Improved defense by the numbers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 26, 2012 – 1:33 pm

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)
Games  7 9
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.

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53 Responses to “Improved defense by the numbers”

  1. By Nick on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Darren – Should we just leave them out there for Offense too? 🙂

  2. By Jeff on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Coincedentally, week 9 is when Skelton took over. So there is an explanation to Skelton winning other than the simple-minded explanation of, “All he does is win.”

  3. By Jeff on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    What about the scoring the defense gave up?

    That is a pretty significant stat: giving up about 25 points week 1-8, compared to about 18 points week 9-16.

  4. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Jeff —

    RE: Points

    In Weeks 1-8, the Cards allowed 26.1 points a game. From Weeks 9-17, it was 18.3.

  5. By Brandon LA on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    MOMENTUM !!!!

  6. By Cards4Ever on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Wow! First in 3rd down and red zone defense over the second half, that’s remarkable!

    Excited about our defense next year. Also excited about what Kolb brings to the table with an offseason in front of him!

  7. By SteveG on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    I believe we will see a similar increase in offensive numbers when Kolb (my #1 qb) is finally able to stop thinking and start reacting in sync with the system.

  8. By Procen on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    The only thing the Cards needs is a good offense to complement the defense and for sure that we are going to be in the playoff or even the Super Bowl. I think the Cards defense is better than the Steelers defense. What do you think, Darren?

  9. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Procen —

    RE: Better than

    I think they had a good second half of the season. I think they have to do it for a longer period before we start ranking them above units that have done it for much longer.

  10. By SteveG on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply


    If we took 8 points from the opposition in ALL 16 games, what would the record have been I wonder?

    I know, all speculation but…….

  11. By Brian on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Hey Darren,
    Regardless of where Manning ends up, if healthy do you still see him staying with the colts despite all of the drastic change going on there at the moment?

  12. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Brian —

    RE: Manning/Colts

    Given the latest developments, and the apparent anger which owner Jim Irsay seems to have after Manning’s quotes earlier this week, it seems like that chance is growing slimmer.!/bkravitz/statuses/162646589792460801

  13. By Ottis Anderson Fan on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Looking at those numbers, “stark” may be an understatement. Hopefully the D can pick up in 2012 where they left off in 2011.

    Would be interesting to directly contrast those numbers for the defense with the same stats for the Card’s offense.

  14. By Chris Robot on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Something to note though is the competition faced in those time periods.

    The first seven games we had to face units like the Ravens, Steelers, and the Giants.

    The back 9, we really only faced a struggling Eagles team and a decent Cowboys team.

    Still, interesting numbers to see..

  15. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Chris Robot —

    RE: Competition

    Fair, to a point. If you look back, the Eagles were actually playing pretty well on offense at that point. No one will confuse the Ravens with being an offensive juggernaut. And the Cards also gave up 34 to the Vikings, who were terrible offensively.

  16. By Mal on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply


    Is that you putting together the ‘Best of’ vids? If you do one on Fitz, could you include his one handed catch from the pre-season? I know its not a real game, but it was his most amazing one hander I’ve ever seen, and deserves a replay. He laid flat out and stabbed a 15 yard fastball. I’d love to see it again.

  17. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Mal —

    RE: Videos

    I’m not doing the videos directly. To be honest, I don’t remember which play you are talking about. If you remember the game, I would guess it was in that game’s highlights, which can be found in the video archives.

  18. By Jesse Robles on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    If and only IF the Cardinals can get Consistent QB play, the Defense is made to play how they were playing the second half of last season, they seriously can beat the Niners, Ravens, Patriots, and Giants. I said it, and we played 3 of the 4 teams. Consistency.

  19. By Chris Robot on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Darren –

    RE: I’m the juggernaut (expletive).

    A fair point too. The defense gave up quite a bit to the Vikings but also, the offense turned the ball over to give the Vikings some prime field position. Still, the defense could not keep them out of the end-zone which, toward the end of the season, they had an easier time limited opponents to 3 or sometimes 0 after a turnover.

    I can agree that the Eagles to that point were seen as a strong offensive team. If memory serves me, they were a top 5 or top 10 total offensive yards/game team at that point.

    Regarding the Ravens, no, I wouldn’t call them an offensive juggernaut. However, when Flacco and Boldin sync up well and Rice can run the ball effectively, they do put on an above average show.

