The Arizona Cardinals have been winners in four of their last five games to improve their record to a respectable 5-7.
There have been many keys to the recent surge: Patrick Peterson's electrifying punt returns, Beanie Wells' hard- nosed running and clutch plays from quarterbacks John Skelton and Kevin Kolb at opportune times.
But the biggest key, by far, has been the play of the Cardinals' defense, which seems to be getting the hang of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's scheme.
During a 6-game losing streak, the Cardinals allowed opponents 376.3 yards per game, and 256.7 through the air. In their last four wins, Arizona's defense has stiffened, most notably against the pass, allowing an average of just 200.8 yards per game.
A lot of that has to do with the continuing improvement of young cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson, as well as an improved pass rush. The Cardinals have averaged 3.3 quarterback sacks per game during their four recent wins, as opposed to 2.0 during their losing streak. On Sunday, they sacked Dallas quarterback Tony Romo 5 times.
Following the Cardinals' latest win, defensive lineman Darnell Dockett talked about the increased understanding the players have with Horton's scheme.
"We have learned it and we work on it at practice. We might make a few mistakes here and there, but we hold it down for each other," Dockett said. "We are communicating in between plays, on the sideline and after plays. We are just building our chemistry."
The Cardinals are also keeping opponents out of the end zone. Arizona has allowed just three offensive touchdowns in their last four wins, and when teams settle for a field goal attempt, that hasn't been a guarantee either; the Cardinals have blocked three field goals in their last 5 games.
"This speaks a lot of our players that we were able to finish the last four or five games the way our defense has played, so it's really good to see our guys believing in what we are doing and playing good ball," head coach Ken Whisenhunt said.