Under Ray Horton the Cardinals had a reputation for being a tough defense with intricate blitz packages. The team was ranked 11th in sacks as a defense. Last season, they ranked 12th in defensive yards per game and 17th in points allowed per game. Where the defense excelled was in turnovers. The team ranked second in interceptions with 22 and third in overall turnovers with 33. The defense was also able to provide three touchdowns. With all that success, there were still flaws in the system. The pressure that was created was often due to a blitz by an extra defender. This would often cause holes in the defense and make the team susceptible to big plays. More often than not, the big plays seemed to come at the expense of Paris Lenon and whoever was lined up at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. Both of these positions were priorities in the offseason, with the team acquiring Javier Arenas, Jasper Brinkley, Antoine Cason, Karlos Dansby, and Brian McCann.
Todd Bowles does not have the track record or aura around his name like Ray Horton did. While there will be a different defensive scheme, I expect the results to be as good as or better than they were last year. This year's defense already has much more speed, which should help alleviate some of the big plays that were given up last season. Bowles has also preached that turnovers will be the number one priority for this defense. This has already been evident in the preseason, as the Cardinals forced 6 turnovers against the Dallas Cowboys. I think this success will carry over into the regular season. Not that I am saying that the team will force 6 turnovers a game, but I think there is potential to lead the league in turnovers forced.
There are a few players to keep your eyes on this year that will lead the defense. The two best players on the defense are Daryl Washington and Patrick Peterson. Washington has improved each year and had emerged as a leader on this team. He will be serving a 4 game suspension to start the year, but I feel like he will still have a monster year in his remaining 12 games. Peterson is amazing, and his versatility will turn him into a household name, if he isn't already. By the end of the season he will be regarded as the top defensive back in the league. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett will be freed to put pressure on the quarterback instead of occupying blockers. This has empowered both players, and Dockett should return to his Pro Bowl form. John Abraham was a great addition and will have an impact rushing the passer and proving that he still has plenty left in the tank. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu will be the Defensive Rookie of the Year; his innate playmaking ability and the coaches’ willingness to play him will allow him to be impactful.
The only question marks I feel this defense has is at the safety position. Rashad Johnson is in his fourth year out of Alabama and this will be his first year starting. Yeremiah Bell is 35 years old and it will be interesting to see how well he can replace Adrian Wilson. I do know one thing that Bell does just as good as Wilson: bicep curls. Dude has some guns. The rest of the defense has depth and the ability to change the game. As long as these players don’t get consistently beat for big plays, success will follow.
Success and improvement this year will be dependent on more than just the metrics this season. It will be based off of the wins and losses and how the team performs in clutch situations. I predict that the defense will be strong again this year and help keep the pressure off the offense. Over the next two weeks before the season starts, look for my breakdown of the offense and the special teams.