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Cardinals' Top Plays Of 2017: Defense

Posted Jan 18, 2018

Counting down the most memorable plays on the defensive side of the ball

The Cardinals’ defense was the backbone of the team in 2017. The group had many memorable moments, and we have whittled it down to the best of the best. Here are the choices for the top five defensive plays of the year:

5. DANSBY BECOMES A LEGEND

The situation: The Cardinals’ defense had dominated the 49ers all day, but San Francisco was threatening to pull to within one score late in the fourth quarter. The 49ers drove down the field and had a first-and-10 at the Arizona 9 with 2:35 remaining, trailing 20-10.

The play: Linebacker Karlos Dansby made sure there would be no late-game heroics for San Francisco. A pass from C.J. Beathard took a fortuitous bounce off the helmet of a 49ers offensive lineman and into the waiting arms of Dansby.

The aftermath: Upon signing with the Cardinals, Dansby noted he was “one interception away from being a legend” because it would make him the fifth member of the 40-sack, 20-interception club. After missing some chances earlier in the season, Dansby finally became legendary.

4. BETHEA’S TOE-TAP PICK

The situation: The Cardinals didn’t have much fun in Philadelphia, as both sides of the ball were overwhelmed by a dominant Eagles team. But safety Antoine Bethea came away from that game with one of the most impressive individual plays of the year. It came late in the first half as Philadelphia was at the Arizona 25 and threatening to build on a 21-7 lead.

The play: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz locked in on tight end Zach Ertz streaking toward the end zone and let a pass fly. Bethea diagnosed the target early and made a beeline toward Ertz. Bethea got there first and intercepted the throw, while making sure to tap his toes in bounds.

The aftermath: While it didn’t have a big outcome on the game, it was a sign of things to come from Bethea. He finished the season with a team-leading five interceptions, proving to be a smart signing in free agency by General Manager Steve Keim.

3. MATHIEU’S BLIND INTERCEPTION

The situation: The Cardinals used a fourth-quarter rally to force overtime against the Colts in Week 2, but Indianapolis got the ball first in the extra session. A touchdown would have given them the win and a field goal would have put a lot of pressure on the Cardinals’ offense, but those thoughts were extinguished quickly by Tyrann Mathieu.

The play: The Cardinals’ safety watched Jacoby Brissett throw a pass intended for Kamar Aiken and undercut the route. Mathieu saw Dansby flying over, so he closed his eyes while bracing for a collision but still picked off the throw. Defensive lineman Frostee Rucker played a big role on the play by pressuring Brissett and forcing the ball out quickly.

The aftermath: Mathieu returned the ball to the Indianapolis 22, which set up a game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson. It was the first win of the season for the Cardinals, and the first of two interceptions by Mathieu in 2017.

2. BAKER DOES IT ALL

The situation: Rookie safety Budda Baker was added to the starting lineup in Week 11 against the Texans in the wake of Tyvon Branch’s season-ending knee injury. It was a big spot for the second-round pick, which had shown impressive flashes previously but had yet to play a substantial role on defense. It’s fair to say Baker answered the bell.

The play: Baker doesn’t rush the passer often, but screamed in off the left side of the defensive line in the second quarter. Texans offensive tackle Breno Giacomini got two hands on him, but Baker absorbed the blow, kept his balance, and then lunged at quarterback Tom Savage. Baker jarred the ball loose on the sack and then had the presence of mind to recover it.

The aftermath: The Cardinals would score two plays later to tie the game at 7. While Houston won the game, it was a coming-out party for Baker. He finished with 13 total tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and also downed a punt at the 1-yard line.

1. NKEMDICHE’S SCOOP AND SCORE

The situation: The Cardinals had a comfortable 16-0 lead over the Giants as the fourth quarter began in Week 16. New York was hoping to get something going and cut into the deficit, but the defense wasn’t having it.

The play: Money linebacker Deone Bucannon fired in on a blitz and wasn’t picked up by a blocker. Giants quarterback Eli Manning shuffled away momentarily, but Bucannon hit him and forced the ball out. Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche picked it up, eluded multiple would-be tacklers and sprinted 21 yards to the end zone for the touchdown.

The aftermath: The Cardinals pitched their first shutout in 25 years in this one, as this play capped the dominant defensive effort. Bucannon had been slowed by injuries previously but looked great in this game. It was the first splash play of Nkemdiche’s career, one the former first-round pick hopes to build on moving forward.

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