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How Halftime Helped The Cardinals Defense Find Itself

As Rams visit, unit is coming off excellent second half in Houston

Safety Jalen Thompson sacks Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud during the Cardinals' loss on Sunday.
Safety Jalen Thompson sacks Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud during the Cardinals' loss on Sunday.

Nick Rallis wasn't going to yell. He's found it to be counterproductive.

In the end, the Cardinals defensive coordinator had about 12 minutes to figure out what to do after his unit gave up 333 first-half yards to the Texans last week and 21 points – the latter lower than it should've been thanks to a Jalen Thompson end zone interception.

The 12 minutes is the length of an NFL halftime, the bridge between that rough first half and a second half in which the Cardinals pitched a shutout and allowed only 86 yards.

So Rallis chatted with his unit. They talked among themselves. And it worked.

"We're feisty and we're resilient," linebacker Josh Woods said. "This is a gritty group. We don't give up. No matter what the scoreboard says, no matter how many yards they have. I think we play harder than a lot of teams, and I think it shows on tape.

"I think teams are afraid of our defense, honestly."

The Cardinals (2-9) host the Los Angeles Rams (4-6) Sunday at State Farm Stadium, a game the Rams need to stay in the playoff chase and a game the Cardinals would like to avenge a loss earlier this season in L.A.

It would help if they could play defense like they did in the final two quarters in Houston.

Often, halftime is put up as the time for adjustments, and there is some discussion. But the time is too short – and the prep time during the week too long – to usually make any major changes.

"Each game's different," coach Jonathan Gannon said. "Sometimes you adjust calls. Sometimes you have two plans (but) I'm not going to get into that.

"Truthfully, (Rallis) mixed in some different calls there, but a lot of it's just reminding them of execution-wise the leverages, where we've got to be, the proper calls, communication—all that stuff and just reminding them of what's important. We use halftime on the entire team to kind of reset where we're at."

The halftime break a chance for a collective breath. Linebacker Zaven Collins gave a hypothetical example of a breakdown on defense that he would see during the first half and then trying to overcompensate to help.

Then the next player might see Collins' compensation and overcompensate for that hole, "and it becomes a vicious circle."

"At halftime, you can visualize, 'OK, this is happening, we need to do this' or 'You can do better here,'" Collins said, adding, "I've been in situations where we throw the (expletive) game plan out the window."

That's not what happened in Houston. In the Texans game, linebacker Josh Woods said, the players understood they simply underachieved before the break. It didn't help they lost one of their captains and defensive signal-caller, Kyzir White, to a torn biceps in the first half.

It wasn't the first injury for this group, though, nor the last.

The last time the Cardinals played the Rams it was the opposite; the Cardinals played an excellent first half of defense and then slipped in the second half, allowing Kyren Williams to run for 154 yards in the final two quarters.

The Cards didn't have either of their star safeties, Thompson or Budda Baker, that day.

"We're evolving," said Thompson, who in addition to his pick had his first career sack. "We're moving in the right direction."

In a perfect world, that means 60 minutes of solid play. If it takes the halftime break to adjust, the Cardinals can do that too.

"Halftime is when everyone gets to sit down and say 'Hey, this is what is happening (scheme-wise),'" Collins said. "It's also when we get to talk to each other and say, 'Hey, it's time to (expletive) go' too. That's 90 percent of it."


The Cardinals added safety Jalen Thompson to the injury report on Saturday with a back issue. Thompson is now officially questionable to play against the Rams. ...

The Cardinals elevated two players from the practice squad for Sunday's game: defensive lineman Phil Hoskins and cornerback Divaad Wilson.