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Cumulative Numbers Skew Cardinals' Defensive Totals

Unit has been better than believed based on a per-play basis

DT Olsen Pierre (72) makes a tackle against the 49ers.
DT Olsen Pierre (72) makes a tackle against the 49ers.

There is a gulf between the Cardinals' standard defensive rankings and the more advanced numbers.

The team is ranked No. 18 in the NFL in scoring defense (24.9 points per game) and No. 22 in total defense (367.8 yards per game). However, Football Outsiders has the group No. 8 in defensive efficiency, while Pro Football Reference has it No. 9 in its defensive points contributed metric.

Where's the disconnect? It has to do with the number of snaps. The Cardinals' defense has been on the field for an average of 69.1 plays per game this season, much more than the standard team. So while the unit has subpar aggregate totals, it has actually been above average on a per-play basis.

The Cardinals' lackluster offense has put the defense in a tough position all year. Many short drives and turnovers have given the opponent advantageous field position, and the two pick-sixes against the Broncos were added to the points allowed figure without the defense ever seeing the field.

The Cardinals' defense hasn't been dominant this season, and there have been some high-profile issues, but overall it has played better than the basic numbers suggest.

The group has a tough test this week in Kansas City, followed by a brutal schedule down the stretch. It is clear the offense must be upgraded this offseason. The play of the defense the rest of the way could determine how much help that side of the ball needs heading into 2019.

Cardinals Defense: Cumulative Vs. Per-Play Numbers

Table inside Article
Attempts Yards/Game NFL Rank Yards/Attempt NFL Rank
Rushing 268 143.1 31 4.3 15
Passing 261 224.7 7 7.5 17
Total 553 367.8 22 5.3 9