TEMPE, Ariz. – It didn’t take Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim more than a couple hours after losing the NFC Championship Game on Sunday to begin looking toward next season.
On the plane ride back to Arizona, with the memory of losing to the Carolina Panthers 49-15 still fresh in their minds, Arians and Keim began plotting their course for free agency. Among the areas of concern they discussed came an early consensus: The Cardinals need to improve their pass rush.
“I don’t care who it is – whether it’s Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers – you have to affect the quarterback on a lot of snaps and we weren’t able to do that [Sunday] night,” Keim said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Added Arians: “We obviously need some more pressure people.”
Just two outside linebackers – Dwight Freeney and LaMarr Woodley – are scheduled to be among Arizona’s 16 unrestricted free agents in March. Freeney, 35, led Arizona with nine sacks. Woodley, 31, finished the season on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. The Cardinals were also without outside linebacker Alex Okafor for their two playoff games because of an unspecified injury he suffered during the playoff bye week.
The need for a pass rush is warranted. Arizona pressured Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on 20.7 percent of his dropbacks, Arizona’s lowest rate of the season.
“I don’t think we created any pressure,” Keim said. “We have to get more physical up front. Again, that starts with me and I have to do a better job and I will certainly answer the bell and get that started [Monday] and try to put a team on the field that all our fans can be proud of.”
Keim left for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, earlier this week.
“I couldn’t be more excited to start putting the team back together,” Keim said.
The core of Arizona’s offense – quarterback Carson Palmer; wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown; running backs David Johnson and Andre Ellington; left guard Mike Iupati and left tackle Jared Veldheer – will be back, and that’s given Arians some solace as he mourns Sunday’s loss.
“Looking at the team that’s coming back vs. where we were this time last year, very few holes to fill,” Arians said. “Steve’s already off starting to do it and this offseason already has begun.”
But Arians said there were more areas of concern beyond finding a pass-rusher.
He wants to added “another corner and safety with some length and speed.”
“They’re not easy to find, but that’s something I’d like to look for,” Arians said. “I like our offensive line where it’s at. The young guys on the practice squad, I think, have really good futures. Then both No. 1 picks, I think, are going to be good players, so I think we’re fine there.
“Hopefully we’ll find another David Johnson.”