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Defense Steps Forward

Unit finally looks more comfortable in Horton's system


Darnell Dockett and the Cards' defense handled the Eagles and quarterback Michael Vick well Sunday.

Before every series, the Cardinals' defense gathers on the sideline.

"Three and out or turnover," they yell at each other.

"Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "But that's the ultimate goal."

That's what the defense ended up with Sunday in Philadelphia, a three-and-not-quite-out but a stand that helped win them a game. John Skelton had just thrown a bad interception, and the Eagles were set up at the Arizona 26-yard line with a potential win gift-wrapped. Instead, linebacker Clark Haggans stuffed running back LeSean McCoy on first down for no gain. Lenon drilled quarterback Michael Vick after a seven-yard scramble, knocking Vick out of the game for a play (more on that later). And, with backup Vince Young in for Vick, another McCoy run gained a yard.

All the Eagles got was a field goal. And the Cardinals' defense had its strong finish to arguably its best day this season during is best stretch of the season.

"We made plays when we had opportunities and that's what we didn't do earlier in the year," said defensive end Calais Campbell, whose first career interception stopped the Eagles at the Arizona 18 without points. "We have a great team. We have talent."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt reiterated Monday "there's a lot of flexibility with this defense we haven't gotten to yet." But the Cardinals hope this is the defense that coordinator Ray Horton was brought in to orchestrate.

"When you put in a new system, it really takes time and we didn't have that time," Lenon said. "Nobody had that time, the entire league was rushed into it. I'm not making excuses. I feel we should have picked up on it better a long time ago. But it is what it is. Hey, guys are coming together."

Whisenhunt wouldn't call this the defense's "watershed time," but he did agree the unit has a better feel for what it is supposed to be doing. It's still relative – on one play Sunday, Eagles tight end Brent Celek got wide open down the field when the Cards again blew a coverage assignment, only to have Vick overthrow him – but improvement is clear.

The Cardinals only gave up two 20-yard-plus plays in Philadelphia, well under the Eagles' average of 5.6 per game. If it wasn't for Skelton's interceptions – the other was returned for a score – the Eagles only produced seven points.

"They're getting confidence that when they do it right, they can be a pretty good unit," Whisenhunt said.

The Cardinals also beat up the last couple of teams they have seen. The Rams lost tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receiver Greg Salas to leg injuries suffered against the Cards. Then Monday, after it was already known Adrian Wilson's hit gave wide receiver Jeremy Maclin a shoulder injury, Eagles coach Andy Reid announced Vick played after suffering two broken ribs on a hit by linebacker Daryl Washington on the game's second play. Lenon's blow that knocked Vick out of the game was in the same area for Vick.

That kind of physical play has been an emphasis, Lenon said.

Youth has also been injected into the group, youth that might have cost them earlier because of inexperience but now is helping with fresh legs and enthusiasm to the effort. Introducing rookies David Carter, Sam Acho and Patrick Peterson to go with second-year players like Washington, O'Brien Schofield and A.J. Jefferson will make a greater impact the second half of the season.

Washington in particular has flashed his considerable talent, using his speed to dog Vick all game.

"We have a lot of young guys that you're going to struggle with at times, but you're also excited about it because they continue to improve and 'get it,' " Whisenhunt said.

Campbell stressed the need to avoid being overconfident. Given the struggles during the losing streak, it'd be hard to see that resurface.

But it's also hard to see the many errors of the first half resurface either.

"Everybody here on defense now is starting to trust one another," Jefferson said. "They know if you miss something the guy will pick it up for you.  We just know that we are going to cover one another's back and be there for each other.  It is really starting to pay big dividends for us."

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