    Still, the first half (ie. 7 games) of the season was marred by a lot of blown coverages and the line with bad gap coverage. I definitely noticed the defense having less mental mistakes in the back 9, I just thought it was at least something worth of note to mention the competition faced in the back 9 vs the front 7.

  20. By Chris Robot on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Mal, Darren –

    RE: Videos

    It is in the GB vs AZ highlights for a quick moment and then I think there is a slow-mo of it too in the same video.

  21. By Brent on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    The fact the Cards had to squeak through 4 OT wins while the defense was putting up those statistical numbers shows just how much work there is on offense. Having said that, I really hope the Cards draft a pass rusher – Melvin Ingram? – in the first round to make the defense feared.

  22. By Scott H on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Brent –

    I’m excited about the defense, too, but didn’t they also give up some big plays that allowed very un-impressive teams like Cleveland and Seattle to stay with us in some of those games? The stats show significant improvement but they weren’t perfect.

  23. By AndyStandsUp on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    A season-long problem with the defense was turnovers and penalties.
    Only had 19 total FR and INTs, near the bottom of the league and surprising, knowing the roster has Wilson, Rhodes, Peterson, Washington and Dockett.
    Horton has stated this will be a focus point this upcoming year.
    The penalty situation is more troubling.
    Only the Raiders gave up more first downs via the flag and I believe only Oakland has committed more fouls than AZ in the Whiz era.

  24. By georgiebird on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    In the 52 years, I’ve followed the Cards, the 2011 defense performed as good or better than any previous year. The 2011 defense was more athletic and active than any of the previous years (I may have missed one).
    But to take anything from this years defense, you have to drill down thru your stats for the following reasons:
    1) except for Manning and Ben, the QBs faced were injured or “B” rated and that includes Romo.
    2) Cards defense still needs a Larry type guy who can figure out what a good QB is trying to do to them.
    As I previously mentioned to you, there seems to be only one stat that would make sense to me when rating a defense. “After the Cardinals(or any team) score a TD or FG on what percent of the ensuing kickoffs does the defense shut down the opposition to no score (and that’s a stat I don’t remember seeing).

  25. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    georgiebird —

    RE: Defense

    Honestly, for all your complaining about the defense, it’s sad that when they finally play better, you still want to nitpick.

    Obviously, there are things the defense can do better. In terms of who they faced, all they can do is play the teams (and quarterbacks) on the schedule. I can play that game all day long too. By your standard, the 49ers didn’t play many good QBs either: Manning and (an injured at the time) Ben. I am assuming since Romo is a “B” then so is Stafford. So I guess you have to “drill down through” the Niners’ excellent defensive stats too, right?

  26. By Bryth on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    If we would have had the defense we had at the end of the season, there were 5 VERY close games that we should have won, and could have one (2 against the Giants and Ravens, which we lost both by a field goal) Looking great for next season.

  27. By Jesse on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    Ray Horton for President.

  28. By georgiebird on Jan 26, 2012 | Reply

    You don’t have a clue how soft the Cardinal defenses have been the past 52 years. You are a new guy on the block. Just look at the dearth of all-pro defensive players the Cards have had over the past five decades. What I was trying to say is that the defense is better than maybe ever but I never said it was 1st rate. I used the QBs as an example but by no means was that a complete list of my concerns for the defense going into next year.

  29. By Darren Urban on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Georgie —

    RE: New guy

    I’ve covered this team full-time and watched basically every practice and certainly every game since 2000. I feel comfortable in saying I’m not the new guy on the block.

    Have I watched the cards as long as you? No. To be honest, though, what happened in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, quite frankly, doesn’t mean anything in reference to now. Different people are running the team, different people are coaching the team, different players are playing the game. That’s like trying to say how the Giants will do in the Super Bowl next week by referencing Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor.

    You want to argue about shortcomings in themselves fine, but enough with the history. Meaningless. The Cards aren’t making any decisions right now related to what they did in 1977. You can’t even play defense the same, given all the rules changes to help the offense.

