Cardinals’ Vance Joseph believes defense is close, not worried about job
TEMPE, Ariz. — Early returns show the Arizona Cardinals have found their answer to rebuilding the offense with the pairing of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.
Obviously there are still issues that need to be resolved in just the first season, but after watching last year’s debacle of an offense, it’s on the right track.
On paper, the same can’t be said for the defense.
Allowing the most yards per game (426.3) and total yards through the air (3,690) through 12 contests in the NFL, while making just six interceptions compared to a league-high 31 touchdowns for the opposition, the defense has been a glaring point of weakness for a 3-8-1 team.
The next four games won’t be any easier either for the team looking to snap a five-game losing streak, as each remaining opponent possesses an offense capable of putting up large numbers.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph isn’t oblivious to the lack of effectiveness. He sees the same stats we do at the end of the day. He does, however, feel the unit has a lot more than what meets the eye.
“We’ve had one game where I felt our effort wasn’t outstanding and that was Sunday,” Joseph said after practice Thursday. “Outside of that, we’ve played the best teams toe-to-toe. Baltimore, San Fran twice, all those teams we’ve played, they’re good football teams.
“We understand that there’s going to be a process and moving forward we’re going to get it fixed. We’re closer than everyone thinks. We are close, but it’s hard to win NFL games on Sunday.”
Against the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, two playoff-bound teams, Arizona managed to keep it close, falling by just one score in the three games. The problem’s been the rest of the losses in 2019, where the team gave up at least 27 points.
There’s going to be growing pains as the unit learns Joseph’s schemes, with youth and lack of experience filling critical holes. And although difficult to experience, the trying times do provide an opportunity to take stock in who mans Joseph’s defense.
“We’re in the first year of our system. Even our veteran players have been in a different system the last three years so it takes time,” Joseph said. “And it takes courage to live through this, it’s hard times. We’re going to get it fixed, and once it’s fixed no one remembers these times, but right now it’s tough.
“So if you’re not strong-willed and you don’t have courage, you can’t fix it. You can’t let the noise dictate your attitude. We have to go to work and simply fix it, and we have a plan here. And right now, it’s the first year of the plan. It wasn’t going to be easy, that’s why we’re here. It wasn’t fixed, that’s why we’re here, so we’re trying to fix it and we will.”
The tight end problem is certainly atop the laundry list of items that need to be remedied for the Cardinals. Arizona, without a question, has been the worst team defensively against opposing tight ends, allowing a league-high 953 yards and 13 touchdowns, the most in the NFL since 2016.
“Tight ends in this league are no longer blockers and no longer just big guys that can’t run, they’re matchup pieces,” Joseph said. “So it’s simply about matchups and we’ve got to find a way to play better with those matchups.”
Joseph said he isn’t one to ignore the issues and as coaches, they must address them head-on. Sunday marks a prime opportunity to see how the defense can respond after yet another 100-yard, one-score game to a tight end with Vance McDonald and the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to the desert.
McDonald hasn’t put up the flashiest of numbers this season — 242 yards and three touchdowns on 32 catches — but is tied for first among Steelers pass catchers in scores and tied for fourth in receiving yards, meaning he should be in line for an uptick in looks with the exploitable matchup.
Limiting the TE this weekend would be a huge confidence boost in the team’s growth, as well as Joseph’s ability to successfully run his defense in the Valley, moving forward.
As for Joseph possibly not being around to see the process through? He’s paying the thought no mind as he concentrates on the ongoing construction of the defense.
“I’m not [concerned], I’m not,” Joseph said. “I’ve been coaching a long time in this league, I’ve had success as a coach so I’m not worried about that. That’s not my call, my job is to fix the defense.”
Like the offense, the defense is a work in progress. Solving the tight end conundrum is just one of many things that needs to be figured out. But getting it right on Sunday shows progress is and can still be made, quieting the outside noise that seems to slowly get louder and louder as the weeks go by.