The Cardinals’ defense was up and down in 2018, and didn’t live up to expectations in aggregate. Even so, the group compiled some impressive moments. Here is a look at the top five defensive plays of the season:
5. Robert Nkemdiche’s Two-For-One
The situation: The Cardinals lost big in Los Angeles, but Robert Nkemdiche had one of the best individual performances of the season. He had three sacks in the first half and kept it going early in the third quarter as the Cardinals tried to stick close to the Chargers.
The play: Los Angeles tried some trickery, as quarterback Philip Rivers handed the ball off to Austin Ekeler, who lateraled it to Gordon on a reverse. Nkemdiche screamed into the backfield and grabbed Ekeler as he was pitching the ball, then used his legs to bring down Gordon. The Chargers lost 10 yards on the play and Gordon suffered a sprained MCL.
The aftermath: Nkemdiche played like a superstar in the game but the pass defense was beaten up by Rivers as the Chargers cruised to a 45-10 win. The hope was that Nkemdiche would use this game as a springboard to consistent dominance, but he suffered a season-ending torn ACL two weeks later against the Lions.
4. Patrick Peterson’s Long Fumble Return
The situation: The Cardinals and 49ers traded a pair of touchdowns early in their Week 5 matchup before the game settled down into a defensive battle. The Cardinals had a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter, and a big play by Peterson helped increase it.
The play: The 49ers called a routine running play and Raheem Mostert jutted to his right. Defensive tackle Rodney Gunter wrapped him up and forced the ball out. It rolled directly toward Peterson, who picked it up and raced 49 yards down the sideline to the San Francisco 18.
The aftermath: The Cardinals found the end zone four plays later on a 2-yard run by David Johnson. It was one of five takeaways in the game, and the first of two that made this list.
3. Tre Boston Takes A Dive
The situation: The Cardinals held a 14-3 lead on the Bears as time ticked down in the first half. Chicago had a second-and-3 near midfield as it aimed to get points heading into intermission, but defensive end Chandler Jones and safety Tre Boston made sure that didn’t happen.
The play: The Cardinals blitzed five, with Jones and Boston both finding free lanes to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky noticed it and tried to float the ball to running back Benny Cunningham. Jones recognized the pass was coming, leaped up and knocked the ball into the air. Boston did a great job of redirecting to swoop under it for an interception.
The aftermath: This was the high point of the game for the Cardinals. They missed a field goal before the half despite great starting field position and eventually lost the game, 16-14, to drop to 0-3 on the season.
2. Haason Reddick And Josh Bynes Clinch Win Over 49ers
The situation: The Cardinals and 49ers were locked in a defensive affair in Week 5, as the Cardinals clung to a 14-12 lead with 4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. San Francisco had a second-and-11 at its 41, looking for a go-ahead score.
The play: Reddick dispatched San Francisco blocker Alfred Morris and popped the ball loose from 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard. Bynes tracked it down and returned the fumble 23 yards for the score to give the Cardinals some breathing room.
The aftermath: The defense added a pick on the next series, finishing the game with five takeaways and a 28-18 win. Reddick didn’t see the field often early in the year but made a big play in this one to help cement an increase in playing time.
1. Chandler Jones’ Strip-Sack Leads To Budda Baker Touchdown
The situation: The Cardinals were sizable underdogs in a road game against Minnesota in Week 5, and needed some big plays to keep the game close. Two of their biggest defensive stars delivered late in the second quarter.
The play: The Vikings had a third-and-9 from their 36 with 4:25 remaining before halftime, leading 10-3. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was looking to throw for a first down, but the pocket collapsed quickly around him. Defensive end Chandler Jones wrapped Cousins and chopped down on his arm to jar the ball loose. Safety Budda Baker scooped the fumble and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.
The aftermath: The defensive touchdown – the Cardinals’ second in two games – tied the game at 10, but Minnesota eventually pulled away for the win. It was one of 13 sacks for Jones and the first of two fumble recoveries for Baker on the season. They were both named alternate Pro Bowlers due to plays like this.