The Arizona Cardinals' defense earned respect from opposing offenses in 2013 by improving in nearly every statistical category from the previous season.
Entering the 2014 season, they have yet to earn the respect of at least one ESPN Pro Football Focus writer.
In 2013, the Cardinals were the sixth-best defensive team in the NFL, improving upon their 2012 numbers in points, yards and touchdowns allowed. They led the league in rushing yards allowed per game (84.4) and recorded 47 sacks last season, up from 38 in 2012.
But in an ESPN Insider piece, Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke ranked the Cardinals defense 21st in the league, including dead last in linebackers and 25th in edge rushers.
Jahnke did rate the Cardinals high in the secondary (fifth) and interior line (sixth).
The Cardinals have an interesting mix of tremendous players and areas of concern. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was a stud as a rookie and could be a star if he returns to full health after last season's ACL tear. Patrick Peterson is capable of manning up against the best receivers in the league. The one man on the defense we deemed elite is Calais Campbell, who had the second-highest overall PFF grade among 3-4 defensive ends.
While Campbell and Mathieu solidify the line and the secondary, respectively, there are plenty of questions at linebacker. They lost Karlos Dansby in free agency and Daryl Washington to suspension, and outside of a 36-year old John Abraham, they have lacked an edge rusher for several seasons.
This story follows another Pro Football Focus piece from Monday that rated the Cardinals' offense just 29th in the NFL, despite finishing 12th in total offense and 16th in points per game last season.
There is certainly concern for the Cards on defense, especially at the linebacker position with the losses of Washington and Dansby. But with a defense that includes Campbell and three-time Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett on the defensive line, and boasts a talented young secondary comprised of Mathieu and elite cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, an overall ranking of 21st may prove to be a bit low.