Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/23/11
It’s been a long year for Arizona Cardinal fans around the globe, but with some of the moves made, and players stepping up, all arrows seem to be pointing in the right direction for this franchise. Here are Arizona’s top 5 stories of 2011.

Ray Horton named Defensive Coordinator

Even in their super bowl year in 2008, the Cardinals never really had a good defense. This was exposed in the 2010 season, following the retirement of Kurt Warner. Without Warner, the defense was on the field a ton, and their weaknesses were quickly exposed. This lead to the firing of defensive coordinator Bill Davis.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals staff looked to Pittsburgh for their replacement, linebacker coach Keith Butler specifically. Arizona was unable to bring him over, but instead picked up their defensive back coach Ray Horton. Horton then proceeded to bring a few of his guys in to complete the defensive coaching staff for Arizona, and made it clear that they were going to run a “blitz happy” system.

It was a shaky start to the year for Arizona’s defense, due in large part to many young players having to learn a brand new system, with a lockout-shortened offseason. Week by week you could start to see an improvement in this defense and they have been a larger part in Arizona’s 4 game winning streak.

Patrick Peterson

With the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NFL entry draft Arizona took LSU corner Patrick Peterson. Peterson had a rough start defensively, as he was burned a couple of times in the first few weeks. However, he has made plenty of adjustments and continued to improve his game. At this point in the year, teams are already starting to throw away from his side of the field.

Peterson has also been a huge threat on special teams, as he is currently tied with Devin Hester for the most punt return TD’s in one year with 4. There have been three games that he has practically won for Arizona single handily, including a 99 yard punt return TD to knock off the Rams in OT. Peterson has surpassed all expectations for Arizona so far, and should be in the running for defensive rookie of the year.  

Trade for Kevin Kolb

If there was one thing you had to pinpoint from Arizona’s 2010 season, it would most likely be the horrendous QB play. Between Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton, not much was accomplished and the Cardinals needed an upgrade.

One of the first moves Arizona made following the lockout was acquiring QB Kevin Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round draft pick in 2012. Kolb was then resigned to a 5 year deal worth 63 million dollars (24 guaranteed).

Kolb looked good in his opening day start against the Carolina Panthers, but struggled, for the most part, from weeks 2-7, before suffering turf toe against the Baltimore Ravens.

His return featured an OT win over the Dallas Cowboys, and in his 2nd game back, he suffered a concussion and has yet to return.
It’s safe to say the Kolb has left a lot of room for improvement; however he has also shown that he is capable of being an NFL starter.

Emergence of Beanie Wells

Despite playing through a knee injury for the majority of the year, Arizona RB Beanie Wells has been great this year, giving the defense something to think about.
In 13 games this year (missed week 3 @Seattle); Beanie has rushed for 994 yards on 231 carries (4.3 YPC). You can also tack on 10 scores to that total.

An injury-riddled year in 2010 left question marks around whether he was the guy for the job, but after a year like this, I don’t think there’s any question on whether Wells is capable of being a starting back.

Look for Arizona’s running game to be among the league’s best this time next year, with a healthy Ryan Williams and a rested Beanie Wells.

Comeback Cards

Faith. Focus. Finish. After a 1-6 start to the year, Arizona has used this motto as a platform to get right back into the thick of things in the NFC wildcard race. The Cardinals now sit at 7-7, which is 2 games back of a playoff spot with 2 games to go.

6-1 in their last 7 games, Arizona has been one of the hottest, if not the hottest team in the NFL over the past several weeks. This team seems to finally be coming together, and even if they miss out on the playoffs, they will still be able to go into the offseason feeling some sense of accomplishment.

There’s a glance at the year that the Arizona Cardinals franchise had in 2011. Look for them to be a force to be reckoned with come 2012. 
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