It's no secret that the Arizona Cardinals' defense got off to a rocky start in 2011 -- struggling to adapt to the complicated new scheme implemented by first-year defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Whether you point to the effects of the lockout or the Cardinals' reliance on youth at many key defensive positions, it's no wonder the team took a while to gel as a unit.
Two of the Cardinals' young impact cornerbacks both experienced growing pains early this season but one of them has showed great progression and maturity.
"I think Patrick has come on obviously with his play and his punt returns and his special teams ability," Horton said of Pro Bowl corner Patrick Peterson.
While Peterson thrived in the second half of the season, fellow cornerback AJ Jefferson's production remained level.
"I would like him to have played a lot better to get confidence," Horton said. "He played very well in the preseason and was kind of stagnant throughout the year. He's one of our young guys -- an athletic guy that needs to understand what this NFL is all about and grow up and be responsible and accountable."
Horton said he saw glimpses late in the season of what great defense the Cardinals can have for next year.
He was particularly high on cornerback Richard Marshall's performance -- whom he had nothing but the utmost praise.
"He allowed us, when Kerry (Rhodes) was hurt, to function with speed on the field," Horton stated. "For me, he was my most valuable player."
Horton may have positives to build upon heading into next year, but he stressed the importance of fixing his team's fatal flaw on defense this season.
"We are glaringly not good at turnovers," Horton stated. The Cardinals defense has forced just a mere 18 on defense this season, in comparison to the league average of 25.
"We are not NFL-level on turnovers."
Horton said he wishes he could have just two games back and he feels his defense finally began to hit its stride.
"I think if you look at the second half of the season we're a totally different team than we were the first half of the season," Horton said.