Cardinals could stray from aggressive ways without starting CBs
TEMPE, Ariz. — Free agents inked with the Arizona Cardinals excited about defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme that sold them on lots of blitzing.
Once-disgruntled cornerback Patrick Peterson showed signs of contentment as the team reverted back to a man-heavy defense, playing to his strengths as a physical cover man.
Yet more than two weeks from the start of the NFL regular season, the Cardinals might already be planning to scrap some of their most aggressive defensive plans in the name of remaining competitive.
Peterson’s six-game suspension for PED use and newcomer Robert Alford’s broken leg suffered at the opposite cornerback spot puts Arizona in a vulnerable place before their third preseason game.
“We’ve got to play differently until we get Pat back and hopefully get Robert back, you know, soon,” Joseph said Wednesday.
Ten-year NFL vet Tramaine Brock is a lock to start at cornerback. Rookie second-round pick Byron Murphy and undrafted second-year pro Chris Jones will be relied upon more than expected. That trio should get plenty of snaps in the third preseason game on Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Like the Cardinals offense, their defense hasn’t shown much in terms of blitzing or disguising early this preseason.
Joseph said the team remains in training camp mode with focus directed squarely on the Detroit Lions, Arizona’s first regular season opponent.
Gameplanning for that starting point hasn’t been made easier with the offseason dismissals of two rotation defensive linemen (Darius Philon and Robert Nkemdiche), the loss of the two starting cornerbacks, plus the preseason injury to starting inside linebacker Haason Reddick, who could still return for the 2019 opener.
Joseph admitted scheme will depend on the opponent. That said, he did admit toning down what he hoped would be an aggressive pass-rush is under consideration.
The philosophy right now is to make things easier for two backup cornerbacks.
“… If you’re bringing a bunch of pressure, that means you got a lot of one-on-ones in the backend,” Joseph said. “So I think if you want to protect your corners, you got to play more zone and more fire-zones (rushing five and dropping into a disguised zone), and rush four and play coverage.
“That’s the way I would do it I think to help our corners,” he added before cautioning that “every gameplan is different.”
That said, Arizona is still weighing its combination options when it comes to the defensive backs.
Murphy looks poised to earn a big role, but where he starts remains up in the air.
The rookie said Tuesday that he was unsure of how he’d split reps in Week 3 of the preseason, but Murphy expects that he’ll play at both cornerback and nickel as he continues to grow comfortable at both spots.
It’s possible Peterson will play sparingly or not at all on Saturday as he prepares to step away from the team completely when the regular season begins, giving Murphy a chance to prepare.
“It’s kind of time to grow up — grow up fast,” Murphy said. “It’s a little bit of pressure, but I’m just taking it all in. I got drafted for a reason, to come in here and play. My mindset was already to come in and play right away. Just staying positive through the whole thing even though … if I’m thrown into the fire, just ready to take it all in.”
Arizona has few options beyond Murphy and Brock, who also has practiced both in the slot and outside.
Joseph confirmed he wants last year’s slot corner, Budda Baker, to remain at his starting free safety position. Jones is a lanky corner who has impressed since spring, but he has only played on the outside.
Could that lead Murphy to play in the slot to get the Cardinals’ best three corners on the field?
Could Murphy even enter the regular season playing corner in base defense and sliding to the slot when Jones comes in for nickel packages?
It seems like the Cardinals aren’t close to chopping the learning curve in half for Murphy, the 33rd overall pick.
“Well he has no choice right now, he’s got to learn both positions,” Joseph said. “He’s got to learn fast and grow up fast and be ready to play.”
“We’ll see what’s the best combination for Detroit. That’s what’s important.”