Ask anyone to sum up the 2012 Arizona Cardinals, and they may do so like this:
The defense was great, but the offense was terrible.
That could lead some to wonder if a group that seemingly had things figured out would be reticent to make changes. After all, why fix what isn’t broken?
“Everybody’s open to learning the new scheme and the coaches, they’re receptive to coaching,” new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said after OTAs on Tuesday. “We’re making sure we’re coaching them.”
But how much change does the defense need? Last season Arizona ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense, allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards per game, tied for 11th in sacks and had the second-most interceptions of any team.
Yet, defensive lineman Darnell Docket said the change from former defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s scheme to Todd Bowles’ is like “night and day,” and it’s a good thing.
“This right here allows me to do what I was doing when I was a dominant player at the position,” he said, adding that the scheme frees up the defensive linemen to go and make plays. “It just allows you to be very dominant up front and be a physical force and not sit back and take on two or three defenders, containing people.”
The change, at least up front, involves switching from a two-gap scheme to a one-gap scheme. Head coach Bruce Arians, when describing it, said the new style allows for the defensive lineman to be “disruptive” rather than spend their time creating room for the linebackers.
That could help to explain why Dockett, a former Pro Bowler, has seen his sack total drop in each of the last two seasons, falling to just 1.5 last year. Seems simple enough, right? How can a player get a sack when his job calls for him to occupy blockers?
That’s no longer the case.
“You think about it, if you’ve been the nail for two years and (then) somebody tells you to be the hammer, you’ve got a lot of payback, don’t you,” Dockett said. “So that’s been our approach right now; we’re so excited.”
They’re also confident.
Dockett said he and fellow defensive end Calais Campbell have a goal, and that’s to be better than the Houston Texans’ duo of J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. Smith, who played with Dockett in Arizona, would call up his former teammate to tell him about how they were doing.
For what it’s worth, those two combined for 27.5 sacks last season.
“We’ve got a hit list out, and our defensive line, we’re ready,” Dockett said. “So we’re going to grind, we’re going to grind harder this year probably harder than we’ve ever grinded for so long,”
Unlike the last two years under Horton, Dockett says Bowles wants the defensive linemen to attack.
“We were so shocked and so happy about it, we’re just excited,” he said. “It’s motivation every time you step on the field and a coach tells you to do what you’re good at and not just do what I think or try to force players to do things they’re not good at.”
Who wouldn’t buy into that?