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Cards Are Sack Happy

Posted Dec 31, 2009

Notebook: Total of 42 sacks third in NFL; Vikings will affect injury decisions

Defensive end Calais Campbell sacks Rams quarterback Keith Null last weekend.
 
 
Maybe if the Cardinals had that one edge rusher who had piled up 15 sacks, figures defensive end Calais Campbell, it would spur the rest of the defense to try and get 15 themselves.

But the Cards’ pass rushers have competition anyway.

“Me and (linebacker) Clark (Haggans) always talk trash to each other over who is going to make the first big play, a sack, a forced fumble, tackle-for-loss, something like that,” Campbell said. “That’s the goal. Sacks will come for us, and if I get one first, I’m going to let them know, OK, you’ve got to step your game up.”

Something is working. As a defense, the Cards have 42 sacks, tied for third in the NFL and three off the league lead. It’s the franchise’s third-highest total ever, behind the 59 achieved in 1983 and the 55 in 1984. It’s the team’s highest total since moving to Arizona.

And it’s done without one player making a singular impact. Campbell and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett each have seven to lead the team, but linebacker Bertrand Berry has six, Haggans has five and linebacker Chike Okeafor 4½.

Twelve different players have sacks.

“I guess at this point in the season I am pleasantly surprised,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I didn’t know we’d be this close to leading the league in sack totals.”

Whisenhunt said he had a sense the Cards – for whom pass rush was a concern heading into the season – could get to the quarterback based on the preseason. They were effective in the opener against San Francisco (four sacks) and that gave Whisenhunt the sense he had been right.

He added the creativity of the packages has helped too, in defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ first season running the defense.

“We have made a concerted effort to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Berry said. “I think coach Davis has put us in great positions, he’s called some tremendous games as far as timing of blitzes and timing of zone pressures and things like that.

“From the other standpoint, there is a lot of talent, guys that are skilled at getting to the quarterback. We’re seeing all this talent come together, and it’s encouraging to know we can do it.”

ROLLE SITS AGAIN

Officially, there were no changes to the injury report Thursday, although Whisenhunt said safety Antrel Rolle (thigh) improved again even though he didn’t practice.

Kicker Neil Rackers (groin) should play Sunday. So should tight end Ben Patrick and wide receiver Sean Morey (concussions).

But “should” doesn’t mean “will.” And the final decision won’t be made until Sunday, and Whisenhunt indicated that an inability to attain the No. 2 playoff seed – which can only happen in the first place if the Vikings lose to the Giants – will change his thoughts on what players will play against Green Bay.

“It’s going to depend on what happens in the game before us, no doubt,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll obviously make some decisions based on how the Minnesota-Giants game goes, not only with the health of our players but certain other players. That will factor into it. You have to be smart in this game and make sure you err to the side of having a healthy team heading into the playoffs.”

GRAHAM EYES RECORD

Punter Ben Graham was snubbed for what seemed to be a deserved Pro Bowl spot (he declined to comment on the Pro Bowl) but he still has a chance to top the NFL record for punts inside the 20 for the season. Graham has 39 this season; the record of 42 is held by 49ers punter Andy Lee, who coincidentally is the man who beat Graham out for the Pro Bowl spot.

It was something Graham has been aiming for since the playoffs last season, when he had 12 inside the 20 for the second-highest total in a single postseason. But heading into the bye this season, Graham had just two inside the 20 after two games and he figured he wouldn’t be putting up any huge totals.

“I thought, ‘Oh well,’ ” Graham said. “But it’s been a team effort.”

Graham hasn’t had a touchback since the third game of the season, with 34 inside the 20 on 67 punts since then.

“I just want to put the defense in the best possible situation,” Graham said. “You could kick a 60-yard touchback and it’s not the end of the world. But if you’re punting going in (inside the 50) and get a touchback, that’s no good.”
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