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Updated Dec 3, 2013 - 4:54 pm

Tight ends torching Arizona Cardinals' defense, but it's not as bad as you think

Philadelphia Eagles' Brent Celek celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals were channeling their inner-Yogi Berra Sunday, because when it came to the Big Red defense covering tight ends, it was deja vu all over again.

In other words, the Cardinals, who have the seventh-ranked defense in the National Football League, struggled to contain Philadelphia tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek in a 24-21 loss. The duo had nine catches for 97 yards and most importantly, three touchdowns.

That brought the number of touchdowns scored by tight ends against the Cardinals to 14 this season.

Despite the alarming numbers, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians doesn't think the tight end production against his team is an anomaly.

"I think they've exploited the league," he said on The Dan Bickley Show with Vince Marotta Monday. "They're a very hard matchup for safeties. Most safeties are 5-10 or 5-11 and most of these tight ends are 6-5 or 6-6, so you can throw the ball away from them."

I decided to do a little research on the matter -- and that research was startling.

In addition to the 14 touchdowns, opposing tight ends have caught 79 balls for 1,042 yards against the Cardinals. Their division opponents haven't sustained nearly as much damage against largely the same group of players.

Tight End Production vs. NFC West Teams

TeamCatchesYardsAverageTD100-yard games
Arizona Cardinals791,04213.2143
San Francisco 49ers444259.730
Seattle Seahawks5660610.840
St. Louis Rams4452511.940

Yes, it looks bad. The Cardinals have allowed three of the 23 100-yard performances by tight ends in the league this season. And three tight ends, Vernon Davis of San Francisco, Jared Cook of St. Louis and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham have the posted the three highest receiving yardage totals the Cards have allowed this year.

But if Arizona is shutting down opposing wide receivers, the opponents' passing numbers are just being distributed differently, right?

"Our matchups outside on wide receivers are very good against everybody," Arians said.

But are they?

Wide Receiver Production vs. NFC West Teams

TeamCatchesYardsAverageTD100-yard games
Arizona Cardinals1371,56611.482
San Francisco 49ers1451,83712.763
Seattle Seahawks1221,39011.473
St. Louis Rams1492,03013.6133

As you can see, the Cardinals are allowing only 11.4 yards per reception to opposing wideouts -- tied for the lowest mark in the division -- and the 1,566 yards they've given up is also a respectable number. But the numbers are really only put into context when combined.

Combined TE/WR Production vs. NFC West Teams

TeamCatchesYardsAverageTD100-yard games
Arizona Cardinals2162,60812.1225
San Francisco 49ers1892,26212.093
Seattle Seahawks1782,17412.2113
St. Louis Rams1932,55513.2173

The final piece of the puzzle is, of course, rushing defense. Arizona ranks fourth in the league (first in NFC West) in defending the run, allowing just 83.3 yards per contest. So it stands to reason that opponents would throw more against them -- and they have.

Opponents throw on Arizona an average of 39.9 times per game -- the fourth-highest number in the league. And the Cardinals are tied for fourth in the league in net yards per pass attempt against at just 4.9.

The bottom line is, yes, opposing tight ends have blistered the Cardinals' defense in 2013.

But the numbers seem to support Arians' assertion that the cornerbacks of the Cardinals have matched up well with wideouts, who in the grand scheme, are much more dangerous on a week-in, week-out basis.

About the Author

School: Arizona State University

When you started with Bonneville Phoenix: October 2011

Favorite sports memory: Watching Cardinals win NFC Championship over Philly in January 2009 with my Dad...ASU wins 1987 Rose Bowl...Suns defeat Lakers in 1990 NBA Playoffs...2001 World Series

Favorite all-time athletes: Don Mattingly, Jeff Hornacek, Walter Davis, Anquan Boldin

Favorite sports movies: Friday Night Lights, The Natural, Hoosiers


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