|New defensive coordinator Bill Davis is emphasizing the need for every player to play their role on every play so the defense can succeed.|
The play was important to new defensive coordinator Bill Davis, even if it was just a preseason game, because it underscored exactly what Davis had emphasized with his players.
The result was a sack by inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. But inside the play, so much was happening.
At the snap, defensive end Darnell Dockett and linebacker Chike Okeafor slanted down and in on the right side of the San Diego line, ultimately giving up much chance to reach the quarterback but playing their roles perfectly. Adrian Wilson was supposed to blitz, but understanding the Chargers often like to use a screen on third-and-long, the Pro Bowl safety hung back to cover LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield. Dansby, the play's other blitzer, waited long enough for Dockett and Okeafor to make their move before stunting to the outside and easily taking down Philip Rivers.
Everybody played their role and it ended in the right result, Davis said, and "they understand that."
When coach Ken Whisenhunt made the switch from Clancy Pendergast to Davis in the offseason – after the Cardinals had made a Super Bowl and the defense had some shining postseason moments – some were surprised.
It's not like the Cardinals have overhauled the unit or what it does. Linebacker Gerald Hayes insisted nothing much has changed.
But Davis has a significant theme in his philosophy that goes beyond whether the team uses a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment. It's accountability, something the veteran defenders realize needs to be embraced.
"(Defense) is not about tricking somebody," Okeafor said. "It's 'Do you do your job 100 percent?' Not 'Almost in the gap,' not 'Almost with this read', it's doing it. That's what (Davis) is stressing, because it is all those little things that have bit us in the butt in the past.
"It is the little things that separate good from great."
Whisenhunt said one of the big issues with last year's defense was a lack of discipline in technique, pointing to the final gut-wrenching Steelers' drive in the Super Bowl in which Whisenhunt said players were out of position.
Whisenhunt emphasized he doesn't blame Pendergast, but "sometimes it requires a change, to bring in a different focus, a different perspective."
"I really (changed coordinators) because I felt we needed to improve in that area," Whisenhunt said, "and if we are going to hold the players accountable, we have to hold everyone else accountable."
When Davis came in, he put tangible ideals on that accountability, Wilson said. Points per game had to be lowered, Davis told them, red-zone defense had to be improved and so too did third-down defense. Freelancing wasn't an option.
"For me, that is the most important thing," Wilson said. "Knowing the philosophy and what he wants out of us."
Philosophically, every player is a piece to the puzzle. Davis loved getting four sacks last week because he knows it is a reward for everyone doing their jobs, and it's better for him when four different players get to the quarterback.
His message on the Dansby sack and the others? The coverage in the secondary had just as much to do with taking down Rivers as the pass rushers.
"One of these games we will have four interceptions and no sacks," Davis said. "It is about the quarterback's decision. Does he decide I'm not going to try and throw it and take a sack? Or does he take a hit and make a bad throw and we intercept. They fit together. It's not just the rush, not just the coverage, and we preach that hard.
"We are trying to get that into their minds. We don't have a first team – people say the (starters) did well, but no. It's the Arizona Cardinal defense."