TEMPE, Ariz. — Through four games, the Arizona Cardinals rank 16th in the NFL in both scoring and total defense. They are 21st against the pass, giving up an average of 266 yards per game, and second against the run, allowing just 75 yards per outing.
The defense is coming off a game that head coach Bruce Arians called, “one of our best games,” and it appears they’re starting to get the hang of new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme.
And now they’re adding a Pro Bowl linebacker to the mix.
Daryl Washington will return to the team this week after serving a four-game suspension due to violating the league’s rules on substance abuse, and while the defense may not need him, his presence certainly won’t hurt.
“I’m really pleased the way our guys have fought without him,” Arians said Monday. “The thing he obviously brings is great speed and the ability to play tight ends and backs man-to-man more.
“He’s a devastating blitzer, so he’s going to bring a bunch more to the table. We’re playing pretty solid now, so it’s a good time to have him back.”
Last season, Washington tallied career highs with 134 total tackles and nine sacks. He also intercepted one pass and forced two fumbles. The 26-year-old made his first Pro Bowl, and it appeared he was destined to become one of the game’s premier linebackers.
Then his disaster of an offseason happened, and his once-promising future was put on hold.
“I’m excited, I’m excited,” Washington said of getting to play again. “I just don’t want to be too anxious to play, you know, because I love the game of football.”
Washington said it was “brutal” to have to sit out the last four weeks, adding that he could not bring himself to watch the games live every week. He wanted to be on the field helping, and now he’ll get that chance.
The former second-round pick said he believes he can put up Pro Bowl-level numbers over the final 12 games, and he’ll be thrown right into the fire as Arians called inserting Washington into the starting lineup this week is an easy decision.
“I’m not surprised,” Washington said of that news, adding that he took nothing for granted. “I think with what I’ve shown over the years, I think that it only makes sense.
“I’ll come back and be ready to go.”
Washington did admit he may need a couple of series to shake off any rust, but there are no concerns about not being in “football shape” or being on the same page as the rest of the defense.
His teammate, Calais Campbell, said adding Washington to the lineup is “huge” for a defense that has been playing pretty well already.
“He’s a force to be reckoned with,” the defensive end said. “I think he’s the best player on the field, in my opinion, hands down.
“And that’s saying a lot because we have some pretty talented players on the field.”
Washington’s return comes at a good time for the Cardinals as they prepare for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The quarterback is capable of burning defenses with his legs as well as his arm, and given how injuries have ravaged Arizona’s linebacker corps, adding player of this caliber is a real boon to the group.
Washington said he would not be shocked if he’s asked to “spy” on Newton, because the most important thing is keeping the former top pick in the pocket.
Whether or not that is the plan, the important thing for the Cardinals is the option is there. While the defense may have played well without Washington, odds are things will be even better with him. Either way, he knows he’s walking into a pretty good situation.
“With adding me on, I’m just a small part and hopefully a big piece of it,” Washington said. “So we’ll see how it goes.”