When Bruce Arians dislikes the play-calling of Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, he doesn’t need to say a word.
He switches over to the defensive coaches’ radio frequency, and that simple click is enough of a clue to dial up the aggressiveness.
There was no click needed at the end of Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Redskins because everyone was on the same wavelength. Bettcher watched Arians call a pair of “no-risk-it-no-biscuit” plays to push a one-point lead to eight late in the fourth, and then sent constant pressure on Washington’s final drive.
Penalties allowed the Redskins to move the ball, but cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off an errant pass with 41 seconds remaining to seal the victory. It harkened back big defensive stands of years past, something that, despite statistical dominance, had been missing in 2016.
“It definitely felt like old times,” Peterson said. “Getting after the quarterback, and like I alluded to earlier, Coach had been harping on us hard. The defense needed to get a win. We got it today.”
The Cardinals entered the game No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, a number even they thought that was deceiving. While the unit has talented players, there hadn’t been enough impact plays to justify top billing.
“People have been throwing around that we’re the No. 1 defense,” linebacker
The Cardinals did an impressive job of containing Kirk Cousins – he was 21-of-37 for 271 yards with a touchdown and interception – and forced a pair of turnovers, starting with a critical strip-sack by defensive tackle
Washington had a field goal lead and the ball, but Campbell bull-rushed guard Shawn Lauvao and chopped down on Cousins’ arm, sending the football flying sideways in the process.
“I think (Lauvao) respected my finesse moves, my swim moves,” Campbell said. “He kind of set back. Usually on film he was jump-setting and playing physical. He knew I had a pretty good counter off that. He sat back, so I had to bull-rush. He made me bull-rush.”
Golden picked it up and returned it 20 yards to the Washington 10, and the Cardinals scored three plays later. Campbell and the other defenders were quick to tease Golden in a jubilant postgame locker room, but Golden, a former star running back in high school, at least found solace in one fact.
“I got caught from behind by a running back – a real NFL running back, so I ain’t mad at myself,” Golden said. “If a lineman would have caught me, or the quarterback, I would have been mad at myself. A running back? I can’t control that.”
Peterson’s interception was the other key moment, a play Arians said few other defensive backs in the NFL would make. Peterson said he was in a precarious position for part of it, but the pressure forced by the blitz made Cousins get rid of the ball quickly, and he was there to squeeze it before giving the ball away.
“I just ran to the end zone to give a lucky fan with the ‘21’ jersey on the ball,” Peterson said.
The Redskins, who entered the game with the No. 2 total offense in the NFL, had their moments. DeSean Jackson caught a 59-yard pass to set up a touchdown on Washington’s first drive of the second half, and a Jamison Crowder 26-yard touchdown reception put the Redskins ahead 20-17 later in the quarter.
But the Cardinals held Washington to a field goal in the fourth, battening down the hatches on the final possession.
“They were good,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “They brought some cover zeroes on us and we didn’t really have an answer. We should have, but we didn’t get it off, so it’s frustrating. … Credit their pass rush. Credit their scheme. The defensive coordinator did a nice job and they made the plays.”