  30. By John the Draft Guy on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    To take that a step further Darren, when the niners faced Brees and Manning, Both QBs moved the ball up and down the field.
    In this era of QBs throwing the ball 50 times, with spread offenses and rules against dbs, even the best defenses are going to get scored on by good qbs. The difference to me is, good defenses don’t get ran over by guys like Tavaris Jackson.
    Although there is still work to be done, the difference between the cards D that gave up 14 pts to the giants in 5 min to lose or the debacle in Minn compared to the team playing at the end of the season is worlds of improvement. Are we there yet? No. We need to answer if OB is the guy or if we need to draft another passrusher, Is AJ/Toler good enough, or do we need another cb. But thats with every team.
    Overall, this was a very good effort and something to build on.

  31. By Jeff Gollin on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    I agree the Card “D” became battle-tested during the second half of the season, but my future concern is with the specific matchup challenges opposiing teams throw at you during the playoffs – namely: The third big, physical receiver, the extra pass-catching TE or a Coughlin-like decision to wear you down physically “hat on hat.”

    I’d like to see the Cardinals tweak their defensive roster to add a few role players who can match up and to become bigger and stronger (either thru internal conditioning/strength programs &/or via the addition of bigger, stronger players).

  32. By georgiebird on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Good company man that you are. Can’t you see? Cardinals are making the same mistakes decade after decade. The defense is playing better- not great. There are progressions that haven’t happened over the past few years that “smell” like it was 1960s or 70s. Here are some of the things that make it seem like the same old Cardinals.
    1) Rashad Johnson was not able to supplant an injured AW
    2) The linebacker group should by now be led by All- pro Cody Brown and Buster Davis with new guys DW, Acho and OB.
    3) DRC instead of regressing in the 2010 season and being gone in 2011-should be a top 5 CB.
    4) Dan Williams should have finished up 2011 as one of the better NTs in the league. Although injured, he’s still considered a project and might not be as good as Carter.
    There are too many “misses” going on that mirror times past. I can see it very clearly. And no, this is not an exhaustive list.

  33. By Darren Urban on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    georgie —

    RE: Moves

    If you see things so clearly, two questions:

    1) If I am such a “good company man,” why bother reading my stuff and posting here? I never understood those who think I am so terrible/biased/without a clue continuing to consume what I put out there. Obviously you a) don’t think I know what I’m talking about or b) am some kind of PR arm. So you do this why?

    2) If this franchise is so poor and brings you so much misery, why are you still a fan?

  34. By Peter in Canada on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Darren and Georgie –

    You are both right. The Cards defensive deficiencies of previous generations are meaningless when talking about the 2011 defence. I have followed the Cards since the mid 50’s and the Cards have had some truly horrible defences. As a kid in high school I remember Jimmy Brown just routinely running through the Cards for 100-200 yards per game without breaking a sweat. Most years the offence was always carrying the defence. So as a long time fan I can understand the frustration. However in the 1960’s they had a pretty good defence wth players like Larry Wilson, Jerry Stovall, Pat Fischer, Dale Meinart and Larry Stallingsto name a few.

  35. By Mike in Mesa on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Darren how much of the defensive turnaround occurred when injuries forced Whiz to play some of the young players sitting on the bench? Maybe some of the defense clicked for the players like Horton and Whiz keep stating, but I still have a sneaking suspicion that these guys were the better players and just needed the injury bug to give them their chance.

  36. By Mike Ellingboe on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply


    Not to mention how selective your list is. Any team in the league could be nitpicked the way you did. Some very dominating defenses have missed over the years with early round LB’s as well. But in looking at our current roster, it’s clear that we’ve had plenty of hits. Btw, Johnson is a free safety, not strong.

  37. By cards62 on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Ray Horton has done a very impressive job and he has the train moving in the right direction. Is our defense perfect? NO WAY, but I am sure EXCITED to watch them play next year.Toler will make this defense better and Dan Williams will be better next year. I am not sold on Dan Williams, but I am still hopfull on him.
    My opinion only but I think Jefferson and Schoefied and especially Rhodes will have better seasons next year for our defense so I feel strongly that our defense will be better next season. Players make plays, but I feel that coaching is the most important key for success.

    I would love to tell all of you that I am EXCITED about our offense next year but I am not. This is why I keep harping for an offensive coordinator, OL coach, and QB coach. I will be happy with just a new OC.

