This time of year, it’s not an overwhelming shock that the Arizona Cardinals defense is noticeably ahead of the offense.
What is somewhat surprising, however, is the level of dominance the unit — especially the first-team — has exhibited over the first two games of the preseason. In fact, until Gavin Escobar’s touchdown grab early in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 12-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys Saturday, the Cardinals defense hadn’t allowed a single point through the first 109 minutes and five seconds of live action in 2013.
“That’s the emphasis you have any time you go into a preseason or regular season game, not to let the other team score,” Darnell Dockett said. “But our biggest thing right now is taking care of each other and making sure we’re doing the small things right. We’re not going into a game looking for a shutout, we’re looking for accountability. Every time we come in we just don’t want to be that guy.”
Given the influx of new players — Jasper Brinkley, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Yeremiah Bell, Tyrann Mathieu, John Abraham, Alex Okafor, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Lorenzo Alexander, Kevin Minter, Frustee Rucker, Javier Arenas, Tony Jefferson — and a new defensive scheme under coordinator Todd Bowles, there was an expectation that several members of the defense would likely be ‘that guy’ at some point in the preseason.
Yet while a learning curve was to be expected, the Cardinals have shown few ill effects from their defensive transformation.
If anything, the defensive looks even more dynamic and opportunistic than the unit that forced the third-most takeaways in the NFC a season ago.
In their five-point victory over the Cowboys Saturday, Bruce Arians’ squad forced six total turnovers, including one on special teams.
“I was really pleased with the way we took the ball away,” Arians said. “We have eight takeaways in two games, it’s something we can continue to build upon defensively.”
While the Cowboys — and in particular Dez Bryant, Lance Dunbar and Dwayne Harris — were able to convert on several chunk plays, the Cardinals’ defensive playmakers were never far behind.
In the second quarter alone, the team forced four turnovers, including a pair — Powers’ strip of Bryant after a 27-yard catch and Brinkley’s recovery after a 43-yard catch by Dunbar — that had far more to do with hustle and effort than being at the right place at the right time.
“I thought we did give up a few too many yards, but the main thing is if you can stop your opponent from scoring and create turnovers, you’re going to put yourself in position to win a lot of ball games,” said Powers. “We’ve been doing that the first two preseason games, but we can be better.”
It might be hard to top eight turnovers in two games — preseason or otherwise — but as Powers noted after Saturday’s game, the rewards they’ve reaped thus far are not a surprise to anyone on Bowles’ defense. Given the personnel decisions made in the offseason and the level of physicality that has taken center stage through the first few weeks of training camp, it’s almost expected.
“You’ve got guys like Tyrann [Mathieu], Patrick [Peterson] and Daryl Washington who are known for creating turnovers,” said Powers. “If the pieces that we’ve added this offseason can build on that, then we can be a scary defense.”