What we learned about identity of Jonathan Gannon-led Cardinals vs. Commanders
Sep 10, 2023, 1:27 PM | Updated: 6:43 pm
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
After all the talk this offseason, we got our first on-the-field look at the Arizona Cardinals and their new regime in a 20-16 loss to the Washington Commanders on Sunday.
For the most part, they exceeded expectations.
It’s only one game, but there’s still plenty to glean from all three phases of the Cardinals.
Arizona Cardinals’ Week 1 takeaways
Among the biggest question marks surrounding the Cardinals this offseason was: who was going to step up from a pass-rushing standpoint?
The inside-turned-outside linebacker Zaven Collins? The scrappy veteran Dennis Gardeck? The up-and-coming Cameron Thomas?
Through at least one game, it was them and more.
The Cardinals OLBs room walked out of Washington with four sacks and three takeaways.
Gardeck, who did not start on Sunday, paced the room with a pair of sacks to go along with a forced fumble, while Collins reeled in an interception and fumble recovery.
“He played great and that’s what we expected out of him and that’s what he did,” head coach Jonathan Gannon told reporters postgame. “He’s one of our premier players who does a lot on teams, a lot on our defense. We ask a lot of him, he handles it. That’s why he’s a captain and one of our good players.”
The production didn’t stop there, either, with Thomas scoring on Gardeck’s forced fumble and Victor Dimukeje added a sack and a forced fumble as a Week 1 starter.
Jesse Luketa may not have stuffed the stat sheet like his counterparts, but still made his presence felt as a blocking fullback. He also added three tackles defensively.
It’s clear the Cardinals like the depth at the position, and with how well they interchanged throughout Week 1, should be a blueprint to follow heading into Week 2.
Head coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis hang their hats on two defensive philosophies:
– Limit explosive plays
– Play with violence
They achieved both on Sunday, with one play of at least 20 yards given up and linebacker Kyzir White — penalty or not — and others setting the tone early.
A stronger offensive showing from Arizona and the result would have been very different given the veracity the defense played with.
Heading into the regular season, the Cardinals’ safety depth didn’t look quite what it should for a team running a whole lot of three-safety sets.
With Isaiah Simmons shipped off to the New York Giants, Arizona was at a deficit when it came to the position outside of Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson.
Or so we thought.
Serving as the team’s third safety, K’Von Wallace turned heads against the Commanders on Sunday behind seven tackles and two passes defensed.
Wallace knows a thing or two about playing in a Gannon-led defense, having worked under the then-defensive coordinator during their time in Philadelphia together (2021-22).
Behind Wallace was recent practice squad elevation Andre Chachere.
Tight end trust
Among the main takeaways from Arizona’s offensive attack was the concerted effort to target its tight ends.
The duo of Zach Ertz and Trey McBride accounted for 12 of the team’s 30 targets, reeling in eight catches for 44 yards.
The numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, but it’s clear quarterback Joshua Dobbs knows where his security blankets are.
Clean it up
One of the biggest negatives for the Cardinals in Week 1 was the sloppiness right out the gate. Throughout the first half, the Cardinals were dinged with six penalties for 97 yards.
Arizona cleared things up a bit in the second half, though were still on the hook for a pair of late fourth-quarter penalties that stunted any hope for a comeback.
He’s still got it
If you had any reservations on veteran kicker Matt Prater, they were likely squashed on Sunday.
The kicker accounted for a trio of field goals with a long of 54 yards to go along with a successful extra point try in the loss to Washington.
Cool like Cooney
Prater wasn’t the only leg that impressed Sunday, with punter Nolan Cooney posting a 47 average on five punts with two landing inside the 20-yard line.
He also proved his worth as the team’s holder for all of Prater’s attempts on the afternoon.