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NFC West readies to face Cardinals’ improved pass-rush

Arizona Cardinals first round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche (90) runs drills during an NFL football mini camp, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona Cardinals made serious waves improving their pass rush this offseason by trading for Chandler Jones and drafting Robert Nkemdiche 29th overall.

NFC West foes will feel the ripples of those moves. They’ll have to find a way to stop the much-improved defensive front.

ESPN’s NFL Nation reporter Nick Wagoner, who covers the Los Angeles Rams, writes that the pass rush should benefit the entirety of the Cardinals’ defense.

The Cardinals tied for 20th in sacks in 2015 with 36, though in fairness they were third in the NFL in creating pressure at 31.9 percent. But here’s where Jones and Nkemdiche should be able to help the most: Arizona again blitzed more than any team in the league at 45.1 percent. One would think the Cardinals’ addition of Jones and Nkemdiche was intended to allow them to generate pressure without having to dial up a blitz nearly half the time.

Given the Cardinals’ talent in the secondary, a pass rush that doesn’t have to lean so heavily on the blitz would also allow them to get more creative in coverage and potentially lead to more big plays.

Yes, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, the No. 2 cornerback-safety tandem in the league, are grinning from ear-to-ear.

An NFC West unit that isn’t so happy about Arizona’s upgrades is the San Francisco 49ers offensive line. 49ers reporter Michael Wagaman believes San Francisco’s offseason planning will have much to do with how it can stop the Cardinals’ front-seven.

The 49ers have major concerns along their offensive line, so any additional pass-rushers coming into the division isn’t good news for the team.

Having quarterbacks get rid of the ball more quickly is a part of 49ers coach Chip Kelly’s offense. It was a big emphasis during offseason workouts, and Jones and Nkemdiche are a big reason for that.

Although having not taken the field for his first game yet, Nkemdiche is already receiving praise from his divisional opponents. Sheil Kapadia, a Seattle Seahawks reporter, views the first-round pick as a force to be reckoned with.

The Cardinals clearly felt like they needed to upgrade their pass rush, and Jones is someone who’s posted 30 sacks in his past 41 games. Nkemdiche is the X factor. If the Cardinals’ coaching staff can get him to reach his potential, the Seahawks will face an enormous challenge when the two teams meet.

The Cardinals and Seahawks are the favorites to battle for the NFC West title, and the matchup between the Cardinals’ pass rush and the Seahawks’ offensive line will receive plenty of attention before the two teams square off in 2016.

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