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Cardinals’ pass defense struggling despite 2nd straight win

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) scores a touchdown as Arizona Cardinals defensive back Jalen Thompson (34) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Six games in the books. Patrick Peterson’s six-game suspension is over.

The presence of the eight-time Pro Bowler will certainly help Arizona’s sagging pass defense, but there’s no way it’ll fix everything wrong with it.

Take Sunday, for instance. Yes, the Cardinals hung on for a 34-33 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but the pass defense did very little to help the effort.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta’s veteran signal caller, had a historic day at State Farm Stadium — it just wasn’t the right kind of history. Ryan threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns, building a passer rating of 144.9 — it’s only the eighth time since 1970 a quarterback has had a rating of 144 or over with 20 pass attempts and lost the game.

It’s not the first time Ryan has suffered this statistical indignity either. In Week 3 of last year, Ryan put up a rating of 148.1 in a shootout loss to New Orleans.

On the Arizona side of things, it wasn’t just Sunday’s performance that has lagged. The six opposing quarterbacks the Cardinals have faced (Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Kyle Allen, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton and Ryan) have completed 149-of-210 passes for 1,776 yards with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.

That’s an aggregate passer rating of 121.85. If that stat line belonged to one player, he’d be among the NFL leaders in all categories and second in passer rating, first in touchdowns.

“Any time you give up yardage and points, you want to get better,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the game. “I think I understand where we’re at. We’ve got some young players back there, a secondary who’s banged up. We get Patrick Peterson back tomorrow, and hopefully that helps.”

Kingsbury’s sentiments aren’t without truth. Arizona’s secondary has been compromised by suspension (Peterson), injury (Robert Alford) and underperformance (D.J. Swearinger, who was released after Week 4). Rookies Byron Murphy, Deionte Thompson and Jalen Thompson have all been pressed into extended duty.

But to the untrained eye, this looks deeper than a personnel issue. Opposing receivers (and more to the point, tight ends) have run free through the Cardinals’ defense. They’ve allowed three receivers (Danny Amendola, Tyler Boyd and Julio Jones) and three tight ends (T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews and Austin Hooper) to gash them for 100 yards or more.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph admitted he’d have to adjust to playing more zone after the preseason losses of Peterson and Alford, so the former’s return might allow a shift back to a more aggressive coverage plan that will make things harder on quarterbacks and receivers.

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