Travis LaBoy (Getty)
The Cardinals advanced to the Super Bowl last season largely because of an offense that had little trouble scoring points. The defense, however, gave up plenty and the club ranked 29th in points allowed... So one of coach Ken Whisenhunt's main goals this offseason was to shore up the defense, starting with a change at the top.
Ken Whisenhunt fired coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who held the job five years, and promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis.
Davis wants to run a more varied scheme, incorporating more elements of the 3-4 system than the club previously used. It won't be a Steelers-West version -- the Cardinals don't have that kind of talent or stability -- but it will be different than last year.
There were some slight personnel changes, but the Cardinals mainly hope to take advantage of some playmakers in their secondary to turn games around.
Biggest move: Signing cornerback Bryant McFadden. Opposing teams picked on cornerback Rod Hood, who was released after the season, partly because of salary cap concerns. McFadden, a starter for the Steelers, signed a two-year deal, and the Cardinals think they could have their best secondary in years. With McFadden and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the starting corners, the Cardinals have two proven playmakers.
Safeties Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle could be one of the more formidable safety combos in the league, and Rashad Johnson, a third-round pick, was a ballhawk in college at Alabama.
The depth at secondary gives coordinator Bill Davis a lot of options in devising schemes. The Cardinals will use as many as four safeties in some dime packages, with Rolle moving to the slot, Wilson shifting down to linebacker and Johnson and Aaron Francisco play the traditional safety roles.
Key loss: Outside linebacker Travis LaBoy was hampered all last season by injuries and will miss 2009 because of ankle surgery. The Cardinals decided to cut him rather than pay him for this season. LaBoy was far from great in 2008, but the Cardinals had a dearth of pass rusher even with LaBoy. The situation now is critical.
Bertrand Berry, who will be 34 this summer, led the team in sacks last season with 5. End Darnell Dockett has pass rush ability, as doe outside linebackers Chike Okeafor and Clark Haggans. The Cardinals are probably going to have pass rush by committee this season.
Needs addressing: The club must improve what was one of the league's worst rushing attacks last season. The offensive line returns intact and look for coach Ken Whisenhunt to make a strong effort to develop a solid run game. The Cardinals know their strength is in the passing game, but Whisenhunt thinks a decent running game could open things up through the air. Two young running backs, Tim Hightower and rookie Beanie Wells, will try to prove they are capable of producing. As a rookie last year, Hightower was productive in short-yardage and goal-line situations, but struggled as a starter. He eventually turned the job over to Edgerrin James again. Wells, the 31st overall pick, has good size and speed but there are questions about his toughness.