Defensively, the Arizona Cardinals have found their swagger
TEMPE, Ariz. – In a word, dominant.
While the Arizona Cardinals’ offense is still trying to find its way, especially in the pass game, the defense appears to be hitting its stride.
“Everything in this game is a process,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Thursday. “The focus in the meeting rooms has been outstanding, the focus on the practice field has been great and if we continue to do that, we’ll continue to get better and better.”
And they have. The numbers prove it.
In the past two weeks, the Cardinals have allowed a total of nine points. All field goals.
The last time a Cardinals defense held an opponent without a touchdown in at least two consecutive games was 1970, when they accomplished the feat in four straight games.
And going back to their game at San Francisco on Oct. 6, the Cardinals have gone 11 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown pass.
“We found our swagger a little bit. We’re starting to feel confident, and we’re making sure that we’re all on the same page. Everybody has a job to do and we’re all doing it at a top level, that’s the name of the game,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “With the amount of talent that we got in the defensive room, you expect guys to win (their one-on-one matchups) and make plays.”
The Cardinals made several plays last week, holding Seattle to three points, five first downs and 130 total yards through four quarters; and the points they did surrender—a 40-yard field goal—was the end result of a four-play, zero-yard drive following a Seahawks blocked punt which put the ball at the Arizona 22.
Still, there were mistakes made, according to Campbell.
“We’re not satisfied, that’s for sure,” he said.
This week, the Cardinals enter their matchup in Carolina with the NFL’s No. 2 overall defense—13th against the run (96.6 yards) and third against the pass (193.0)—and fifth-ranked scoring defense, allowing 15.7 points per game.
“Give the credit to the front four. Those guys are really hunting up there,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said, before complimenting linebackers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. “Over the last couple of years, this is the first time since I’ve been here, we have two legitimate edge rushers. We can play a little bit more coverage now. Not having to blitz so much now. Teams can’t max protect us as much as they used to in the past. The front seven, definitely, has helped us be that dominant defense as we have been over the last couple of weeks.”
Golden’s six sacks are tied for the sixth-most in the league, while Jones sits 12th, tied with four others, with five.
But it’s more than just the number of sacks, it’s the number of times the Cardinals have pressured the quarterback, making him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Jones especially.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jones has 38 total quarterback pressures on the season, which leads all edge defenders.
“I won’t talk about statistics, but I will say, as far as my comfort level, I’m getting very comfortable with the outside linebacker position,” he said. “Coming here, I was excited for the challenge. I had ups-and-downs during camp of making the adjustment to an outside linebacker, but a lot of times we’re in a 4-3 (alignment) a lot, we’re in nickel so I’m playing back to that defensive end-type of position” rather than dropping into coverage.
“I’m basically going forward for the most part, so that’s pretty fun,” he continued.
Overall, Jones credits Bettcher—“guys are executing the gameplan,” he said—for why the defense seems to have turned the corner here just about midway through the season.
Bettcher pointed to the passion and energy his unit is displaying. Better communication has also been an important factor, he added.
The key now is to keep it all rolling, according to Peterson.
“We just want to keep that up, keep playing with that fire, that desire that we’ve been playing with over the last couple of games, and if we’re able to do that, we can be a pretty tough group to be dealt with,” he said.