Cardinals to rely on defensive line depth without J.J. Watt
The Arizona Cardinals have not had a healthy defensive line in any game this season.
That will continue Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers.
Defensive end J.J. Watt, who has the most snaps among Arizona’s defensive linemen, reportedly needs shoulder surgery that could end his season.
Nose tackle Corey Peters remains on the COVID-19 reserve list as of Wednesday night and nose tackle Rashard Lawrence (calf) is questionable to play.
“Hopefully guys get healthy come back soon but that’s NFL football, having reserve players ready to go every single week, having those guys coached up because you never know,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said last week.
What will help is getting edge rusher Chandler Jones and defensive end Zach Allen back from the COVID-19 reserve list.
The onus will be on Allen, Michael Dogbe, Leki Fotu and Jordan Phillips to take on bigger roles up front.
Allen is second behind Watt in defensive snaps on the line this year despite missing two games. He lined up opposite of Watt in many packages.
In his most recent game, he had a sack and two tackles for loss. But his conditioning after having COVID-19 will be something to monitor.
Dogbe filled in primarily for Allen last week, playing 48% of the defensive snaps, a career-high.
With the Cardinals swapping Allen and Watt, Dogbe could be back in the same role.
If Allen needs more rest than usual, then Dogbe may have to play the most snaps on the defensive line Thursday.
He had a quarterback hit and three combined tackles against Houston.
Phillips can line up at tackle or end. He missed the first five weeks of the year but has looked energized upon return.
The Cardinals gave him a three-year contract before last season, but he has missed most games due to injury since.
Thursday is an opportunity for Phillips to pick up his teammates after they stepped in for him.
Fotu will have an especially important role if Lawrence cannot play. He is already set to receive a lot of snaps with Peters likely out.
The second-year pro has struggled against the run this year with a 38.1 run defense grade on Pro Football Focus and one combined tackle.
The Packers will miss multiple receivers Thursday as Davante Adams and Allen Lazard are on the COVID-19 list.
Stopping the run will be key, and Fotu’s performance could be a major part of that.