    I am not a doctor or Peyton Manning so I do not have a clue if he can play football or not, but if he can we have not only our QB, but one of the best OC in the league.
    Manning is a first ballot hall of famer and first team all class just like Fitz and Warner. If healthy and a free agent we must get Manning. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are very good receivers, but Manning never had anyone like Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, and you better believe Manning will wake up Doucet, Roberts, Heap, and Housler and make them all better receivers. Manning is a leader just like Warner and besides he has Swagger.

    Go Cardinals and Rod Graves you are on the clock

  38. By TheMrBeaumonte on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    I cannot believe that we have a Canadian (argument obsolete) and a georgiebird and DU arguing.
    1. Darren does a great job, and I follow his articles 100% based on what is happening now, and do not expect him to figure out what the Chicago Cardinals could have done differently to change this team that is now playing.
    2. I also do not think that it is fair to consider it managements failure due to a miss in the draft. Sometimes accidents happen (Cody) and players are just not willing to work hard, or maybe don’t actually love the game. It must kill georgiebird that the Cards have found key players after the first and second rounds. Those players must be a mistake . . .
    3. If I had a favorite team, (I do and it is the current AZ Cardinals team, not the one that played 50 years ago because I was not alive then) I would not be an arm chair critic (because I do not have it figured out), especially about the best aspect of the team, which was the defense. The defense is playing well. Admit it. Big plays happen, even to great teams, and great defenses. That is no reason to freak out and assume some cyclical motion has now been started because the Chicago Cardinals were an okay defense so what happened to them must be happening to the current team of which perhaps only a few people were alive at the time that those players ever played.
    4. Okay so the Canada thing was a joke, but still. Canada. Eh.

  39. By AndyStandsUp on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    That’s what’s great about this blog:
    You can have an opinion, right or wrong (and BTW I agree with some of georgiebird’s points) and not only be heard, but if posted as a direct question, answered.
    Now, you may not get the response you want to hear, and sometimes it may come off as (enter adverb here) but most of the time (I’ll say around 51%) Darren is correct.

  40. By Scott H on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Darren –

    Just move on, man. You certainly don’t need to explain yourself any further than you have.

  41. By georgiebird on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    Good question about why I don’t just walk away from the Cardinals- it’s like asking someone to stop an addiction. But if I could turn back the clock, I would find another team. I have encouraged all my kids to be baseball Cardinals fans but never pushed the football team on them.

  42. By georgiebird on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply

    @ Mike Ellingboe
    Rashad Johnson WAS a strong safety with the Cards. In an attempt to get something out of him Cards are also using him at FS .
    Talk about nitpicking, everyone on this site nitpicks about Levi Brown. All tackles in the league get beat. Look at the SF-Giant game last week. Eli was hammered by speed rushes against his LT. Levi did a better job against SF.

  43. By Mike Ellingboe on Jan 27, 2012 | Reply


    On that we’re in agreement, I’ve always felt that Levi gets far too much blame and not nearly enough credit – especially over the last six games of the season. Very good run blocker as well, especially for a LT.

    Rashad was brought in as our replacement for Rolle, upon realizing he wasn’t up to the job we traded for Rhodes. When Rashad was deemed ready to play he backed up Rhodes and Ware & Abdullah were behind ADub on the depth chart.

  44. By Shaun Church on Jan 28, 2012 | Reply

    Hey Bird,

    You don’t need to “turn back the clock” to pick a new team. Feel free to be a bandwagon fan elsewhere. The Cardinals have enough of them already.

    You know, the ones who badmouth team reporters—who are just doing the job they are paid to do—for printing factual stats into a blog. You can’t argue with numbers, chief.

    By the way, you can’t just make up stats in this game; it has to be approved by Roger Goodell first. Being a “fan” for so long, I figured you would know something as rudimentary as that.

    And Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie no longer suits up for the Cardinals, so where he is in terms of “best in the league” does not matter to a real fan; clown.

  45. By Jeff Gollin on Jan 28, 2012 | Reply

    The annual “well, the offensive line really wasn’t as bad as we though it was” rationalization is beginning to creep in.

    To evaluate Levi, Keith and Bridges etc., I suggest you check out the Pro Football Focus game by game grades for each lineman. At one point in mid-season, all three tackles’ cumulative grades were dead-last among all NFL tackles (or close to it).

    The stats tended to bear out what we suspected as we watched their performance on the field. (I can’t resist adding that if you want an objective evaluation of Arizona offensive line play, “ask Kevin Kolb’s concussion.”

