TEMPE, Ariz. -- In year two of the Bruce Arians' coaching era, the Arizona Cardinals could look much different than they did in year one.
A defense that ranked sixth overall in the league has suffered significant losses. But an offense that struggled to score throughout 2013 could be significantly better.
The end result is that the Cardinals should contend for a playoff spot, as they did a year ago.
The offense looked much improved throughout training camp. Quarterback Carson Palmer looked comfortable, and while the offensive line remains in flux, it protected Palmer well.
This year, the offense looks more like a vintage Arians offense. The difference is speed. Receiver John Brown, the third round pick, looked great in preseason and has big-play capability. The addition of Ted Ginn, Jr. also gives the Cardinals a deep threat they lacked a year ago.
Combine those two with the big, physical receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and Palmer has plenty of weapons at his disposal. The tight end spot also should be better, with the signing of John Carlson and the drafting of Troy Niklas.
The key will be the play of the five guys up front. It appears to be a better, more powerful group that should protect Palmer better.
Against San Diego, their opponent in the season opener, and other opponents, the key will be if the defensive front can bring pressure. It had trouble doing that all preseason, and it didn't help that end John Abraham, who had 11 1/2 sacks a year ago, missed most of camp.
Abraham was arrested for a DUI in June and reportedly was in a rehabilitation program, which was why he was late for camp. When he finally reported, he appeared to be in shape.
But his absence added to the concern of what has happening on defense. Safety Tyrann Mathieu isn't likely to play in the season opener while trying to come back from knee surgery.
Gone are inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington. Gone is end Darnell Dockett.
The Cardinals are built to replace Dockett. Frostee Rucker is a capable replacement. But they are hurting at inside linebacker, especially since Kevin Minter suffered a pectoral injury in the season opener.
The end result is the Cardinals will be looking to their offense to pick up the slack for whatever the defense has lost.
"You look at this team," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, "you've got two or three really talented tight ends. You've got a stable of backs that can hurt you. You've got five, six receivers who can play.
"Defensively, we lost a couple guys, but I still put our defense up against anybody in the business. We still have a really strong team, but it's one thing to talk about and another thing to do it."
NOTES: Curtis Taylor, likely to make the team as a fifth safety, suffered a hematoma in his forearm in the final preseason game. His status is unknown. ... G Jonathan Cooper returned to action after missing more than two weeks with a turf toe. He played the entire first half of the final preseason game and improved as the night went along.