The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.
Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).
(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.
Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.
There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.
Tags: 49ers, Colts, defense, Eagles, Rams, schedule, Seahawks, Titans, Todd Bowles
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It’s that time of the offseason, when players scatter for some time away from the facility and so too does the author of a certain blog. Before that, however, I try and put on my analysis cap and attempt to project – sans injuries – who will be in the starting lineup come Sept. 8 when the Cardinals open the regular season in St. Louis trying to win their first game for a fourth straight season. This one is a little more difficult to sort out. By last year it was easier to get a sense of what Ken Whisenhunt wanted to do and who he wanted to do it with. No real way to know that with Bruce Arians yet.
For starters, he has said time and again judging players in shorts wasn’t enough to make any solid decisions – he said he knew how they could play soccer, for goodness sake – and so I’d expect training camp to be much more important than the past. The Whiz coaching staff, which generally stayed stable, knew very well what they were getting with holdovers. This staff is new and don’t know many of these players. Being unquestioned at your position is rare right now.
That doesn’t even take into account Arians’ desire to play young players. He clearly is much more willing to go with youth. He has also talked often about how the “starters” are more than just 11, especially on defense, thanks to the many packages a team has.
I suppose that’s all a roundabout way of saying this is my best guesstimate, and that’s all. We have defense today, offense tomorrow. There has been lots of speculation out there that the Cards may end up as a 4-3 team, and we’ll see how things are spread around, but they have been working in a 3-4 base the entire offseason.
Remember, this is only an exhibition and not a competition, so please, please, no wagering.
DE – Darnell Dockett. He will get more chances to get on the stat sheet. He will, probably, be used inside in certain packages and not just as a 3-4 end. He definitely is happier than he has been in regards to how he is being used. The Cards are counting on that showing on the field.
NT – Dan Williams. The team poked around potential free agents earlier in the offseason, and Williams came in to workouts needing to shed pounds. But he has, and Arians praised his condition last week. Like the ends, there is talk of Williams getting upfield and attacking more often. It’s so easy to forget he was a No. 1 pick, but the Cards need him to play that way.
DE – Calais Campbell. Had another very good year last season. He too sounds excited about his opportunities in Todd Bowles’ system, although he tends to be a little more muted than Dockett (who isn’t?) Has become one of the best in the league, period. At some point, it’d be nice to see him get a Pro Bowl nod.
ROLB – Lorenzo Alexander. This has been the spot for O’Brien Schofield, who recently told me camp was the place where jobs are won and lost. Could OB still make a starting run? Sure. But Alexander, wooed as a free agent partially on the strength of starting potential, is going to get his shot. I think, given his ability as a leader, he’ll end up there at least at first.
SILB – Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley was an early free-agent sign, but then the Cards drafted Kevin Minter. Minter is the kind of player who needs camp to show what he’s got. Arians thought he was getting too physical in the offseason. But I think Brinkley still holds him off at first, even if Minter pushes for playing time later this season.
WILB – Karlos Dansby. This is kind of cheating, because I don’t even have to factor Daryl Washington into this – Washington is suspended the first four games. When Washington returns, however, it will be very interesting to see how it plays out with him, Dansby, Brinkley and Minter. It’s been suggested Washington could end up outside in some scenario, but at no point in the offseason did Washington do any work there.
LOLB – Sam Acho. A very smart player and great in the locker room. He should start at the outset, but he needs to up his sacks to stay there. Otherwise they are going to start looking to upgrade.
CB – Patrick Peterson. Easiest position to peg.
CB – Jerraud Powers. The Cardinals did a good job building up depth at cornerback. Antoine Cason is slightly more established given Powers’ injury history, but Powers has an Arians connection from Indy and I think that will make a difference. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cason start, though. Another thing to chew on: With so many corners, is one traded before the season starts? You still have Javier Arenas, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming, Bryan McCann.
FS – Rashad Johnson. Tyrann Mathieu is going to play in some way, shape or form, including nickel corner sometimes. You just don’t see it any other way. But I don’t see Mathieu starting. Johnson is helped because he played strong safety last season. I can see Johnson moving to strong safety if Mathieu bullies his way into the lineup.
SS – Yeremiah Bell. Bell brings experience and he knows Bowles well from their days in Miami. He is a short-term solution, though.
Tags: Antoine Cason, Bryan McCann, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, defense, Jamell Fleming, Jarraud Powers, Jasper Brinkley, Javier Arenas, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Minter, Lorenzo Alexander, O'Brien Schofield, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Sam Acho, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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Levi Brown was talking about getting back on the field and what he might be able to learn about himself in shorts in the heat of summer. No pads helps, he said, because he can ease his injured arm back into work. But there are other challenges.
