Defensive end Calais Campbell closes in on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo last weekend.
It's not even about the sacks – it's about the hits.
That's the goal for the Cardinals' pass rush, regardless of who might be doing the rushing in this day and age of Ray Horton blitzes. Cause some havoc, and let the quarterback know you are there.
"If we do that, sacks will come," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Get pressure, get your hands up and deflect some balls, knock quarterbacks around and let them know we are coming."
There has been more consistency to the pressure. Of that, the Cardinals agree.
Five different players recorded sacks against the Cowboys, a nod to veteran linebacker Clark Haggans' assertion that "there are plays for everyone to make." Then again, the week before, it was linebacker Sam Acho who notched two sacks and sparkled dancing around the Rams' backfield.
How the pressure pays off, said coach Ken Whisenhunt, will always come down to matchups and the scheme of the offense the Cardinals are playing.
"I know those guys are driven to get a whole bunch of sacks on their own," Whisenhunt said. "I'm sure every one of those guys wants to get the five sacks for themselves."
There is no chicken-or-the-egg thought to the improvement, however. It's about understanding the defense better overall – "Definitely the egg," Acho said with a grin – and with it, an ability to play faster without fear of mistake.
Over the past five games – the stretch in which the Cards' defense turned the corner, after melting down in the second half against Baltimore – the statistics don't seem to be incredibly slanted. The Cards had 16 sacks in their first seven games, and 13 in the five since. Campbell and Darnell Dockett combined for 16 quarterback hits in the first seven games, 10 in the five since (as judged by the coaches). There were 27 quarterback "pressures" in the first seven games, 14 in the five since.
The confidence with which the defense is playing, however, clearly has spilled over to the pass rush.
"The more you know the better you will be," said Haggans, whose sack Sunday came as part of a three-man rush and not with a blitz. "If I know where Dockett is going to fit, that's good for me. If he knows where I fit, that's better for (safety) Adrian (Wilson). If Adrian knows where (linebacker) Paris (Lenon) will fit, that makes everyone learn it conceptually and makes us play faster."
The Cardinals don't have a DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys linebacker leading the NFL with 15 sacks. Campbell leads the team with six sacks, Acho has five and Lenon and linebacker Daryl Washington three each. The 29 total sacks is tied for 13th in the league, an improvement over the rank of 18th from last year (when the Cards finished with 33 sacks).
Horton finally is unveiling all the blitzes he had been planning on using. "It's a little of everything, a pot of gumbo," Haggans said. Games can be hot and cold for the pass rush, Campbell acknowledged, because of matchups or opponents' gameplans. But now, the hits seem to keep on coming – at least, more often than they used to.
"We know now what gap we are supposed to get, where our help is," Acho said. "It helps."