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Campbell, other Cardinals defensive newcomers play big vs. WFT

Washington Football Team wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden (10) is hit by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and safety Chris Banjo (31) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Early returns look good for the Arizona Cardinals’ offseason commitment to reshaping a defense that a year ago was chock full of personnel holes.

On Sunday against the Washington Football Team, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips whacked the ball out of Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s hand, leading to a recovery by Cardinals teammate Chandler Jones. The play was huge considering it erased quarterback Kyler Murray’s interception minutes before.

Cardinals outside linebacker Devon Kennard started a possession in the second quarter with a sack.

And inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell held up well in coverage and beyond against a Washington offense that tried with all its might to involve tight ends in the passing game.

Those three items are significant because that trio is new to Arizona. They made their impact quite obvious as the Cardinals won 30-15 Sunday at State Farm Stadium.

“The physicality has been great. The third downs have been great,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the reloaded defense. “That was an area we really struggled on last year. (GM) Steve (Keim) did a tremendous job adding some pieces that made big plays today. You saw 59 (Campbell) and 97 (Phillips) all over that field.”

The eyes have especially been on Campbell because the Cardinals’ Achilles heel the past few seasons was no doubt an inability to cover tight ends.

The former Atlanta Falcon was often times in coverage against Washington’s Logan Thomas, the former Arizona quarterback who in Week 1 led the team with eight targets. Against the Cardinals, Thomas caught four balls for 26 yards but was targeted nine times.

Campbell was credited with 10 tackles (two for loss) and two passes defensed. He was targeted on plays designed to beat a linebacker down the sideline with a tight end or running back.

At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, it might’ve surprised that Campbell was right with his assignments on deep shots.

“I always kind of pride myself in being multi-dimensional,” the inside linebacker said. “I feel like I can rush, cover and play behind the ball. Yeah, some people are surprised considering I am a bigger guy and I can run with tight ends, wide receivers and running backs.”

Kingsbury called Campbell “one of the more undercover, under-the-radar players in the entire league,” and credited the linebacker’s IQ and quick assimilation into defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme.

Phillips (one sack) and Kennard (three tackles, two quarterback hits, one sack) also have looked like promising upgrades.

As a unit, Arizona’s defense recorded four sacks on Haskins in the first half and held the second-year pro to 223 yards on 19-of-33 passing with a touchdown and no picks. Haskins’ primary target, receiver Terry McLaurin, made seven catches to tie his career-high of 125 yards, but a good chunk came with the Cardinals sitting back in coverage considering they jumped out to a big lead.

The Cardinals may gripe that they let Washington’s offense start ripping off chunk plays in the second half and a group of backs averaged 5.1 yards per carry. No doubt, Washington scoring 15 points in the final 18:14 is not ideal.

But Arizona also could look at the third-down efficiency tallies (6-for-23) through two games against reasonably respected opponents.

Washington, after all, rallied from a 17-0 deficit in Week 1 to beat the Eagles, 27-17.  And the San Francisco 49ers put up 31 points Sunday against the New York Jets after the Cardinals held them to 20 last week.

“I think we’ve had a great start thus far, but as anything, there’s a lot of work to do,” Campbell said. “We have some corrections that definitely need to be made, but at this point I think we’ve been doing pretty well gelling together considering we haven’t had a ton of time together.

“I think we just need to continue chipping away at the little things. Communication, leverage, just things we can control.”

Phillips Law Group

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