GLENDALE, Ariz. — It didn’t take long for the Arizona Cardinals to demonstrate exactly why they’re known as a strong defensive football team Sunday.
It took 14 seconds, to be exact.
On the Houston Texans’ first play from scrimmage, Cardinals linebacker John Abraham knocked the ball free from quarterback Case Keenum’s hand. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy picked it up and scampered six yards into the end zone to give Arizona a quick lead.
The Cardinals would go on to a hard-fought, 27-24 win over the Texans in front of 60,845 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium to push their record to 5-4.
“You couldn’t ask for better,” head coach Bruce Arians said following the win. “We talked about it in the locker room (prior to the game), kickoff coverage team go down and get them behind the 20 or get a turnover and then the defense go out there and make something happen, and obviously they did that.”
Just like a baseball pitcher being staked with a home lead before taking the mound, the quick touchdown by Shaughnessy set Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer at ease.
“It’s huge, I mean it was a great momentum swing, as you had momentum obviously at home kicking the game off,” Palmer said. “But just a big play. Whether it’s interceptions our team is making or sacks, we seem to do that very well.”
But it wasn’t just a quick start by Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals held Houston (2-7) to just 41 yards of offense in the second half.
“I think we have an extremely smart, intelligent defensive staff. Coach (Todd) Bowles lets his assistants and the guys in the box do a great job of coming down and handling those adjustments because he’s on the field,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
“We saw they were attacking us in the flats and dumping off the ball. We just went a little more man-to-man pressure to try and make Case (Keenum) beat us. We knew he couldn’t beat us throwing the ball into tight coverages.”
Keenum, who was making just his third professional start, completed 22-of-43 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns — two of which were remarkable catches by All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson.
All told, the Cardinals held Houston to season lows in total offense (235 yards) and net passing yardage (159), while yielding just 76 yards on the ground — the Texans’ second-worst output in that category. The 235 yards the Cardinals allowed are the least in a single game since Week 7 of last season, when Minnesota had only 209 yards in a 21-14 over Arizona.
Sunday’s game was billed as a matchup of two defensive heavyweights, and in the end, the Cardinals came out on top.
“We played against the number-one defense in the league today,” Palmer said, “and I would take our defense over that defense.”