2012 NFL Preview: Arizona Cardinals

Five notes on the Arizona Cardinals from our recently published 2012 preview page:

1. Levi Brown is finally appreciated: The much-criticized tackle has never appeared more valuable than in the days since a torn triceps knocked him out for at least three months. The Cardinals' pass protection has been abysmal since Brown left the lineup. Arizona will do more to help its tackles once the regular season begins, but from what we've seen so far, the team's quarterbacks will have a tougher time making it through the season healthy. John Skelton has been more durable than Kevin Kolb. That is something to keep in mind.

2. There's competition at RB: Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both talented enough to start. Both are coming off knee surgeries. One or the other could be a 1,000-yard rusher. It would be no surprise, as well, if one or both missed extended periods to injury. This is a difficult situation to read from a fantasy football standpoint. At best, Wells and Williams will push each other. They'll compete for carries and give the Cardinals a one-two punch featuring power (Wells) and explosiveness (Williams).

3. Peterson is more than a returner: Patrick Peterson earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie for his work as a punt returner. Four return touchdowns, each covering at least 80 yards, will get anyone noticed. The goal this season is for Peterson to land in Hawaii for his efforts at cornerback. Games against Tom Brady (Week 2), DeSean Jackson (Week 3), the Packers (Week 9), Roddy White/Julio Jones (Week 11), Calvin Johnson (Week 15) and Brandon Marshall (Week 16) should put Peterson in the spotlight, for better or worse.

4. Finding Fitzgerald: Larry Fitzgerald is coming off the fourth season of his career with at least 1,400 receiving yards. Only three players in NFL history have as many seasons with at least 1,400. The milestone was significant for Fitzgerald because it marked the first time Fitzgerald had reached 1,400 yards without Kurt Warner as his primary quarterback. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald's yards per reception spiked from 12.6 in 2010 to a career-high 17.6. Fitzgerald proved he can produce at the highest level with or without a top quarterback. The Cardinals do a good job making sure he gets his touches.

5. Small margins for error: The Cardinals have generally been a resilient team under coach Ken Whisenhunt. They'll need that to remain the case if the quarterback play remains spotty. Arizona overcame fourth-quarter deficits in six of its eight victories last season, one off the NFL record for a season since 1970. The Cardinals went 4-0 in overtime games and are 7-2 in OT games under Whisenhunt. The 2011 team tied a franchise record with seven victories by seven or fewer points. The Cardinals' eight victories were by 4.25 points on average, the lowest average margin since at least 1970 for teams with eight or more victories in a season. Overall, the 2011 Cardinals played a league-high 13 games decided by seven or fewer points, going 8-5 in those games.

Earlier: Cardinals Camp Confidential.

Parting shot from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: "You look at the offensive line and it could be the worst in the league, but it probably gets a slightly bum rap. They can run block OK. Their quarterbacks don't help them at all in protection. But if I'm in charge of that team, they have to go into Jets mode. They have to try to win 10-9. Can their defense pull that off? Maybe. I think it can be a top 10 defense. Patrick Peterson is going to be a star. They found some youngsters in the secondary. I really like the defensive line. It looks like Dan Williams is on his way. Daryl Washington could lead the league in tackles. I don't like the outside linebacker situation, which is just such a far cry from James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. But Ryan Williams looks phenomenal at running back. If you made him the feature of your offense and fed it to Larry Fitzgerald, you could mask some of those deficiencies and pull out more wins than we think."