“Our defense is giving us tons of blitzes right now,” Brown said, shaking his head. “Things I don’t think I’ve seen.”
There has been so much talk about the Ray-Horton-To-Todd-Bowles transition and what that could mean for the defense. While the arrival of Bruce Arians — and new quarterback Carson Palmer — has shifted focus to what the offense will be able to do, the defense remains a unit burgeoning with potential and proven players. In a division where the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams all have created believers on that side of the ball, the Cardinals have done the same, like with ESPN analyst/former scout Matt Williamson:
— Matt Williamson (@WilliamsonNFL) June 5, 2013
(Williams is bullish on a lot of things the Cards have done, actually. This is an ESPN Insider link, but in a nutshell, Williamson gave them an A. “I love what Arizona has done this offseason.”)
Even with the Daryl Washington suspension and whatever else might be hanging over the linebackers head, you have enthusiasm over what could be from the defensive ends, a linebacker corps that (with Washington) will be stronger overall with the additions of Karlos Dansby, Jasper Brinkley and Kevin Minter, and a cornerbacks group that is better than last season and that’s even before any anticipated improvement of Patrick Peterson. Finding out what defensive end-turned-linebacker Matt Shaughnessy and Lorenzo Alexander can produce will be crucial, but they should help incumbents Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield at outside linebacker. Are there some unknowns at safety? Sure, but if Tyrann Mathieu can make some plays back there behind vets Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell, I think the Cards can survive — especially in an NFL world where safety play has become more about coverage than big hitting.
The Cardinals need to make strides on offense. That’s obvious. But their base in 2013 will need to come from the defensive production.
Tags: Daryl Washington, defense, Jasper Brinkley, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Minter, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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Sometimes, stats don’t tell a lot. Sometimes, one stat can tell everything. That’s how it feels for the upcoming Monday game against the 49ers.
Over the last 16 games, the top two teams in the NFL in terms of fewest offensive touchdowns allowed will face off at University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers have given up just 21 offensive touchdowns, the Cardinals just 22. If anyone is expecting offensive fireworks, that would seem to be far-fetched. The 49ers are coming off a game in which they beat the Seahawks, 13-6. The Cards, of course, lost to Minnesota but gave up just 14 points on defense.
None of this is a revelation. But it seems certain that the Cardinals will be under even more pressure to avoid errors. They probably won’t get a ton of chances to score. Last year, they dented the 49ers in their 21-19 win because quarterback John Skelton was able to get a couple of big plays, long touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet. Plays down the field have been limited for the Cards thus far this season. A couple this week would change the dynamic of the game.
– The Cards reportedly worked out kicker Josh Brown, after Jay Feely’s recent struggles. I don’t see anything happening now, but it’s an option if Feely continues to have issues. He did just complete a streak of 19 straight field goals made earlier this season — plus he made that 61-yarder — so he has produced. But on a team with which points are at a premium, misses loom much larger.
– There will be a food drive at Monday night’s game against the 49ers. Volunteers from Sagicor, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.
Tags: 49ers, defense, Jay Feely, Josh Brown
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The Cardinals don’t have that one pass rusher, a la Bertrand Berry 2004, that piles up the sacks. For that reason, many have wondered about the Cards’ ability to get pressure on the passer. But as they proved last season — when they finished seventh in the NFL in sacks, despite their leading sack guy, Calais Campbell, having just eight — they are faring just fine in that regard. The Cards, in one fell swoop, took control of the NFL’s longest active streak of games with multiple sacks.
The Cardinals have done it eight games in a row, supplanting the Patriots, who had done it nine games in a row before the Cards made sure they got just one last weekend. Tom Brady, on the other hand, was sacked four times. The Cardinals already have seven sacks this season after posting 42 last season, with two each for Campbell and linebacker Paris Lenon. Next up is Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who can be had (the Cards sacked him twice last season).
It’s not always about the sack. Sometimes pressure is enough, or even better, depending on what you’re trying to do. But clearly the team is finding a way to get to the quarterback. Given that they rarely blitzed last week, it’s also a good sign they can generate sacks with just four rushers.
Tags: Calais Campbell, defense, Paris Lenon
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Everyone could see how the Cards’ defense improved the second half of the season, especially since it was the defense that was the backbone of the final 7-2 record down the stretch. But I’ve been asked about actually statistical proof, and there was that too.
