The Cardinals lost numerous important players off their playoff teams of 2008 and 2009, but they thought they had enough promising youngsters to compensate at least enough to compete in the NFC West.
Instead, the losses proved to be overwhelming. There was no replacing quarterback Kurt Warner, who retired. Defensively, the Cardinals missed inside linebacker Karlos Dansby's versatility.
And just as importantly, they missed the leadership provided by Warner, Dansby and receiver Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the Ravens.
The result was a 5-11 season that figures to bring about many changes, both in terms of personnel and coaching staff.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: In short, not a lot. The offensive line took a bad rap for the team's shortcomings on that side of the ball, but in reality, the unit did a decent job. Center Lyle Sendlein and guards Deuce Lutui and Alan Faneca formed a reliable core inside. Left tackle Levi Brown struggled throughout the season, as did right tackle Brandon Keith. But Keith, in his first year as starter, improved until he suffered a severely torn hamstring.
The most encouraging development for the Cardinals was the play of its rookie class, nearly all of whom contributed.
Four of the six picks who made the roster started games, and all played an extended amount of time. Nose tackle Dan Williams, the first rounder, started slowly and had trouble keeping is weight down.But he was becoming a force by season's end.
Inside linebacker Daryl Washington, the second rounder, has great speed and instincts. But at 230 pounds, he needs to get stronger so he can get off blocks.
Receiver Andre Roberts, outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, quarterback John Skelton and tight end Jim Dray all improved throughout the season and provide some hope for the future. Skelton, the fifth-round choice, started the last four games and showed great arm strength and poise. He struggled with accuracy, however, and his play isn't going to be enough to keep the team from addressing the position in the off-season.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The quarterback position was a source of consternation from the time Warner retired a year ago. Coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't believe in Matt Leinart, promoting Derek Anderson to the starting job. But as he was in Cleveland, Anderson was maddeningly inaccurate. He didn't get much help, but he also consistently missed open receivers.
It wasn't long before Cardinals fans gained more appreciation for just how good Kurt Warner was, and how many weaknesses he covered up. Whisenhunt started Anderson nine games, sandwiched around starts by rookie Max Hall, who looked overwhelmed. Skelton, another rookie, started the final four games and showed some ability.
While the failures at quarterback accounted for most of the team's struggles this year, they certainly weren't the only thing that went wrong.
Many of the team's stars didn't produce, either. Strong safety Adrian Wilson played poor pass defense all season. Defensive end Darnell Dockett had a down season, as did cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. All three of those players were Pro Bowlers in 2009.
Running back Beanie Wells, the first-round pick in 2009, still hasn't established himself. And defensive end Calais Campbell, who has the ability to make the Pro Bowl, instead took a step back.