Pro Football Focus ranks Cards defense in middle of pack through 5 games

Oct 17, 2020, 12:10 PM

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck (45) and his defensive teammates celebrate after sackin...

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck (45) and his defensive teammates celebrate after sacking New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in East Rutherford. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Arizona Cardinals defense may have just one interception to its name in 2020, but it has stepped up on defending the deep ball.

Ranking all 32 teams defensively based on expected points added per play allowed, Pro Football Focus has Arizona positioned at 16th. EPA is the measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game, per PFF.

While the metric has the Cardinals defense as middle of the road, there is a silver lining to the rating.

Arizona has done a great job in limiting big plays downfield. They have allowed a catch rate of just 34.6% on throws of 10 or more yards downfield, the best in the NFL by seven percentage points. Granted, they have been helped out from time to time with some poorly thrown balls, but they’ve made plenty of plays themselves, as their coverage grade is the fifth-best on such throws.

Of the team’s Arizona has faced this season, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Carolina Panthers signal caller Teddy Bridgewater did the most damage to the secondary. In the two losses combined, the Cardinals defense allowed 13 plays of at least 17 yards or more to receivers.

However, only four of those plays came on a long throw by opposing quarterbacks.

In Arizona’s victories, the defense clamped down on aired out balls, allowing just one big play of more than 20 yards each to the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets. Against the Washington, the team allowed two, one resulting in a score.

That ability to keep the long ball limited has helped the team become fifth in the league in points allowed per game (20.4). Only the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears have allowed less on average.

The defense is still a work in motion, but being to limit teams taking the top of the secondary definitely helps a unit looking to take that next step.

The Cardinals were third in the NFC West behind the Rams (4) and the 49ers (8), but beat out the Seattle Seahawks’ 21st rating.

The Ravens took the top spot in the ranking. The same couldn’t be said for the Lions, who finished dead last.

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