Arizona Cardinals: 5 Players Who Will Stumble in Week 1
Which Arizona Cardinals Will Struggle in Week 1?
The Arizona Cardinals open up their regular season schedule Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, and they will be facing an uphill battle to win. While the team has done plenty of things to upgrade their team this year, most importantly bringing in head coach Bruce Arians, Arizona's talent level still doesn't quite match up to their division rivals in the Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Seattle Seahawks.
Though the Cardinals' strong point is their defense, that seems to be the area where they are most likely to get exposed on Sunday. With the Rams debuting an offense with plenty of new wrinkles, very few of which were even teased at during the preseason, the team could be in for a big surprise. They may have trouble making sure that Rams' receiving options Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, and Jared Cook are all adequately covered on every play, and one mistake could end up hurting them.
That's not to say that they should be comfortable on offense either. The Cardinals installed two new key players on their offense this offseason: quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Rashard Mendenhall. However, both of them are injury-prone veterans who did not play very well last season. Top receiving option Larry Fitzgerald isn't getting any younger, either, so the Cardinals may have to get lucky in order to experience offensive success this year.
It's very possible that Arizona may turn in a poor performance across the board on Sunday, but here are five players in particular who may struggle going up against the Rams.
5. Lorenzo Alexander, OLB
Alexander is a good niche player and was a Pro Bowl special-teamer last year, but he is being put in a pretty difficult position this week. Alexander, who has played offensive guard, tight end, defensive tackle, in addition to middle linebacker last season, will shift back to another one of his former positions, outside linebacker, in 2013.
Though Alexander is a good athlete who is very versatile, it's pretty clear that he doesn't have the speed to adequately cover the players that the Rams will put in the slot, namely Tavon Austin and Jared Cook. The Rams will probably have four receiving options on the field for the majority of the time on Sunday, so Alexander will be forced to cover at some point and may end up getting burned.
4. Carson Palmer, QB
Palmer was solid last year for the Oakland Raiders, but he's never really returned to being the player he was when he led the Cincinnati Bengals during the mid-2000s. He may have a tough time on Sunday, considering he's going up against arguably the best ball-hawking cornerback duo in the league in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. To make matters worse, he will be constantly pressured by the Rams' defensive line, which led the league in sacks last season.
3. Levi Brown, LT
The 29-year-old Brown, who many considered a failed first-rounder even before his injury, will be making his first regular season start since 2011 on Sunday. His welcome-back present is getting to go up against Robert Quinn, who had 10.5 sacks last season and is still improving at age 23. Quinn had three sacks against Arizona's D'Anthony Batiste in one of the Rams and Cardinals' matchups last season, and with Brown still adjusting back to game speed, it should be easy for him to do the same on Sunday.
2. Rashad Johnson, FS
Johnson, a former third-rounder, has had trouble cracking the starting lineup throughout his time with the Cardinals, but won the starting free safety job by default due to Tyrann Mathieu's poor performance. Johnson is by no means elite in coverage, which will likely spell trouble when the Rams put Cook or Austin up against him. He also has to avoid dumb mistakes, such as the one he made in the preseason where he tried to lateral an intercepted ball and ended up giving up a touchdown.
1. Paul Fanaika, RG
Due to first-rounder Jonathan Cooper's season-ending injury, Fanaika, a five-year veteran who has played for five different teams, will take over the right guard position and make his first NFL start Sunday. He should be in for a hectic ride, as he will have to try to handle Rams' defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, two of the league's better interior pass rushers. That's not to mention defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims, who often shift inside on passing downs, and will provide Fanaika with an additional challenge. Realistically, a victory for Fanaika would be not getting pushed back on the majority of his plays.