Cardinals GM: DL Zach Allen, J.J. Watt flashed as tandem vs. Raiders
Lost amid an overtime fumble return for a touchdown and Kyler Murray scrambles that would draw close to the buzzer of an NBA shot clock was the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive performance on Sunday. At least in the second half of a 29-23 overtime win against the Las Vegas Raiders.
To beat the Raiders, Arizona had to hold its opponent to a field goal in the second half and overtime.
And for the Cardinals playing against a team that signed star linebacker Chandler Jones away from them this offseason, it was quite a statement made.
It helped that Arizona got its defensive line leader back, too.
“I think it’s the ability to apply pressure, which obviously J.J. Watt did a great job of that,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Friday. “I think Zach Allen played maybe his best game as a pro. And when plays needed to be made, Isaiah (Simmons) stepped up to the plate and got it done. But J.J. was really good that entire game.
“I think we’re 8-0 with J.J. Watt on the field (in the regular season),” Keim said, leaving out his limited return in the Wild Card round of last year’s playoffs. “I think it’s pretty imperative that we keep him out there.”
Arizona indeed went 7-0 with Watt on the roster last regular season before facing this week’s opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, in an ugly Wild Card loss to end 2021. Watt missed the 2022 opener but returned from a calf injury Sunday.
Watt recorded two tackles, including his second sack as a member of the Cardinals. He added a stuff and a batted-down pass.
Teaming up with a still-improving Allen gave Arizona some oomph up front.
Allen has a pair of quarterback hits in each of his first two games this week and has played 84% of the available snaps — about as high as it gets for how defensive coordinator Vance Joseph shuffles his defensive linemen.
Allen, the team’s third-round pick in 2019, is highly rated with a 75.2 overall grade on Pro Football Focus as well, with approving scores in both run defense (73.7) and the pass rush (77.0).
“He just continues to improve,” Keim said. “He’s a guy that’s a great worker, he’s a really intellectual player. Since we got J.J. obviously — a guy he grew up idolizing — he’s just sort of been a sponge.
“To watch him daily work and follow J.J. around and to see him take his game to a new level has been really exciting.”