We plan to make "Stick a fork in them" an annual feature on Around the League. We could be writing for a long, long time before another team that starts 4-0 gets put to rest after only ten weeks.
What a strange, rollercoaster ride this was for the 2012 Arizona Cardinals.
What went wrong
We could try to find more creative reasons for Arizona's demise, but sometimes the obvious answer is right. Arizona's offensive line is the worst in the league. The tackles were woeful before both preseason starters went down to injury. Starters Bobby Massie and D'Anthony Batiste battled for most of the season to get Arizona's quarterbacks killed first.
It comes back to coaching. Greg Cosell of NFL Films notes the entire line struggles to pick up basic blitz concepts. The offensive line has been a systemic, annual problem. It's an indictment of the team's front office and offensive line coach Russ Grimm.
The quarterback situation isn't much better. Kevin Kolb made some clutch throws early in the season, but let's not get carried away. He holds on to the ball too long. His yards per attempt were down dramatically from last year, in the territory of Mark Sanchez and Matt Cassel. John Skelton played so poorly that Ken Whisenhunt turned to sixth-round rookie Ryan Lindley when the team was ahead in Atlanta. That was Whiz's version waving the white flag.
It didn't help that the team's top two running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams were hurt early. First-round pick Michael Floyd has struggled to pick up the pro game. The defense had some holes in the secondary with cornerback William Gay. All-world safety Adrian Wilson's play declined enough to get benched on passing downs. But the defense was great overall.
The Cardinals organization was held hostage by its line and quarterbacks. Again.
What went right
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton's group is fast and dangerous. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett fit the scheme perfectly. There aren't many better defensive line duos in the NFL when both are healthy. Cornerback Patrick Peterson had some rough moments, but he's improved in coverage overall. Linebacker Daryl Washington is a complete player. He can cover, stuff the run, and is one of the best blitzers at his position. In a normal year, he might be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The Cardinals are fourth in turnovers and fourth in FootballOutsiders' defensive metrics. It's a shame the offense wasted their efforts, although wide receiver Andre Roberts and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling stepped up as factors.
What still matters
It's hard to figure out this team's future at quarterback. Lindley has a chance to put himself in the mix for a big role next year. The Cardinals would love to see some development out of Floyd; he's struggled just to line up in the right place at times. At this point last year, the Cardinals looked lost. A strong end to the year built hope that they had something. Falling right back to the bottom of the NFC West would be dispiriting. Whisenhunt would love to get to seven or eight wins. It sounds strange, but beating the St. Louis Rams this Sunday would mean a lot to this organization.
What changes are coming
Could Whisenhunt lose his job? We expect the Cardinals to keep him next season, but something like a 12-game losing streak or even 2-10 stretch to end the year could inspire a change. If Whisenhunt stays, he will look to dramatically reshape the quarterback position. Kolb or Skelton will be let go, probably both.
This has been a wildly up and down team over the last few years. Division rivals Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis are all heading in the direction. It feels like the Cardinals are stuck.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.