How do you motivate NFL starters in the preseason? Just use the words “as long as it takes” when it comes to playing time.
At least the Cardinals defensive starters seemed to take Ken Whisenhunt’s words to heart.
The head coach was in a bad mood all week. The turnstile effort against the Saints and Chiefs led Whisenhunt to proclaim not once, but twice that his starters would NOT come off the field against the Raiders until they got it right. On Wednesday, I got the feeling he wasn’t overly thrilled about cancelling the morning practice for the annual pilgrimage to the movies.
Friday night against the Raiders, it didn’t take long for the defense to start resembling the one that was among the league’s best in the second half of last season. It forced the Silver and Black three and out on their opening drive. That stoppage led to a long punt return from Patrick Peterson, which ultimately resulted in a Ryan Williams touchdown (free plug for the offense).
“They set the tone on defense,” Whisenhunt said.
Oakland was able to move the ball on its second possession. Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden marched the ball from their own 18 all the way down to the one yard line. A Darnell Dockett personal foul and William Gay pass interference call also aided the Raiders. Two stuffed running plays and an incompletion later had the Raiders settling for a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
“That’s the signature we want as a defense,” safety Kerry Rhodes said. “We want to come out, and no matter where they are, be able to get a stop.”
The Raiders settled for another three-pointer on their ensuing possession after starting on their own 39.
The Cardinals defense really started flexing its muscles in the second quarter after forcing back-to-back turnovers — a Rhodes 60-yard interception return followed by Daryl Washington forcing a Mike Goodson fumble.
While it was more of a “bend but don’t break” than a smothering defensive performance, we got a much better idea of what “as long as it takes” meant. The starters were off the field early in the second quarter.
“It was encouraging to see them respond,” Whisenhunt said.
At least fans can start to feel good about the Cardinals’ play on one side of the ball.