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Dealing Cards: Calais Campbell has been a monster down the stretch

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is pressured by Arizona Cardinals' Calais Campbell in the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Calais Campbell was a Pro Bowl choice in 2014 and 2015, yet during those seasons there were times where he was called out by head coach Bruce Arians for not playing consistently or living up to his potential.

This season, however, critique of the defensive lineman has been sparse, as he has been an impact player pretty much from the get-go.

And, especially, of late, with 4.5 sacks over his last eight games.

“I’ll tell you what, Calais is playing, maybe as good of football as anybody in the front seven that I’ve watched on tape in the National Football League, and I mean that,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Thursday. “He’s disruptive, he’s rushing the passer extremely well; in the run game he’s releasing off of blocks extremely well.

“I know it’s a big statement to make, but he’s playing — over this last five, six, seven weeks — he’s played some really nice football. That’s a testament to the man he is.”

Through 15 games, Campbell has amassed 60 total tackles, with 16 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 24 QB pressures and 25 QB hits.

He leads the team in the latter two categories, and has reaffirmed his status as one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen.

Campbell, who never seemed to be bothered by criticism nor placated by credit, said nothing has really changed for him over this recent stretch.

“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything different,” he said. “I just think more opportunities here and there. Got a few opportunities.

“But really, it’s a team game. Any time one guy makes a play or another guy makes a play, it’s all 11 guys on the football field doing the right thing to make it happen. So, any time, as a whole, I just love being out there with those guys and competing. When we play together on the level we can play, a lot of good things are going to happen for everybody.”

Campbell is set to be a free agent after the season, and lately there has been some indication that the team has interest in bringing him back. For his part, Campbell has always maintained a desire to remain in Arizona, though he’s long understood there is a chance that this is it for him as a Cardinal.

However, what Campbell has done this season may be less a product of it being a contract year and more an instance where the situation and talent around him has allowed the veteran to shine brighter than before.

As offenses have had to spend time worrying about Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, linebackers who have 10 and 9.5 sacks, respectively, life has at times been easier on the inside for Campbell.

“The way the scheme is, I still get a lot of double teams and stuff, but the thing about it is quarterbacks know somebody’s coming from somewhere, and if it’s in the middle, it’s on the outside — right or left — they just know that their clock has to go off in their head and they have to get rid of the ball.

“And if somebody’s not open, sometimes you know that sack’s coming because these guys, they don’t give you much time. It used to be, when I first got to the NFL, if the quarterback can hold the ball four seconds it should be a sack. Now it’s three seconds — you hold the ball three seconds, it’s a sack. Sometime’s 2.5 — most quarterbacks get rid of the ball within 2.5 seconds. If you hold for three, we’re coming.”

Campbell ranks third in sacks for a Cardinals team that is second in the NFL in that statistic.

“I think all those kind of go hand-in-hand; I think in the back end there’s times we’ve played really well in the back end and forced quarterbacks to hold the ball a little longer,” Bettcher said of Campbell’s production. “I think having guys on the edge who either demand chips or demand doubles or demand slides in protections helps free guys up to give them some more one-on-one opportunities inside.

“I think both of those kind of have to it, but I think also, I think Calais fundamentally and technique-wise is playing good football right now. You go back and you watch his tape and how well he’s playing with his hands and using his length right now; he’s separating, he’s tipping balls — he’s just really disrupting in the pocket.”

Injury update

The official Thursday injury report can be found here, and for the Cardinals, WR Larry Fitzgerald and QB Carson Palmer returned for full practices, while WR John Brown put in a limited session. DL Ed Stinson was back on the field after missing Wednesday with an illness, while fellow DL Robert Nkemdiche was added to the report with an ankle injury.

Harold Goodwin is swelling with pride

The offensive line the Cardinals rolled out in Week 1 was filled with proven veterans and a high draft pick.

The line they will finish the season with is just a bit different.

Last Saturday in Seattle, with Jared Veldheer, Evan Mathis and D.J. Humphries all unavailable due to injuries, John Wetzel was at left tackle, Mike Iupiti left guard, A.Q. Shipley center, Evan Boehm right guard and Earl Watford right tackle.

While the Cardinals would have undoubtedly preferred their initial group make it through the entire season, if nothing else, these last few games with younger and more inexperienced group have provided some bright spots, most recently last Saturday in Seattle when QB Carson Palmer was sacked just once.

“I’m proud of ’em, that’s what I told them Wednesday morning,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “To go to a place like that — the crowd noise, the front, the linebackers — and to come out of that game with just one sack? Phenomenal job, and the week before phenomenal job.

“It’s not going to get any easier this week; if they do that kind of job this weekend I’ll give them all a kiss.”

That last point (or threat?) notwithstanding, Goodwin’s happiness over the group’s performance is a welcome emotion from a coach who has often said he is never satisfied with how his players do, because he always wants more.

That said, Goodwin said — while admittedly trying not to sound egotistical — he always believed in his ability to coach, so the growth of his young linemen isn’t necessarily surprising.

“I try to instill confidence in them — usually I’m not yelling at them, haha, but I’ve been proud of those guys, to be honest with you,” he said. “A little nervous from the standpoint (of) those guys were not starters and guys you were not counting on at the beginning of the year, and all of a sudden you’re starting, you’re starting in Seattle, of all places, with guys you were not counting on Day 1 to be your guys, it was an awesome job.

“But they get all the credit. Carson (Palmer) does a good job of pumping them up, and I’m proud. That’s all I can say. I’m like a father figure, I’m proud.”

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