get away from their run game, but still – the Cards’ run defense has been fantastic so far this postseason. Clancy Pendergast has drawn up two excellent game plans the past two weeks and his players have executed those game plans to perfection.

5. Larry Fitzgerald is sick.
It was so easy to call, wasn’t it? Anquan Boldin was ruled out before the game and you just knew Carolina would double Larry Fitzgerald and destroy Kurt Warner’s day. Well…not so much. Fitz was incredible, hauling in eight passes for 166 yards and a 29-yard touchdown before half. The Panthers’ secondary, which hadn’t played that bad all season, clearly had no answer for him. It also helped that Warner delivered the ball in a timely manner all night and continues to play like playoff veteran he is. Warner has played fantastic all season.

6. The NFC South was a playoff dud.
Before the regular season wrapped up, many NFL pundits claimed that the NFC South was the best division in football – even better than the tough, physical NFC East. But after watching the Falcons and Panthers perform the past two weeks, the NFC South certainly wasn’t represented well. Atlanta and Carolina combined for nine turnovers in two games and their standout running games were foiled by an Arizona run defense that allowed over 110 yards per game in the regular season. The NFC South was a tough division all season, but what a brutal showing in the postseason.

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