Breaking down the defense into their NFL rankings from Weeks 1-8 (when the Cards played seven games and were 1-6) and then from Weeks 9-17 (the aforementioned 7-2 finish) shows a stark contrast:
|Statistic||1-8 (Rank)||9-17 (Rank)|
|TDs Allowed||20 (T26th)||12 (3rd)|
|Rush TD Allowed||11 (T31st)||4 (T4th)|
|Pass TD Allowed||9 (7th)||8 (5th)|
|3rd Down Efficiency||37.8 (17th)||27.2 (1st)|
|Avg. 1st Downs Allowed||24.2 (31st)||18.1 (T10th)|
|Avg. Yards Allowed||390.7 (24th)||327.4 (13th)|
|Sacks||16 (T16th)||26 (T3rd)|
|Yards Per Pass Att.||7.9 (24th)||6.1 (2nd)|
|Red Zone TD Pct.||51.7 (14th)||27.6 (1st)|
Over the final nine games, 64 percent of the drives by Cards’ opponents (76 of 118) were five plays or less and 59 percent (70) covered 25 yards or less. Of the 12 touchdowns the Cards allowed, four came on drives that began on the Cards’ side of the 50-yard line.
Obviously, the Cardinals need to stay that stout over the course of the season, although their consistency over a more-than-two-month period (the Cards didn’t score more than 23 points in a game in any of those last nine games) was not only remarkable, but crucial for the team’s win-loss mark. Carrying that consistency into 2012 — and, in theory, adding pieces and more layers of the scheme — is what coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton are aiming for over the offseason.
Tags: defense, Ray Horton
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Much has been made about the Cardinals’ strong fourth-quarters on offense — particularly by the quarterback — but of late, the defense has arguably been even better.
In the fourth quarter and overtime of the last three games, which included two come-from-behind wins and the no-margin-for-error game in Cincinnati, the Cards’ defensive unit has been 2000 Ravens good. In those three total quarters (plus a Browns’ overtime possession), the Cards haven’t allowed a point. They have allowed just three first downs and the Niners, Browns and Bengals didn’t convert a single third down. Over 41 total plays, opponents gained just 106 yards.
The Cards also forced three fumbles which they recovered, forced 13 punts in 19 possessions, and allowed their offense to win or at least have a chance.
Combine that with how the offense comes alive late, and it’s little wonder the Cards have been able to win so many in dramatic fashion.
Overall, the Cards have the stats to back up how they turned the corner defensively since their second-half meltdown in Baltimore. Starting with the next week (the overtime win against St. Louis at UoP), the Cards are 12th overall in the NFL in yards allowed per game, first in red-zone defense, third in third-down completion percentage, third in touchdowns allowed and seventh in passing yards allowed per game.
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The Cards, now, are coming from everywhere.
The development of the defense — and the ability for defensive coordinator Ray Horton to call a lot of different plays now — has changed the way they attack the opposing passing game. Two games in a row, they have five sacks from five different players (eight players overall; Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett have gone back-to-back. The others: Nose tackle Nick Eason — pictured below — and linebackers O’Brien Schofield, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans and Daryl Washington, along with cornerback Patrick Peterson.
“That’s the evidence they are getting it,” Horton said. “I was watching (Cowboys quarterback) Tony Romo and I could see it, we did things he wasn’t expecting,” Horton said. “Now that every single guy can blitz, the package is starting to come together.”
Peterson’s sack — the first of his career — came on a play where both he and fellow cornerback Michael Adams blitzed.
“Coach Horton has definitely been dialing it up lately,” Peterson said. “To have five different guys get five sacks the last two games, that’s unbelievable. Everyone is getting in on the party. I got my first sack, so you know he is sending them from everywhere when a cornerback is getting his first sack. It’s a pleasure to be playing in this type of defense because guys don’t know where we are coming from.”
Tags: Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, defense, Nick Eason, Patrick Peterson, Ray Horton
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The Cards hang a 21-19 loss on the 49ers Sunday, as satisfying of a victory as they have had all season – that’s 10 games decided by seven points or less, still tied with the Denver Tebows for most in the league, and the Cards have won six of them – but you could tell that hint of frustration from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald afterward.
OK, maybe it was more than a hint.
“It kind of pisses you off a little bit because you know the team we were capable of being,” Fitzgerald said, noting the Cards’ rally from that six-game losing streak that put them in a hole it’s going to be hard from which to emerge. “The way we’re playing now and the way we were playing earlier during the six-game skid just really makes you upset.
