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Piling Up Turnovers

Posted Dec 6, 2012

Cards have forced 11 takeaways in three games, rank third in NFL

Cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) returns his interception Sunday with teammate Kerry Rhodes by his side.

Patrick Peterson raced after Jets receiver Chaz Schilens, a few steps behind and looking like he could get beat by the bomb – by design.

“I baited him into that throw,” Peterson said. “I really did.”

The ball floated down and Peterson sped up, leaping to make an incredible interception of quarterback Mark Sanchez as the Cardinals’ defense yet again grabbed a turnover. The Cards had four in the game (with a fifth, a James Sanders interception, wiped out because of a questionable penalty) and have piled up 11 in the last three games. Nine of those have been interceptions, after the Cards had just 10 all of last season.

Last year we couldn’t get a turnover to save our lives,” Peterson said. “Now the ball is dropping in our hands.”

The Cardinals have 18 interceptions this year. The low 2011 tally (they also had nine fumble recovery last season) stuck in the craw of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who was frustrated his aggressive defense couldn’t produce more.

Now the Cards are second in the league behind the Bears’ 20 picks. The Cardinals’ defense leads the league in percentage of interceptions at 4.9 percent of the 370 passes against Arizona. The Cardinals also have nine fumble recoveries, and the 27 total turnovers is fourth in the NFL behind three teams in playoff contention – Chicago, New England and the Giants.

“If I had to put it too anything, it’s the pressure we get, the pressure (Horton) is calling,” said safety Rashad Johnson, who had an interception and fumble recovery in Atlanta. “D-Wash (linebacker Daryl Washington) coming through the A-gap, a lot of quarterbacks see those types of looks and their eyes get big and think, ‘We’ve got to get rid of this ball.’

“Sometimes we show that and drop into a zone, and the QB is thinking he has to get rid of it and he throws it to the wrong guy. We create a lot of confusion.”

Safety Kerry Rhodes, who had two interceptions and a forced fumble in New York that Washington recovered, said there is a momentum the defense gains as turnovers come. Some of it is confidence, some of it is proper preparation.

Both he and Johnson talked about knowing the Jets’ first play, which resulted in a Rhodes’ interception.

“There were guys from the sideline yelling out the play because we could see from the splits the receivers were giving us things we had talked about during the week,” Johnson said. “So a lot is how prepared we are as a unit.”

The Cardinals are a plus-seven in turnover margin this season. And the Cards have forced a turnover on the first offensive play of the opponent in four different games this season: Against the Patriots, Jets, Bills and Falcons.

But that also leads into the downside the Cards have found, which is a struggling offense unable to cash in the many turnovers enough. Those four opening possession turnovers became only 10 points in three losses and only one win.

The exasperation was evident in both New York and Atlanta, where the Cards suffered close defeats despite forcing 10 turnovers.

“You try not to think about it but it is tough,” Washington said. “When you get a turnover and no points, on a short field and the offense gets nothing out of it, it’s kind of frustrating. But you try not to think about it. You want to score every opportunity you get, especially on a short field.”

Cornerback William Gay, who dropped another potential interception in New York and has a pair of picks this season, shrugged off the offensive problems. His solution? More turnovers.

“If you sit in our meetings, we’re saying that’s not enough,” Gay said. “Because we’re not turning these turnovers into wins, so as a defense we need to do more. I didn’t know we had 11 in three games, and that’s the type of mentality we have. If it isn’t creating ‘Ws’ we need to do more. That’s our mindset. The defensive coordinator, we represent him. He’s a guy who wants turnovers and that’s what we try to do.”

 

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