Defensive end Alan Branch crushes Broncos receiver Eddie Royal and forces a fumble during last Sunday's Cardinals' victory over Denver.
The way to fix the defense for the Cardinals was … not to fix it?
Perhaps there have been tweaks along the way. It's impossible to think there haven't been any. Yet the Cardinals' defense has played much better the last two weeks – including in the losing streak-busting win last weekend – and the reasoning from players and coaches is that they didn't give up on themselves.
"We just stayed with our plan," safety Adrian Wilson said. "It's something we have been doing throughout the losing streak. Sooner or later the hard work was going to pay off. We just want to keep believing in what we are doing."
The Cards needed it sooner, of course. With quarterback issues almost as soon as the season started, it was the defense that was needed to carry division title hopes. It was much to bear, but the team – and the unit itself – thought it would be up to the challenge.
Too often, it wasn't, and combined with offense that had trouble scoring points, it meant losses. Too often, the defense was inexplicably beat up as well, as opposing teams sliced through them.
"I have never doubted the scheme or our players' ability within that scheme," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It's a matter of getting four quarters of playing together with intensity and making plays. The last two weeks we have played better and I think it's a little of … we were pressing so hard for a while and we stopped pressing and then, boom, we were making plays.
"Those losses started getting to where everyone felt they had to be perfect on every play and you press and press and you don't play as well. The air came out of that pressure. You could feel the 'relaxed aggressiveness' (against Denver)."
There is no arguing the Cards were dominant last weekend. The defense forced six turnovers and scored a touchdown. The elite players on the unit played like it – Wilson had 13 tackles, safety Kerry Rhodes had a fumble recovery and an interception, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett caused chaos and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie even overcame a slow start to shut down Broncos star receiver Brandon Lloyd.
"We are playing the way we expected to play this year," Rhodes said.
Facing a Carolina offense ranked dead last this weekend – and a rookie quarterback in Jimmy Clausen – there is little reason to think whatever renaissance the Cards' defense is enjoying won't continue.
The overall stats still aren't good – the Cardinals are 30th in the league in total defense, and 29th in the league in points allowed – but like a team that needed a win last week, the defense just needed some positive reinforcement.
"Hell, it's real rewarding," said Davis, who knows there is a segment of the fan base who think he should be replaced. "What you are seeing is young guys feeling more comfortable in the scheme and older guys flying around like they are young again. It came together.
"We made the same amount of errors has we did in the losses but again, you overcome them and they weren't exposed. In the losses, people want to point to a mistake here, a mistake there that costs you. We have (mistakes), so did their offense, so did our offense … it's a game of mistakes. But when you play with the intensity and passion and fire we played with, it is fun to watch."
And it's been fun without an overhaul.
"We made a lot of mistakes in the game too but I think we played so hard it kind of overshadowed the mistakes," Dockett said. "Got to keep bringing the attitude and play every play like it's your last and we'll be OK."
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