3 steps to success: Cardinals need to protect Carson Palmer and find Larry Fitzgerald

USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals' success in 2013 largely depends on patching up the offensive line enough to keep Carson Palmer upright.

The Arizona Cardinals have the misfortune of playing in an NFC West that is probably as strong as its ever been. Of course, this is based on the performance of both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks last season, their rosters heading into next season and the fact that the St. Louis Rams don't seem too far behind.

The Cardinals aren't lacking in talent themselves, but they're still a step behind the rest. There's a lot of concerns all over the roster, all of which the new head coach, Bruce Arians, will have the task of dealing with in his first season.

Arians got the job after performing admirably with the Indianapolis Colts as a fill-in for Chuck Pagano. He now has the task of fixing the league's worst offensive line to get as much production out of veteran quarterback Carson Palmer as possible at this point in his career. On top of that, he'll have to deal with some significant turnover on the defensive side of the ball.

Below, we'll take a look at what the Cardinals need to succeed, what can go wrong and what constitutes a successful season.

3 Steps To Success

1. Get Larry Fitzgerald the football

Fitzgerald fell off the map last season. After five-straight seasons of other 1,000 yards -- three of which included 1,4000 yards or more -- Fitzgerald had just 798 yards last year. On top of that, he only had four touchdowns. This isn't necessarily due to some intense regression, as the Cardinals simply didn't get him the football. Palmer needs to find Fitzgerald early and often.

2. Keep Carson Palmer upright

Palmer will be the first competent quarterback to the take snaps for the Cardinals since Kurt Warner retired. Unfortunately, he joins a team with the worst offensive line in football last season and isn't really all that mobile to begin with. Whatever the Cardinals have to do to keep Palmer from getting hit and potentially injured ... they have to do.

3. Make life tough for NFC West rivals

Arizona has always played the division hard, and that will need to continue going forward. They won't compete for the division, but if they hope to, causing the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams to screw up in games those teams are expected to win would be a great start.

3 Feats Toward Failure

1. Jonathan Cooper struggles

Jonathan Cooper was Arizona's first-round pick this year, and most agree it was a great pick. Cooper is one of the best guard prospects in some time, but he'll join the league's worst offensive line. Cooper can't make it all better right away, and if he struggles himself, then the Cardinals are going to be in big trouble.

2. No running back steps up

Arizona finally gave up on Beanie Wells, and that's good. Wells was never very good, and LaRod Stephens-Howling wasn't much better. No running back broke 400 yards for the Cardinals last season. But Arizona spent draft picks on Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, both regarded as potential starters at the running back position. One of these guys will need to step up and get Arizona back to rushing competence. If they don't, then Palmer will have no help whatsoever.

3. Lack of defensive identity

The Cardinals didn't have an otherworldly amount of turnover on the defensive side of the ball, and their defensive scheme is still somewhat up in the air. They have a few players suited for a 3-4 defense and a few players suited for a 4-3 defense, but all the pieces for either side don't appear to be there. Arizona, if they can't find a defensive identity sooner rather than later, could risk serious instability in a unit that was supposed to be a team strength last season.

Ultimate Answer

So what constitutes a successful season for the Cardinals? At this point, they're not contending in the NFC West, or at least, contending in the NFC West doesn't seem likely. The 49ers, Seahawks and even the Rams are just too good.

While every team wants to make it to and win the Super Bowl each year, that's probably not how high the "successful season" bar is for Arizona. No, the Cardinals will be shooting for progress and not a whole lot more at this point.

Arians needs to show he has a good grasp of the team, and key rookies contributing would be huge, as well. Perhaps Tyrann Mathieu is going to be a breakout player in his rookie season. If that happens, and he helps the Cardinals pick up some wins, then that could constitute a successful season.

In other words, the Cardinals just need to see some positive signs out there. They need hope that the season after this will be better than the last, and if they get that, then this franchise is headed in the right direction.

More from SB Nation:

Niners LB could be charged for assaulting teammate

Raiders settle $3 million lawsuit with Jamarcus Russell

Is Eli Manning still underrated?

Bois: The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles, Chapter 3

Will change finally catch up with Patriots?

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.