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A Blitz In Cardinals' Clothing

Posted Aug 16, 2017

Defense has multiple players capable of bolting into backfield

Cardinals safeties Budda Baker (left) and Tyrann Mathieu blitz during a recent training camp practice.

In Monday afternoon’s practice, quarterback Carson Palmer saw first-hand the new toys at defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s disposal.

“Watch 36!” Palmer yelled to the offensive line as rookie safety Budda Baker lingered in the slot.

On the next play, rookie linebacker Haason Reddick moseyed up to the line of scrimmage as the offense settled. After feigning a rush, he dropped into coverage, and it was safety Tyrann Mathieu who came screaming in off the edge.

Throughout coach Bruce Arians’ tenure, the Cardinals have been among the most blitz-heavy teams in the NFL, and Reddick and Baker have added more weapons to Bettcher’s disposal.

Defenses already had to worry about double-digit sack artists Chandler Jones and Markus Golden on the edge. Now there is a host of talented blitzers – most notably Mathieu, Reddick, Baker and linebacker Deone Bucannon – available to add pressure from all angles.

“That’s what it’s all about, not knowing who’s always coming,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s not always Ty that’s coming. The more guys you can put out that can cover, can blitz, can play the run, the better the defense.”

Reddick had 9½ sacks as a defensive end last year at Temple, and while he’s learning inside linebacker, the pass-rushing ability is one of the best parts of his game. Baker had three sacks for Washington last season and is reminiscent to Mathieu in his ability to fly into the backfield from the slot.

 “Blitzing,” Baker said, “is one of my favorite things to do.”

Bettcher loves the versatility of his group, but cautions that he can’t put too much, too soon on the plates of Baker and Reddick. The rookies are trying to learn the basics of the defense, and there is the concern of paralysis by analysis if they are overloaded.

“The thing as a coordinator you’ve got to balance is how much do you do, where things all of a sudden weigh on their mind and they’re playing slow,” Bettcher said. “That will be the balance we find as we get through the first part of the year, get through training camp.”

Blitzing is often a boom-or-bust proposition. If the protection group recognizes who is coming and picks it up, the secondary is vulnerable. But if a player comes in free, it often leads to a sack, an incompletion or a turnover.

On passing downs, the Cardinals will regularly have several defenders pacing near the line of scrimmage. Golden and Jones will be rushing, undoubtedly, but who will join them? The offensive line must dissect it quickly.

“We’re going to have a lot of speed on the field, for sure,” Mathieu said. “I think we have a lot of guys that can move around and play the same part as each other. Hopefully we can play well off each other and complement each other.”

The Cardinals led the NFL in sacks a season ago with 48. They lost defensive tackle Calais Campbell, and so the interior of the defensive line is now a question mark, but there is reason to believe they can again get regular pressure.

Jones and Golden will do the heavy lifting on snaps when Bettcher doesn’t send a blitz, but there will be plenty of times when they get an assist from their cohorts.

“It helps tremendously,” Jones said. “When a defensive coordinator blitzes, it allows your pass-rushers to get one-on-one matchups. To be called an elite pass-rusher, you have to consistently win one-on-one matchups. I love it here. I love playing defense here because Coach blitzes, and I consistently get one-on-ones.”

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