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Tackling becoming an Achilles’ heel for Arizona Cardinals defense

The following will be the most memorable moment from the Seattle Seahawks’ dismantling of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football with the stakes as high as they’ve ever been at University of Phoenix Stadium during the regular season.

The Cardinals’ problems at the quarterback position leaked into all aspects of their performance, reaching peak embarrassment on Marshawn Lynch’s 79-yard rumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 35-6 Seattle win.

Arizona head coach Bruce Arians put it simply at one point during his weekly Monday press conference regarding the defense’s performance.

“Tackle, just tackle,” he said.

The Cardinals missed 16 tackles against the Seahawks according to Pro Football Focus. Going into Week 16, Arizona had missed an average of 6.6 tackles per game.

Through the first 10 weeks of the season, the only time Arizona had 10 missed tackles or more was Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers, when they missed 11.

From Week 11 to Week 16, the Cardinals have amassed 10 or more missed tackles in four of their six games. They missed 12 against Detroit in Week 11, they missed 14 in a loss at Atlanta, 11 more in a Week 14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the 16 they whiffed on Sunday.

Not including the Seattle game, Arizona still only gave up 16.3 points per game during this time. That doesn’t mean there weren’t signs of some concerns — Detroit’s Joique Bell, Atlanta’s Steven Jackson and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles combined for 277 yards on 42 carries. That’s good for a 6.60 yards per carry.

Jackson’s 55-yard scamper — where he dragged tacklers for 40 yards — and Charles’ 63-yard run were both their season long. Bell’s 33-yard dash was his second-longest.

The pattern continued with Lynch’s career-long 79-yard catastrophe. Add his 10 carries and 113 yards to the other three and you have 390 yards on 52 carries. That goes all the way up to 7.5 yards per carry.

In most cases, a defense is better judged if you take out a singular long run and look at what happened on the rest of attempts. If you get beat once, but do a better job controlling the opponents’ run game, the lone poor play can be overlooked. A total of 230 of the 390 yards from those four running backs came on four runs. On the other 48 carries, Arizona is only allowing 3.3 yards per carry.

In this case, when the lapses have happened in four out of six games, it’s too much to ignore. Having a pattern of potential game-changing level plays can’t keep happening.

On the Bell, Charles and Lynch runs, the Cardinals had the chance to limit the damage or even create positive plays, but poor tackling did them in. They didn’t touch Jackson until he was 15 yards past the line of scrimmage.

With an offense in a tough predicament, the defense can’t afford to not be fundamentally sound.

What Arians said is football at its most basic form. To stop opposing offenses, you have to bring the man with the ball to the ground.

This isn’t a time for reflection, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact a playoff berth plus an 11-4 record going into the final week the 2014 Cardinals season has already been deemed a success. That stuff is for the media to concern themselves with.

No matter how unlikely and difficult the current predicament for the Cards might seem, they’ve given themselves a chance at an accomplishment only 12 of the 30 NFL teams get to take a swing at.

Arizona’s defense would help itself self by getting back to doing one simplistic, yet physically-taxing task.

“Tackle, just tackle.”

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