Cardinals’ NFL-best pass rush defies odds of past league success

Jan 3, 2017, 6:00 AM
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones (55) celebrates his defensive stop with teammat...

Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones (55) celebrates his defensive stop with teammate Markus Golden (44) during the second half of a football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Since day one of the Cardinals’ 2016 season, they made the pass rush a priority. General manager Steve Keim said it himself and acted on it, acquiring Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots.

The team came through with its play in more ways than one but defied the precedent set by past NFL teams that were one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league.

In the last four seasons, there have been seven occurrences of an NFL team having at least two players with 11 sacks or more. The 2016 edition of the Arizona Cardinals is the only team of the seven to not make the playoffs that same year.

Markus Golden finished with 12.5 sacks and Jones had 11.

The Cardinals themselves led the NFL in sacks with 48. Once again, though, that went against the success in the past of the best team in the league at accumulating sacks.

Finishing with a record of 7-8-1, Arizona became the first team since the 1997 New Orleans Saints to be alone at the top of the sacks leaderboard and end the season with a record below .500.

Head coach Bruce Arians said Monday he felt the effects of far exceeding expectations of a past weakness but still coming up short of the playoffs.

“That’s the frustrating part, we set some things out like the pass rush and we fixed it,” he said. “Steve (Keim) did a great job of getting Chandler (Jones), and Markus (Golden) improved, so that’s the frustrating part not to win those five close ball games.”

Arians said it was a matter of executing their plan.

“That’s exactly what we set out to do was create a pass rush from the edge,” Arians said.

Arians was not surprised by Golden’s breakout season.

“(He’s) exactly what we thought,” the coach said. “We drafted him because of his motor, his energy. That’s the type of guys we want in our locker room. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”

What is surprising, however, is how leading the league in sacks did not translate to a winning record.

The pass rush also benefitted the interior of the line, where Calais Campbell put together an eight-sack season that is tied for second-most in his accomplished career.

“I thought it was very solid, one of his better ones, especially the last half of the season,” Arians said of the soon-to-be free agent Campbell. “I thought he really benefited from Chandler and Markus.”

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