Linebacker Daryl Washington can't bring down Chiefs running back Shaun Draughn prior to a touchdown Friday.
FLAGSTAFF – Early in camp, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett contemplated the confidence the defensive unit felt as a whole.
It was obvious over the offseason, and not undeserved. The Cards had closed 2011 playing well once they figured out the scheme of coordinator Ray Horton. But, Dockett emphasized, "it's one of those things, we've got to stay humble."
Two games into the preseason, the belief the Cards will be a good defense hasn't evaporated, but the play of the starters against the Saints and Chiefs hasn't been an example of that – and Horton isn't sure that humble has been factored in enough of the equation.
"I thought we'd be ahead of where we left off, really," Horton said. "We put a lot of new stuff in, so there is a learning curve, but I am discouraged our starters aren't ahead.
"That's where I blame (the media) a little bit because you guys heap the praise on them and so I take the blame I didn't water down that a little bit. I think we were a little full of ourselves, I really do. That was the discouraging thing. But now hopefully they have refocused."
Horton isn't thrilled that, of the first 20 plays the Cards' defense had against the Chiefs, someone committed a mistake on 17 of them. Both he and coach Ken Whisenhunt said effort and work ethic is not an issue. For Horton, fundamentals are.
"Something is not being translated, and that's coaching," Horton said. "I'm not panicked, but I'm concerned our (third-stringers) are playing better than our (starters) technique-wise."
That's why Horton said he is "thrilled" there are five preseason games, to work out the problems the Cardinals are having. The Chiefs scored on back-to-back 72-yard drives to open the game, and tackling issues dotted the first game against the Saints.
It's odd after the finish the Cardinals had in 2011, with basically the same cast of characters. It's also tangible proof to Whisenhunt's contention that nothing carries over from the previous season.
Unaware, the players are not. They're not particularly worried either.
"I still believe we can be pretty good," linebacker Daryl Washington said. "Do we need to show it? Of course we need to show it. That's what it is about now, proving ourselves to ourselves and the coaches and the fans. It's not about doing all that talking anymore. It's about proving it."
Whisenhunt noted there hasn't been any game-planning, no scheming yet. Horton said that before the Hall of Fame game, a Saints coach asked him if the Cards were going to be coming after them. By design, Horton said, he hasn't been ultra-aggressive thus far. Horton wants to go back "to what we do."
The sense of urgency, Whisenhunt said, must increase.
"The good thing about preseason games, you can get the kinks out and identify what the problem is before the games count," nose tackle Dan Williams said. "It's getting to know where we need to be. Coach Horton has been saying the stuff you did last year is behind you. We're just making too many mental mistakes."
Neither side of the ball is performing the way Whisenhunt wants right now. He reiterated Monday he will play the starters as long as necessary Friday night. The number of plays doesn't matter now, he said, because the team must get straightened out with the regular season approaching.
Defensively, that still seems likely. The unit made up too much ground last season to have it crumble.
But, as Dockett said, that can't be taken for granted.
"You know every week you are going to face different players and a different adversity," Dockett said. "You're going to be put in different situations. Everyone is talking about how good the defense can be, but at the end of the day, if we go into a game thinking our defense is going to win us a championship and we don't focus and we don't stay humble, we're going to get our ass whooped."