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Defense Must Carry Cardinals Without Palmer

Group has underperformed through seven games


Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby pursues Rams running back Todd Gurley on Sunday.

The Cardinals have shown they can win with Drew Stanton.

The veteran quarterback has started in place of Carson Palmer nine times since 2014, and the team has won six of them. But the reason has less to do with Stanton and more with the other side of the ball.

The Cardinals have allowed an average of 11.9 points per game during Stanton's six wins. In the three losses, it has given up 29.7 points per contest. While there is going to be a lot of focus on the quarterback position in the upcoming weeks, the Cardinals' fortunes may ride on the defense.

"We've got to do our part," safety Antoine Bethea said. "Play better, create more turnovers, whatever the case may be."

The unit has been up to the challenge in past seasons but it's far from a sure thing this year. There have been some good moments through the first seven games, but the poor showings have been more prevalent.

The Cardinals have the talent to be an upper-tier defense, but nearly halfway through the season, they sit 31st in the NFL in points allowed at 27.3 per game. That's behind the winless Browns and 49ers and ahead of only the Colts.

"I would have never thought that's where we would be, but the reality is, that's where we are," defensive lineman Corey Peters said. "That's not going to just change because we talk about it. We have to go out there and perform at a higher level. That's across the board. That's me, that's everybody. I think everybody's on notice at this point that it's not good enough."

Cornerback Patrick Peterson is playing at an All-Pro level, while outside linebacker Chandler Jones has been one of the NFL's premier pass-rushers. Bethea and safety Tyvon Branch have been good, too, but opponents are finding holes in the defense at inopportune times.

"It's crazy," Bethea said. "When you look at the film, it's not like, 'These guys aren't good.' It's a play here, a play there, and now we're sitting where we're sitting."

The Cardinals still believe in the personnel. The pass-rush needs to improve, but there are enough playmakers to kick-start a turnaround. Outside linebacker Kareem Martin feels like the defense needs to hit refresh over the bye week.

"We need to re-focus," Martin said. "It's not a talent problem."

The Cardinals' defense looked dynamic for three quarters against the Lions and then let down. It played well in wins over the Colts and 49ers, followed by another three-quarter showing against the Buccaneers.

But the unit was listless in the blowout losses to the Eagles and Rams.

"If you watch the first half of the season, there have been quarters of games where we look unstoppable, both offensively and defensively," Peters said. "And then there's been quarters where we can't move the ball a yard and we can't stop them from getting yards. Our biggest issue right now is just being wildly inconsistent and not being able to handle adversity well."

The offense can use injuries as a crutch, but while the defense lost edge-rusher Markus Golden for the season and has been without linebacker Deone Bucannon and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche for stretches, it's still been reasonably healthy.

Bethea said now is not the time for rah-rah speeches. He wants each defensive player to self-assess over the bye week and lock in for the stretch run. The season depends on it.

"Sometimes the talking gets old," Bethea said. "We're all pros. We know what our job is. Our job is to come in and perform, and guys know that. Obviously, looking at the film and looking at where we're standing, just knowing what our goal was prior to the season, we know we're not living up to that. I think as grown men, as professionals, we know what we need to do."

Images of the Cardinals' top tacklers through seven games

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