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Red Means Stop For Opponents

Posted Sep 21, 2012

Notebook: Cards excel in red zone; Eagles have line issues; Fitz soars vs. Philly

Adrian Wilson and the Cardinals' defense is tough to crack in the red zone.

Over the last nine games of the 2011 season – as the Cardinals climbed miraculously back to .500 – they became so stingy in the red zone teams couldn’t beat them.

The defense has carried over the trend.

After two games, the Cards have allowed just two touchdowns in seven opposing trips inside the Arizona 20-yard line, a 28.6 percentage ranking fourth in the league after just two weeks. It’s on par with the 27.6 percent the Cards allowed down the stretch last season, an effort that gave the Cardinals the second-best overall red-zone defense in the NFL behind Baltimore.

“We want to be a top defense, and if you want to be a top defense, you have to keep teams out of the end zone,” nose tackle Dan Williams said. “No touchdown, hold them to a field goal, and the mentality now is, if they try a field goal, we can block it.”

Players have talked since the beginning of training camp about the emphasis of keeping the ball out of the end zone when teams get close. There was no better signature moment this year than jamming up the Seahawks in the season opener, stopping Seattle from scoring the winning touchdown in the waning seconds.

“A lot of it is playing your scheme and understanding what you are trying to do,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose entire defensive unit is playing smarter every place on the field these days.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton didn’t point to anything particular in regard to the red-zone work.

“It depends on who we play and what they are,” Horton said. “Our defense, we are trying to take away their strengths. It may be scheme-wise, it may be a player, it may be a tendency. It’s fluid.”

MISSING IN THE MIDDLE

The Cardinals should have an advantage Sunday because Philadelphia is down a couple of starting offensive linemen. Center Jason Kelce is out for the season and left tackle King Dunlap will also miss the game. In Dunlap’s place is Demetress Bell, a player who visited the Cards as a free agent this offseason and who was originally was supposed to be the starter in place of the injured Jason Peters, before Dunlap beat him out.

In Kelce’s place is Dallas Reynolds, who had spent three years on the practice squad before appearing in his first two NFL games this season.

“He earned the right to be on the regular team,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how he does.”

Changing the center is significant. The Cardinals would be in trouble if starting center Lyle Sendlein went down. The fact Reynolds is getting his first start on the road does not help him.

“At home you can communicate with the guys next to you but on the road you have to call some things on the fly,” Sendlein said. “Depending on how you do the silent count, sometimes your head is underneath, and you have to recognize the defense before you put your head down and anticipate what they are going to do.

“Everyone at this level knows how to snap, knows how to block. It’s the communication and recognition.”

FINDING FITZ

After making just one catch for four yards last week, Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald would like to make a bigger impact. The Eagles may be a good choice. The last two times Fitzgerald has gone against the Eagles he has been spectacular. In the NFC Championship game of 2008, he had nine catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Fitzgerald had seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

“This is not like the Patriots where they are going to zone you and scheme you up,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re going to play you man, your best guys against their best guys and whoever wins, wins.”

The Eagles do have a pair of good cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha and former Cardinal Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Fitzgerald said he believes the Cardinals’ offense is getting better. But it has to do more.

“I can definitely say we are making progress,” Fitzgerald said. “The biggest thing we want to do is run the football. We’ve got to be able to control the line of scrimmage. … This is probably the best pass rush we face all year.”

WAITING ON SKELTON

Quarterback John Skelton (ankle) was limited again Friday and Whisenhunt listed him as questionable for Sunday’s game. Also questionable is tight end Todd Heap, who was limited with the knee sprained suffered last week in New England.

In addition to the offensive line issues, the Eagles will also be without key wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is dealing with a bad hip, and wideout Riley Cooper, who recovering from a collarbone injury.

Click here for the Cardinals’ injury report. Click here for the Eagles’ injury report.


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