For Ken Whisenhunt, it's time to win or go home.
Well, maybe not exactly, but another non-winning season would more than likely leave the sixth-year head coach on the hot seat. Thanks to a successful start to his career in the desert, Whisenhunt's seat has stayed relatively cool but that could change in a hurry.
After coming to Arizona from the Steelers in 2007, Whisenhunt was the toast of the town – so to speak – and was proclaimed the savior of the Cardinals fluttering franchise. Whisenhunt led Arizona to an 8-8 season, after the team had a combined record of just 20-44 from 2002-2006.
Then in 2008, Whisenhunt experienced his true breakout year. Arizona made an improbable run to the Super Bowl and came within mere seconds of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. The Cardinals validated their head coach by making the playoffs for a second consecutive year in 2009.
Since then, however, the Cardinals have hit their share of roadblocks.
Following the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner, Arizona took a massive step back in 2010. The team struggled all season en route to a 5-11 record. Yes, the team bounced back with an 8-8 record in 2011 but that improvement must carry into next season for Whisenhunt and company to once again secure their jobs.
While things appear to be looking up for the Cardinals, that won't be an easy feat.
The once putrid NFC West division isn't so putrid anymore. Once a stomping ground for underwhelming coaches, the NFC West now boasts some of the top coaches in the NFL. Pete Carroll has done a tremendous job in Seattle and appears to be just getting started. Jim Harbaugh is arguably the best young coach in the league after leading the 49ers to a near Super Bowl berth in his first season. And by the way, Jeff Fisher will now be roaming the sidelines in St. Louis.
Sure the Cardinals will have plenty to worry about in the division, but first must address their own issues.
| John Skelton|
Even if things settle in at quarterback – which could also include the addition of Peyton Manning – there are concerns at the other skill positions. Running back Beanie Wells can't quite get over the hump and cement himself as a dependable option in the backfield. Injuries continue to be an issue and Wells' time to prove himself is running out.
Second-year running back Ryan Williams is waiting in the wings, but he too has already been hit by the injury bug. Williams missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and while the potential is obvious, there's no telling what the Cardinals will get when he returns to the field in 2012.
At wide receiver, Arizona was hoping for one of its existing options to emerge as a legitimate No. 2 wideout opposite of Larry Fitzgerald. While Andre Roberts and Early Doucet both showed flashes, neither is a sure thing. The Cardinals should make a push to obtain a receiver to complement Fitzgerald, restoring an aspect of the team's offense that hasn't been seen since the departure of Anquan Boldin.
While the Cardinals are far from perfect on the defensive side of the ball, Ray Horton's unit might be ready to reach a new level.
Horton got off to a slow start in his first year as defensive coordinator, but came on strong in the second half of 2011. With a solid nucleus of young players in place, Arizona's defense could easily be considered the team's strong point heading into next year.
The Cardinals have a chance to get back to the playoffs in 2012, but it won't be easy. A rapidly improving division along with a number of question marks of their own will make this journey back to prominence much tougher than the last.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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