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Cardinals D-line has ‘best ball game’ all season behind Markus Golden’s star performance

Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden, right, celebrates next to free safety Tyrann Mathieu after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Arizona Cardinals’ pass rush was expected to get a big boost this season, but that wasn’t supposed to come from a returning member of the team.

Second-year pass rusher Markus Golden had the breakthrough performance of his career on a national stage in Thursday’s 33-21 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Golden had three sacks, two hurries and six total stops according to Pro Football Focus, who called him “virtually unblockable.”

The progress from year one to year two is distinct for head coach Bruce Arians.

“Oh, he’s light years ahead, because he understands what he’s doing,” Arians said after the game Thursday. “He’s gotten better. He’s got better guys around him, and he’s been a force since he’s been here.”

That led to what PFF called a “dominant performance” from the pass rush. 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert was pressured 25 times and sacked nine times.

It was an all-around effort, with four players pressuring Gabbert at least three times and 11 players having at least one.

“Really pleased with (the) defense, especially the defensive front,” Arians said Friday. “I thought the defensive line played their best ball game.”

The team effort was duly noted by defensive lineman Calais Campbell after the game.

“Everybody stepped in and made some big-time plays,” Campbell said.

PFF graded Campbell’s night of two sacks and three hurries as his best pass-rushing performance since Week 14 of last season against the Minnesota Vikings.

The other line

Another standout performance came from running back David Johnson, who received a heavy contribution from a short-handed offensive line that lost guard Mike Iupati and Evan Mathis during the game.

Earl Watford and John Wetzel filled in (at right guard and left guard, respectively), and Arians was impressed with their play.

“Yeah, they did a heck of a job in that long drive running the ball, you know, and I’ll be very pleased to look at the film and see how well they played,” Arians said.

“They did awesome,” starting tackle Jared Veldheer said after the game. “They’re true professionals. They know what to do, know their job and they’re ready to roll. It wasn’t any lost-in-the-headlights look. They both went in there, rolling, running the plays and having good success.”

Their success coincided with tackle D.J. Humphries’ best career game, according to PFF, who said “he excelled as a run blocker and was crucial to the Cardinals’ offensive success.”

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