“If we had won just two or three of those games, we would possibly be fighting for the division.”
That’s true, but I am guessing the Rams – twice – and Eagles and Cowboys and Niners are all lamenting the same thing when it comes to the Cards. Bottom line: The Cards could have packed it in after falling to 1-6. They didn’t. “How many times during those first weeks did we say that we were going to stay the course?” coach Ken Whisenhunt noted (and I know that frustrated some fans to no end). So here we are.
“That’s one thing I’ll say about these Cardinals: There is no quit,” tackle Jeremy Bridges said.
– I’m sticking to my theme of waiting until Cards get to .500 before talking postseason possibility.
– But considering the Giants/Lions/Falcons all could have lost today and won, ouch. Thank goodness for the Tebows taking out the Bears. Somehow.
– Was it me or did it look like linebackers Sam Acho and Clark Haggans chased 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for five minutes on that final fourth-and-1 play? “Last week coach took me out for a little bit, and it was like, ‘We need you to rush the passer and you’re getting tired,’ ” Acho said. “All that was going through my head was, ‘You can’t be tired – it’s the last play.’ Clark and I were just running in circles trying to make something happen.”
– The defense can’t get enough praise for Sunday. I mean, the 49ers had the ball for more than 22 minutes in the first half – and had just four field goals and a 12-7 lead. “Could’ve gotten ugly, right?” cornerback Patrick Peterson said with a grin. Uh, yes.
– Five more sacks, by five different players. For a second straight week. The list this week: Peterson (his first NFL sack), Daryl Washington, Nick Eason, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.
– Campbell was huge again Sunday. He is playing so, so well.
– No, Adrian Wilson didn’t hang on to the two passes that looked like they should have been intercepted. But he played another excellent game Sunday and has found a groove in this defense. To paraphrase SI writer Jim Trotter, reports of Wilson’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
– How important is field position for the 49ers’ offense? San Fran started 10 drives on its side of the 50. They scored three points. Their other four scoring “drives” started on the Arizona 43, 4, 16 and 37.
– Didn’t we just say the Cards couldn’t afford to mess up the turnover battle? Cards had three turnovers. Niners didn’t turn it over. How do you explain it? (Well, it starts with a D.) San Fran scored just three points off those three turnovers.
– The Cards didn’t have three touchdown passes in a game all of 2010. They did it once previous this season, when John Skelton had three in Philly. But in that game, two went to Fitz, one to Early Doucet. Sunday was the first time the Cards had three different receivers catch TD passes since Fitz (2), Steve Breaston, Ben Patrick and Anthony Becht did it in Chicago Nov. 8, 2009.
– John Skelton was not good his last two starts. He ended up playing pretty well Sunday. We’ve said this before, but his resiliency is so impressive. It might be, even beyond his big arm, his best attribute. It won’t always translate into success, but he couldn’t have any success without it.
– Loved watching Bridges block a pair of Niner DBs — Chris Culliver and Dashon Goldson — by himself on Early Doucet’s big screen pass the play before Andre Roberts’ TD catch. Rex Hadnot had a great peelback block on linebacker Aldon Smith on the play too.
– Kevin Kolb took a knee to the back of the head by linebacker Ahmad Brooks as he was being sacked by Justin Smith. We’ll see what that means for Kolb this week.
– Punter Dave Zastudil is playing with a torn biceps in his arm. If things go like normal, that doesn’t have to cost him time, but it’s tough. Yet Zastudil averaged 46.6 yards a kick Sunday.
– Odd that Frank Gore, who had the 37-yard TD run, got only 10 rushes (for 72 yards). Niners coach Jim Harbaugh only said “No, not a reason” when asked if there was a reason Gore played less than normal. Cards won’t argue.
– The 49ers win the NFC West this season. But, given that, the Cards will take what they got Sunday. “I’ll tell you this,” Campbell said. “When the game was over and we came out on top, it felt like a Super Bowl win.”
Tags: 49ers, Adrian Wilson, Dave Zastudil, defense, Jeremy Bridges, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Sam Acho
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One of the issues the Cards’ defense had a season ago was the problem of allowing a touchdown on short fields. Consistently, players and coaches said, it shouldn’t matter if the offense turned the ball over. The defense had to hold a team out of the end zone.
So the defense just had their first chance at that. Kurt Warner threw an interception into double coverage and the 49ers took over at the Arizona 36. The Niners got a first down, but had to eventually kick the field goal.
Now the offense just needs to find someone to be effective.
Tags: 49ers, defense, Kurt Warner
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