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Defense Sees Red

Posted Sep 19, 2011

Improvement a must, but unit manages to rank 11th in scoring against

Safety Adrian Wilson makes his first-quarter interception inside his own 5-yard line to thwart a Washington drive during Sunday's loss to the Redskins.

It was truth, but Kerry Rhodes still chuckled, because the safety knew that whatever was being said about the Cardinals’ defense after two games, good enough wasn’t part of it.

For however many yards the Cards have surrendered, though – and it has been far too many, after the Redskins followed up with another 455 Sunday in a 22-21 Washington victory – they haven’t been giving up too many points. For a unit seeking whatever positives it can, it’s something to consider.  

“I guess … you’re right, we’re not giving up a lot of points,” Rhodes said. “We had them at 13 points with six minutes left. If we get that stop on fourth down, we win the game on 13 points.

“I just think – I know – there are a lot of mistakes we are making. It’s kind of mind-boggling (to struggle this much).”

The Cardinals are 11th in the NFL in scoring defense, a number that ultimately has more importance than the yards allowed stat line.

For all the yards the Cardinals have allowed, they are not even last in the league in defense. They are 29th, ahead of a pair of powerhouses who are having their own problems slowing teams: Green Bay and New England (with Miami at the bottom of the NFL).

Of course, straight statistics mean little without context, and the Patriots and Packers, for instance, have offenses that are more consistently potent than the Cardinals at this point. And Rhodes pointed out the defense can’t rely on the offense to bail them out of their own troubles.

The context that overshadows all: Giving up so many yards eventually will catch up to the Cards and the points they surrender.

“We made a number of good plays defensively (in Washington) and when we’re on the same page and guys understand what they’re doing, we’re a pretty good defense,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “But when we make our bad plays, they’re really bad.”

It seems like the Cardinals manage to save them for the middle of the field, at least. There was a significant coverage breakdown once in the red zone Sunday, a painful fourth-quarter situation – the fourth-and-3 play on which Santana Moss caught an 18-yard touchdown pass behind both cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Adrian Wilson that allowed the Redskins later to need just a field goal to win.

In the first half, however, the Redskins got to the Arizona 12-yard line or closer four times in the first half and scored just 10 points, leaving two other times with a blocked field goal by Calais Campbell and the first interception of the season by Wilson.

“Down there, the sense of urgency goes up,” linebacker Clark Haggans said. “Adrian made a great play. We got a blocked field goal. These first two weeks, it’s been kind of bend-don’t-break, but we don’t even want to bend.”

Rhodes said defensive coordinator Ray Horton is “trying to take stuff back” and simplifying the defense to make this transition period easier. Whisenhunt said that’s part of the reason the Cards are having more success in the red zone, because the whole scheme isn’t used down there and there’s a greater comfort level.

“Your next question will be, ‘Well why don’t you do that all over the field?’ ” Whisenhunt said. “If you do that in the field and you have all that space and offenses can get a bead on you, they’re going to do things to beat that defense. So you have to change your defenses up to try to keep the offense off-balance.

“I’m not, by any stretch, trying to make an excuse. We are not where we want to be (defensively) and we’re working to get it corrected, and I know our players are committed to doing that.”

Playing Seattle this week – a team that has averaged just 191.5 yards of offense in its first two games – should help. The Cardinals have given up 21 and 22 points, and the Seahawks’ average is 8.5.

Campbell allowed that giving up 22 points to Washington, while not a terrible number, “wasn’t good enough” because the Cardinals lost. But he insisted some mistakes are inevitable early in the season, regardless of whether a team has an offseason of prep.

“I am confident in this defense, in this scheme, in our players, in our coaches,” Campbell said. “I am confident this can be a great defense.”

For now, the Cardinals need to try to start at their red zone efforts and work their way out.

“At the end of the day, we have to run (the defensive scheme),” Rhodes said. “The other teams that have had success with it, they got it down. We’ve got to get it down too.”

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