The Arizona Cardinals started 4-0 last season. Remember that?
They knocked off the Seahawks in Week 1, then marched into Foxboro and took down the mighty Patriots in Week 2. Wins over Philadelphia and Miami followed, with QB Kevin Kolb throwing a combined five touchdowns passes in those games, and just like that the Cardinals were the NFL’s surprise team at the quarter pole.
Unfortunately for them, they also were a league laughingstock over the final 3/4 of the year — their lone win over the final 13 weeks of the regular season came over the Lions on Dec. 16. That 38-10 triumph snapped a nine-game losing streak (and, as luck would have it, also cost the Cardinals three or four spots in the draft).
The Cardinals’ collapse enticed them to make some big changes, both at QB, where Carson Palmer will replace Kolb; and at head coach and GM, where Bruce Arians and Steve Keim now have the reins, respectively. That new regime has also made some smart moves this offseason.
The result: Arizona could be a much improved team in 2013. And the standings might not show it at all.
Antwan Barnes is a New York Jet and Shaun Phillips a Denver Bronco, so the San Diego Chargers had every intention to turn one of their starting outside linebacker spots over to 2012 first-rounder Melvin Ingram.
On to Plan B.
Ingram tore the ACL in his left knee during Tuesday’s OTA workout, the team announced. That injury will end Ingram’s second season before it even begins.
It also leaves the Chargers in an absolutely dire situation at linebacker. Ingram picked up just one sack last season, but the Chargers had high hopes he could be their disruptive presence off the edge this season. Without him, they’re down to Jarret Johnson, 2009 first-round bust Larry English and 2013 sixth-rounder Tourek Williams, plus a couple of undrafted free agents.
Ray Rice, he of 61 receptions last regular season and 311 over his five years in Baltimore, says that he wants to catch more passes in 2013. That’s good news for the Ravens because, well, someone has to replace Anquan Boldin’s production.
“Now that guys know that I’m a threat out of the backfield, I got to use my hands a little more,” Rice told The Baltimore Sun over the weekend. “I get pushed a lot coming out of the backfield, and that’s a sign of respect, but if I can get my hands and get out on pass routes [I'll] continue to get open for Joe Flacco.”
The Ravens’ apparently salary cap-fueled decision to dump Boldin off on San Francisco for a sixth-round draft pick was one of the offseason’s bigger shocks. The 32-year-old receiver led Baltimore last season with 65 catches, then took over in the playoffs to the tune of 22 receptions, 380 yards and four TDs.
Making the Boldin trade even more of a head-scratcher: The Ravens balked on adding another big-name receiver, doing nothing beyond taking Elon’s Aaron Mellette in the seventh round and signing a couple of undrafted free agents. Granted, Mellette could be a steal. But the Ravens’ clear plan is fill the void left by Boldin with pieces already on the roster.
There is a laundry list of receivers in the mix for the No. 2 receiver slot opposite Torrey Smith, including Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, Tommy Streeter and Mellette. Of that group, only Jones hit double-digits in receptions last season (30).
So, instead of relying on an unreliable receiving corps, the Ravens may be better served to feed the ball to Rice and tight end Dennis Pitta.
How might that happen?
The Buffalo Bills announced Monday that 73-year-old Buddy Nix would “step away” from his role as general manager, with assistant GM Doug Whaley expected to inherit the job. Nix will remain with the franchise as a “special assistant.”
“I’ve made this decision to step away from the general manager’s position because I feel it is the right time,” Nix said in a statement released by the team. “By the ‘right time’ I mean I think we have a good young roster, an excellent head coach with a good staff, and it’s time to let someone else handle these responsibilities and move forward together.”
That move comes a little more than two weeks after Buffalo made waves during Round 1 of the 2013 NFL Draft by trading down and then selecting QB E.J. Manuel from Florida State. The timing of Nix’s decision (perhaps a forced one) to adjust his responsibilities indicates that Whaley likely played a significant part in the Bills’ draft-day dealings.
Tyler Wilson threw for 7,765 yards and 52 touchdowns during his college career, exactly 24 yards and five touchdowns more than E.J. Manuel at Florida State. Obviously, NFL prospect analysis goes well beyond stats — Manuel also rushed for 827 yards to Wilson’s -44, and Florida State won five more games than Arkansas from 2009-12.
Still, there was a 96-pick gap between when Manuel came off the board at No. 16 overall in this year’s draft and when the Raiders nabbed Wilson at 112. Considering that Wilson could wind up with just as much of a shot to start in Week 1 as Manuel (or the four other QBs taken in the top 115), Oakland might reap a pretty nice return on its investment.
Wilson took a very tiny step toward that possibility over the weekend, when he opened some eyes at the Raiders’ rookie camp.
He was so impressive, in fact, that Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times wrote that ”Wilson is on track to push Matt Flynn for the starting job right away and certainly push (Terrelle) Pryor for the backup spot held by Matt Leinart last season.”