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Top Five Plays Of 2015: Defense

Posted Feb 4, 2016

Memorable individual performances by the Cardinals defenders


The Cardinals defense was among the league’s best throughout the season and came up big in many different instances. Numerous plays were up for consideration, and azcardinals.com narrowed it down to the best of the best. Here are our Top Five Defensive Plays of 2015:

5. FLYING PAST THE EAGLES

The situation: The Cardinals were pulling away in Week 15, but with a full quarter remaining, there was still a sliver of a hope left for the Eagles. That ended abruptly at the hands of safety Deone Bucannon on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The play: The former first-round pick secured his first NFL interception, helped by pressure up the middle from linebacker Kevin Minter. Bucannon easily picked off Sam Bradford’s errant throw, then raced to his left around would-be tacklers for a 39-yard pick-six.

The aftermath: The score put the Cardinals ahead by a commanding 37-10 score, and while the Eagles would score quickly after, the outcome was wrapped up. The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title with the victory and Bucannon proved his worth as one of the top players on a stout defense.


4. TAKING IT TO THE HOUSE

The situation: The Cardinals had already jumped on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick early in Week 3, as he threw a pick-six to Justin Bethel on the first drive of the game. On San Francisco’s second possession, Kaepernick’s day was about to get worse.

The play: Safety Tyrann Mathieu made a quick read on the play and beelined for 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Kaepernick was pressured by defensive tackle Calais Campbell and threw a pass to Boldin off his back foot. That gave Mathieu enough time to swoop in for the interception, and he returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.

The aftermath: The touchdown gave the Cardinals a 14-0 first quarter lead in a 47-7 laugher. It was the first of two interceptions on the day for Mathieu, who showed the first flashes of what would become a dominant season on defense.


3. RUMBLING TO THE END ZONE

The situation: The Cardinals were already having their way with the Packers in Week 16, taking a 24-0 lead early in the third quarter. Linebacker Kareem Martin and defensive tackle Cory Redding then put an exclamation point on the blowout win.

The play: Martin used a speed rush to get around the edge and jarred the ball loose from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Redding scooped it up and began his rumble to the end zone, throwing Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy to the ground on his way.

The aftermath: The touchdown pushed the lead to 31-0 in an eventual 38-8 whipping. It was the Cardinals’ most dominant defensive effort of the season and it clinched a first-round playoff bye. Redding was redeemed after failing to return an interception for a score earlier in the season against the Lions.


2. SAVING THE DAY AGAINST BALTIMORE

The situation: A game that looked wrapped up for the Cardinals went south in a hurry. A blocked punt and ensuing touchdown pulled the Ravens to within eight points late in the fourth quarter of Week 7, and Baltimore then got the ball back with a chance to tie.

The play: The Ravens had a second-and-goal at the Arizona 9 with 13 seconds remaining, but that’s where the comeback attempt ended. Safety Tony Jefferson swooped in on a pass intended for tight end Crockett Gillmore and picked it off, landing both knees in the end zone before sliding out of bounds for the 26-18 win.

The aftermath: The victory pushed the Cardinals’ record to 5-2 and kickstarted a stretch of nine straight victories. It was Jefferson’s second interception of the season, following a pick-six against the Bears in Week 2.


1. STRIPPING AWAY MINNESOTA’S COMEBACK HOPES

The situation: The Cardinals led the Vikings 23-20 in the fourth quarter of Week 14, but Minnesota was in field goal range and looking to push the game to overtime. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass from the Arizona 31 with 13 seconds remaining, but never got the pass off.

The play: Linebacker Dwight Freeney used his famous spin move to get into the pocket and then slapped his right hand down on Bridgewater’s arm as he looked to pass. The ball squirted loose, and defensive tackle Calais Campbell recovered it to secure the victory.

The aftermath: The win clinched a playoff berth for the Cardinals and continued their impressive showings on primetime television. Freeney proved to be a difference-making pickup. He was signed five weeks into the season but still led the Cardinals with eight sacks, none bigger than the one against Minnesota.


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