    Until we bite the bullet and make a major commitment to making our offensive line solid and dominant, we will always be leading from weakness.

  46. By William Barry on Jan 28, 2012 | Reply

    Our defense REALLY has played well this season, especially in the second half. We have a GREAT foundation to build on, and with Toler and Williams coming back, and maybe with a few Draft studs, will really be great this year. I think the offense just needs some seasoning, with a full off season of workouts, and some new WR to add to our stable. Our 7th round pick in 2011, Sampson, and looked good so far. Let him get more experience too.

  47. By Mike Ellingboe on Jan 28, 2012 | Reply


    Respect your posts, but I’d suggest you take Pro Football Focus with a grain of salt, unless they have some insight into our blocking schemes I’m not aware of. What appears obvious to the outsider may be a complete illusion if the play called for something we didn’t know about.

    Accounting for that, and our very uneven (and inexperienced) QB play and that may have every bit as much to do with it.

  48. By Scott H on Jan 28, 2012 | Reply

    georgiebird –

    The statement that if you could turn back the clock, you would pick another team has got to be one of the most utterly pathetic things I’ve ever heard. Ever heard of a thing called free will? Making choices? Being responsible for the choices you make? No one is forcing you stay a Cardinals fan. That is NOT a choice you made way back when and now you are just a prisoner of it. It’s a choice you continue to make in the present. And YOU are responsible for it. Go be a fan somewhere else or stay here. BUT QUIT THE DAMN WHINING, FOR GOD’S SAKE! It, too is pathetic and we’re tired of listening to it.

    BTW, your comparison to having an addiction is ridiculous to the point of being offensive. People who have chemical addictions become PHYSICALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY DEPENDENT on the substances they become addicted to. The only “problem” you have is making a choice that maybe you aren’t happy with, and then blaming others for your un-happiness. In the mental health field, we call that character pathology. Ain’t got nothing to do with addiction.

  49. By cards62 on Jan 29, 2012 | Reply

    To Mike Ellingboe

    You are correct when you say that you have to be careful with stats, but stats are worth noting for the extremes. Our 3 tackles were rated at the very bottom of the NFL. Do you think our three or any of our three should be at the top of the poll?

    Lets add to the poll how many times their peers or sports writers have given them an award or voted them all pro or they even played in an all pro game. How many times Mike? Answer is zero.

    Our offensive line is bad just bad especially our tackles. I do not care the reasons (excuses) I just want it better in 2012 and fixed by 2013.

    I believe Levi earned 9 million dollars in 2011. Do you think he is worth 9 million?
    Do I hate Levi Brown? No way he comes across as a good guy with a good head on his shoulders, and he never embarasses us, well off the field anyway.

    I have said before Levi can run block and I sure wish we would try him at guard, but we never did. I hope I am wrong, but my fear is that another team signs him plays him at guard and we watch him in the pro bowl next season just like we did Leonard Davis.

    I just hope we have a lot of good competition for our OL in camp and keep the best ones so we can make the playoffs next season. 49ers will be hard to beat and Seahawks and Rams will be better.

    Go Cards and Rod Graves you are on the clock.

  50. By Mike Ellingboe on Jan 31, 2012 | Reply


    I just hope we have a lot of good competition for our OL in camp and keep the best ones so we can make the playoffs next season.

    Completely agree with that, and I’m not saying we field the best OL in the business; just be leery about thinking that Levi is that easily replaced. His pass blocking improved immensely over the last six games. Obviously, the OL needs to be addressed (especially if we can’t get Levi to redo his current deal). But with our inexperience at QB, combined with our downfield passing scheme, it’s going to be difficult for any OL to look great. Fortunately, we finally put together a respectable run game last season. If that continues to improve that will be a bigger help than most of what’s available.

  51. By William Barry on Jan 31, 2012 | Reply

    Let me share some stats on SF Niners defense/offense: The niners have scored TD’s on just 22 of 54 trips to the endzone, for 40%–only the rams and chiefs are worse: SF has only scored on 9 of their last 29 red zone possesions, for 33% and Alex Smith finished 12th with a 80.6 rating among the 17 Qb’s with at least 55 red zone pass attempts. The Niner nation will fall in 2012!!!!!!The Cards will win the division in 2102!!!!!!!

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