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Cards Pressing For Pressure

Posted Sep 13, 2012

Facing Patriots and Brady, defense needs to create some chaos

Reggie Walker and the Cardinals' defense is hoping they can pressure Patriots quarterback Tom Brady like they pressured Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last week.

Spliced among the film of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady are scenes of blue jerseys swarming the future Hall of Famer in the most recent Super Bowl.

The New York Giants have written the textbook on how to execute an indomitable pass rush against the Patriots. It’s become a football lesson in its own right, one that details how to knock Brady uncharacteristically out of his rhythm.

It’s not a scheme the Cardinals, who play a 3-4 defense compared to the Giants’ 4-3, can replicate. But it doesn’t stop the Cardinals for learning a thing or two from the defending Super Bowl champs.

“The Giants just penetrate, penetrate, penetrate,” Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “There was no looking back.”

The Cardinals haven’t been looking back either since the midway point of last season, when a light bulb went off in the defense’s collective head. Seemingly overnight, the unit grasped defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s new schemes and it translated onto the field almost as quickly. During the first eight games of last season, the Cardinals allowed an average of 272 passing yards per game, but over the second half that average dropped to 190 per game – a difference of about 650 yards. And in five of those final eight, the defense held offenses to less than 200 yards passing.

The Cardinals’ stinginess continued this season, when they held the Seattle Seahawks to 139 yards Sunday. After Week 1, the Cards were ranked were ranked second in the league allowing 4.09 passing yards per play.

“We’re just picking up where we left off at the back half of last season,” Peterson said.

That means a well-balanced pass rush, starting with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. The Cardinals’ 3-4 pass rush is built upon responsibility but it also allows the defense to attack from a variety of angles, veteran lineman Vonnie Holliday said.

When one layer does its job, it takes the pressure off the next.

If Docket, Campbell and Dan Williams are able to push the Patriots’ offensive line back Sunday, the linebackers can pressure Brady inside with Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington and outside with Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield. It’s the model of how Lenon finished with two sacks Sunday against the Seahawks.

Linebacker Daryl Washington said when the first two layers can pressure Brady, it frees the secondary to focus on their coverage without having to add support at the line of scrimmage.

“In this league when any quarterback can get more than four seconds it's tough on those guys to cover for that long," Washington said. "So the more pressure we get, it takes more pressure off our defensive backs."

It wasn’t that way a year ago.

Trust was an issue the first half of last season for the Cardinals’ defense.

Because of the lockout the Cards didn’t have enough time to full immerse themselves in the new scheme The Cards had to keep one eye on their responsibility and another eye on what everyone else was doing.

But as everyone learned their roles and the playbook, those concerns dissolved.  Now, Dockett said, guys know where they’re going.

“We don’t have to worry about what’s going on at the line of scrimmage, if they’re running the ball,” Peterson said. “We don’t have to worry about this guy missing his assignment or anything like that. Were just being each other’s brothers keepers out there on the field.”

But it’s not just one layer or player that concerns the Patriots.

Earlier this week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick rattled off nearly the entire Cardinals’ depth chart, but lingered on Dockett and Campbell. When Belichick does that, it means something.

“Those guys are really … They’re outstanding,” Belichick said. “Dockett’s really hard to block. He’s quick, really active. Campbell’s long and quick and he’s got power and quickness to go with it.

“A lot of teams have usually one guy that you have to focus on or maybe two, I think that with the Cardinals they have a well-balanced rush.”

As much as this Cardinals’ defense has matured and as stout as all three layers are, it still understands who it’s facing Sunday. The defense’s goals are simple: make Brady uncomfortable, hit him a few times and get hands in his face.

But how do the Cards unsettle a man only a few teams have been able to? By confusing him. Coverages and schemes are usually masked but will be more so this weekend, Washington said.

The Cardinals know, however, confusing Brady is much easier said than done.

“If he knows what defense we’re in,” Peterson said, “if he knows what we’re doing, he’ll pick us apart.”


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