NFL Preseason Preview - Houston (0-0) at Arizona (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The champion of the 2014 NFL season will be crowned in University of Phoenix Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cards hope to take their first step toward Super Bowl XLIX when they host the revamped Houston Texans in the desert this weekend. Any hopes of winning the big game in their own home, however, have already taken some significant hits.
The Cardinals finished 10-6 a year ago and were the best team in the NFL which didn't reach the postseason but Arizona's well-regarded defense has already been decimated by off-the-field issues.
The strength of last year's club was the front seven and that unit has already lost star inside linebacker Daryl Washington to a year-long drug suspension. His absence was only magnified by the fact his running mate, veteran Karlos Dansby, jetted to Cleveland in free agency.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will be looking at a host of players to replace his two stalwarts with 2013 second-round pick Kevin Minter and former Pittsburgh star Larry Foote having the inside track.
Another headache popped up in early August when it was revealed star pass rusher John Abraham, the NFL's active career leader in sacks, had been charged with a DUI in suburban Atlanta in late June.
"First, I want to apologize to my family and friends, the Cardinals organization, my teammates and the fans for letting them down," Abraham said in a statement. "I understand the significance of my actions and right now I am taking the necessary steps to handle my personal business. I am very thankful for the support from my family, friends and especially the Cardinals organization during this time in my life. I am looking forward to being back with my teammates in the near future."
When that is remains to be seen, though.
Perhaps Arizona's biggest weakness on the other side of the ball -- the offensive line -- was addressed in free agency when the team brought former Raider Jared Veldheer in to play left tackle. That move, along with the return of immensely talented guard Jonathan Cooper (last year's No. 7 overall pick) from a broken left fibula was supposed to solidify things in front of quarterback Carson Palmer, who will turn 35 late in the 2014 season.
Cooper, however, has been dealing with a balky knee and been a disappointment so far.
"I'm a little disappointed with where Coop is at right now," Cards coach Bruce Arians told the team's website. "I'd hope he come a little faster."
Over in South Texas, new head coach Bill O'Brien already handed the keys to his team over to veteran free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, ending any speculation that strong-armed rookie Tom Savage or popular Texas native Case Keenum could push for the QB job.
The Texans, who went from AFC South champions to an NFL-worst 2-14 in one year, probably have enough talent -- especially defensively -- to pull off a worst-to-first scenario if they can get competent play from Fitzpatrick, but five stops in nine years confirms the Harvard product is nothing more than a journeyman.
Other big issues in Houston are the health of No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who underwent sports hernia surgery in June, and the mindset of veteran Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, who refused to report in the offseason but is back in the fold now, although Johnson has been dealing with a hamstring issue.
"(Clowney is) out there and he wants to go every rep," O'Brien said when talking about his prized draft pick, a once-in-a-generation physical talent who could team with All-Pro J.J. Watt to give the Texans a ferocious pass rush. "I'm sure he's a little sore and we'll just continue to manage him."
The Cardinals and Texans have split two prior preseason meetings.
08/07 14:21:53 ET