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After Carolina Struggles, 'Nothing Broke' On Cardinals Defense 

Peterson, Joseph believe small fixes will lead to rebound

Arizona Cardinals safety Deionte Thompson and defensive end Zach Allen make a tackle against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, October 8, 2020.
S Deionte Thompson and DE Zach Allen make a tackle against the Panthers.

The Cardinals boasted one of the better defenses in the NFL through three weeks, but that came crashing down against the Panthers.

There were issues stopping the run, stopping the pass and getting pressure in the 31-21 defeat, which brought back memories of the season-long struggles in 2019.

However, cornerback Patrick Peterson saw it as an outlier, not a predictor of things to come.

"That whole game was boots, rollouts, picks and rubs," Peterson said. "We just have to do a better job of cleaning up certain techniques, being in better leverage, things like that. It's nothing that's broke."

Peterson felt like the Panthers passed efficiently because they ran routes designed to beat man coverage. If that's the case, that's an easier problem to solve than personnel shortcomings.

"We're aware of the issues, as far as what teams are giving us," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Those routes were not a surprise. We knew they were coming, and we had some calls we didn't do well, as far as getting them right. We have a good plan this week. We know it's on tape, and we have to get it off tape."

It will help having Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker back in the fold. He is expected to play on Sunday against the Jets after missing the Panthers game with a thumb injury, while fellow safety Chris Banjo (hamstring) could also be back.

Peterson said Baker's presence is crucial in lining up the secondary, calling him one of the quarterbacks of the defense. It also doesn't hurt that he's an athletic dynamo.

"Budda makes so many plays that no one sees," Joseph said. "He's an eraser. He's so fast, he's a great tackler. You have certain breakdowns from the front seven that Budda can make right for you. Obviously he was missed on Sunday."

Peterson picked up his first interception of the season against the Panthers when he dropped into deep zone coverage and nabbed an overthrow by Teddy Bridgewater.

He seemingly gave up some plays later in the game, although Peterson said on one completion there was an error by a safety who was supposed to pick up his man.

"Obviously not pointing fingers, but that play looked like it was on me but technically it wasn't because I was expecting someone to cut my guy," Peterson said. "It comes down to communication and guys being in the right position at the right time. If you look at it, no one is really attacking me outside the numbers. It's all condensed sets. It's me running through traffic, me having to avoid other people. It's not like guys are just beating me straight up."

Joseph agreed, calling Peterson's play "solid" through the first month of the season.

The Cardinals will face a backup quarterback this week, but an experienced one in Joe Flacco, who will try to find holes in the pass coverage.

After re-watching the game, Joseph thought the Cardinals did fine defensively on first and second down, but struggled in the most key of situations: third down and red zone. The Cardinals allowed 7-of-11 third downs to be converted and the Panthers scored touchdowns on their first four red zone trips.

"The three things we talk about constantly are third down, red zone and total points," Joseph said. "The first three weeks, we hit those marks. Last week we did not. Last week we didn't tackle well, the third downs were atrocious and the red zones were even worse."

While the overall numbers looked poor, Joseph believes better situational football will get the Cardinals back on track.

"If we can fix that part, that's going to fix the defense," Joseph said.

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.

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