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Arizona Cardinals defense on cusp of championship caliber

Most people believe that however the Arizona Cardinals’
QBs go this year, so will the team.

The idea makes sense, but it’s wrong.

While the QB position is indeed the most important
position in sports, the Arizona Cardinals will be
successful in 2012 for one very simple reason.

Or, rather, 11 or so simple reasons at a time.

The defense.

Through just more than a week of camp so far the Cards’
defense has a decided advantage over the offense. Everyone
from defensive end Calais Campbell to head coach Ken
Whisenhunt have said that can be expected early on.

“It’s been that case, been that way a lot of times because
defense is more reactionary where offense is more learning
what you have to do and being in the right spots,”
Whisenhunt said Thursday. “But it all ends up balancing
itself out, hopefully.”

It won’t.

Arizona’s defense, which finished 18th in the NFL for
total yards allowed, 17th in passing yards allowed and
21st in rushing yards — while giving up 21.8 points per
game — is going to be good. Damn good.

Ray Horton’s group has dominated training camp not because
the offense is terrible (though that could very well be a
possibility), but because it is easily the most talented
group on the team.

Think about it: the defense boasts two players who have
made the Pro Bowl in Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett as
well as three more who will make it at some point in the
near future in Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington and
Patrick Peterson. Add emerging players Sam Acho, Dan
Williams and O’Brien Schofield as well as solid starters
in Paris Lenon, William Gay and Kerry Rhodes, and you have
a defense with far more depth than holes.

This isn’t to say the Cardinals will have a top-10 defense
this year. Wait, yes it is.

Talent has not been an issue on the defensive side of the
ball for a while, and in Horton the team finally has a
coach who can get the most out of his players. We saw the
defense evolve from a confused group to a confident one
over the final nine games of the 2011 season — seven of
which the Cardinals won — by giving up an average of 18.3
points per game.

They had allowed an average of 26.14 points per contest
over the previous seven.

Improve much? Yes.

Room to improve even further? Absolutely.

For all the good the defense did in 2011, it created fewer
turnovers than just five other NFL teams.

That will have to change if the Cardinals are to go from
being a solid defense to an elite one. If it does, the
Cardinals will not only make the playoffs, but be a threat
to go deep into them.

The good news is it will change as the team’s pass
rush improves (see Acho and Schoefield), leaving the
talented and
deep secondary (hello, Patrick Peterson) to
create more turnovers.

While Peterson would like to pick off more than the two
passes he did as a rookie, that’s not exactly his goal.

“I want to get to the point where teams don’t even want to
throw my way,” he said.

That’s fair.

While offense makes the highlight shows, the cliché
“defense wins championships” is around for a reason. After
all, if
people didn’t have old-school beliefs that sound smart but
are not
accurate to hang onto, what would they have?

A half-truth.

Three of the last six Super Bowl winners did so with elite
offenses, but the Packers, Saints and Colts would not have
the Lombardi Trophy had their defenses not improved to the
where they could actually stop somebody. The Giants — who
twice — earned their rings via excellent defense, and the
Steelers, well, we’re not going to talk about them.

The point?

A football team can win a lot of games with a good
defense or offense, but will not win a title unless the
other side
of the ball is at least decent.

As of right now the Cardinals are halfway to where they
need to be.