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Arizona Cardinals’ offense looks to carry more of the load in 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. — It has been said that the best defense is a good offense.

For the 2013 Arizona Cardinals, that was not really the case. Arizona ranked first in the NFL against the run and sixth in total defense, while tying for fifth in interceptions and sixth in quarterback sacks.

The offense was moderately productive, but defense was clearly the team’s identity.

Things figure to be different in 2014.

Arizona lost both its middle linebackers, as Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland in free agency and Daryl Washington was suspended for the season due to violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse, and its secondary may be a bit light to start the season as Tyrann Mathieu works his way back from a knee injury.

Given that, it would not surprise anyone if the defense took a bit of a step back this season. As such, if the Cardinals are to have success, their offense will have to take a big step forward.

“Our offense is already improved enough this year that we should be able to carry our share of the load offensively,” coach Bruce Arians said Monday.

Arizona’s offense seemed to find its way in the second half of last season, with the team averaging 27.4 points per game over its final eight contests, with quarterback Carson Palmer completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,361 yards with 14 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a QB rating of 95.3 over that span.

By most accounts, familiarity within the offense led to more comfort, and as Palmer and his teammates got comfortable they started playing better.

The hope — and belief, really — is that the success will carry over into 2014.

“I think we’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time, we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do and lot of improvements need to be made,” Palmer said. “We have to step up. When you lose a guy like Daryl and you lose Karlos to free agency and Tyrann’s not going to be back, probably, as fast as we’d like.

“You look at a team, you kind of have to transform, and that’s the NFL.”

That’s not to say the Cardinals will suddenly become the Denver Broncos and light up scoreboards all across the league. And even before Washington was suspended, there was a notable confidence that scoring points would be easier this year than last.

Now it’s going to have to be, as the Cardinals figure to be a much different team than before.

“You’ve got to adapt, and offensively we have to pick up a ton of slack,” Palmer added. “We leaned on the defense a lot last year and we expect to be leaned on this year, and we need to come through and we will come through.”

At least the Cardinals aren’t starting from scratch as an offense. Even with their early-season struggles and the fact that some of the NFL’s toughest defenses reside in their division, Arizona finished 2013 ranked 12th in the league in total yards and tied for 16th in points per game. It was, along with an excellent defense, good enough to win 10 games, including seven of the last nine.

Though the team is different now than it was then and will be different in September when the season opens than it is even right now, it’s likely last year’s recipe has gone stale. But even if the defense does regress some, substantial improvement from the offense could mask any newfound deficiencies.

It’s a challenge Palmer said the entire offense is up for.

“We’re excited to score more points and be leaned on more, to have the ball in our hands at the end of games with everything on the line. That stuff’s fun, and I think we’re at a point now as an offense where we’re on our way to getting to a point where we have a ton of confidence,” he said. “We don’t talk about specific numbers or goals, but we can be a top-tier offense in this league and we expect to be. We’ll continue to work towards that.”