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Defensive Reinforcements Could Pump Up Pass Rush

Notes: Jalen Thompson won't play against Giants; Dan Arnold doing more with less

OLB Dennis Gardeck (right), shown here with S Budda Baker, is second on the team in sacks after bringing down Jared Goff on Sunday.
OLB Dennis Gardeck (right), shown here with S Budda Baker, is second on the team in sacks after bringing down Jared Goff on Sunday.

Dennis Gardeck has been an awesome story this season.

The undersized and former undrafted outside linebacker registered his third sack of the season against the Rams on Sunday, and is now second on the team in the category.

While Gardeck's unexpected pass-rushing aptitude has been a boost for the defense, his standing on the sack leaderboard also illustrates the lack of production from the team's expected contributors.

Injuries have taken a major toll on the defensive front, as none of the five season-opening starters – Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Devon Kennard, Jordan Phillips and Zach Allen – has more than two sacks this season.

While Jones and Peters are done for the year, the rest of the group is getting healthier.

Phillips was designated to return off injured reserve on Wednesday and is hoping to put a bothersome hamstring injury behind him. Allen has been back for a few games, while Kennard is healthy after missing time due to injury and COVID-19.

Furthermore, rookie Leki Fotu returned to the field against the Rams and had a pair of tackles for loss, while fellow fourth-round pick Rashard Lawrence is on the comeback trail from a calf injury.

The Cardinals' defense only has seven sacks in its past four games – Gardeck's was the lone one against Goff on 47 pass attempts – but coach Kliff Kingsbury has been happy with the way the front has battled despite the injuries.

"There has been a lot of change, a lot of guys rotating in and out," Kingsbury said. "For the most part, I think they've done a nice job. I feel like throughout that stretch, with some guys being out of there, guys stepped up and made plays, did a nice job being disruptive. Obviously, trying to get Jordan back, Rashard back, Leki going full speed, would be a big plus, but I've been impressed with the way that group has held up for the most part."

The Cardinals play the Giants on Sunday, and their quarterbacks have been sacked an average of 2.8 times per game in 2020, one of the highest rates in the NFL.

The Cardinals' sack leader is Haason Reddick, who has five on the year, but he has zero sacks and no quarterback hits since Week 7. Markus Golden has one in five games since being acquired via trade from the Giants.

Phillips had 9½ sacks last season for the Bills and represents the best chance at getting a consistent interior push if he can return this week.

 "He's a guy we'd love to get back in the mix as an impact player for us when he's on the field," Kingsbury said. "We're going to ease him back in and see how this week goes."

JALEN THOMPSON WON'T PLAY SUNDAY

Kingsbury said safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) won't play against the Giants. He has been out since aggravating the injury in Week 11 against the Seahawks.

Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday, as did cornerback Johnathan Joseph (neck), defensive tackle Domata Peko (knee), safety Charles Washington (groin) and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (maintenance day).

Fotu (hip/ankle) and Lawrence were limited.

The Giants didn't practice on Wednesday, but if they did, quarterback Daniel Jones (hamstring) would have been limited. He missed last week's win over the Seahawks.

Defensive back Darnay Holmes (knee) also would have been limited, while linebacker Blake Martinez (back), tackle Matt Peart (ankle) and defensive back Madre Harper (knee) wouldn't have practiced.

DAN ARNOLD DOES MORE WITH LESS

Tight end Dan Arnold only played nine snaps on Sunday against the Rams, a season-low. In that time, he caught two passes for a season-high 61 yards and two touchdowns.

Arnold had the early 59-yard score when he broke wide open as three defenders tracked DeAndre Hopkins. He added a two-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

"Our offense, we can do a lot of different things and make an adjustment on the fly," Arnold said. "It gives us the freedom to put athletes in space. At the end of the day, the only thing you think about is, 'I'm on the field for this play and I'm going to make the best of it.' That's all I can control and that's all I'm going to think about."

Kingsbury said Arnold played less because the Cardinals went to their two-minute offense, which featured four wide receivers and no tight end.

"He did a nice job maximizing his snaps," Kingsbury said.

Images from the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.

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