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Myjai Sanders Evolution Showing Cardinals Development On Edge

Rookie comes off best game as team seeks long-term help with pass rush

Cardinals linebacker Myjai Sanders delivers a strip-sack Sunday in Los Angeles.
Cardinals linebacker Myjai Sanders delivers a strip-sack Sunday in Los Angeles.

Even before Myjai Sanders made the sack that should've delivered a touchdown to J.J. Watt, the rookie outside linebacker had made his development known on back-to-back second-quarter plays.

The third-round pick figured out a short inside pass to Cooper Kupp was coming and he buried the All-Pro wide receiver for a three-yard loss. On the next snap, he bore down on Rams quarterback John Wolford so quickly that Wolford had to throw his pass way earlier than expected, it falling incomplete, or risk being sacked.

"Once I made those two plays, I was talking in my head, 'It's that time,' " Sanders said. " 'I finally get a chance to show that I can play on Sundays.' "

The Cardinals came into the season having let Pro Bowler Chandler Jones leave in free agency, with Markus Golden and Dennis Gardeck as the veteran edge rushers, Sanders, fellow third-round pick Cam Thomas, seventh-round pick Jesse Luketa and 2021 sixth-round pick Victor Dimukeje as the future hope.

It left the defense thin in the area, not knowing what Sanders or Thomas or Dimukeje would be – or how fast they could get there.

"It's a learned technique," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Most guys come in, they are mostly speed rushers. This league, there aren't many dominate speed rushers because tackles are so long and big and they just push you past. Pass rushing in this league, it's a dirty job, it starts with speed to power. Young guys have a hard time understanding that. Pass rushing is a dark job, it's a nasty job and it's a learned technique.

"It starts by going through a man. And that's tough."

That's not even to mention the other aspects of the job – setting the edge against the run, dropping into coverage – that Joseph has trimmed out of their job mostly at this point to make the transition easier.

Sanders only played 21 snaps against the Rams, but he filled up the stat sheet: five tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. Joseph said Sanders had "a hell of a game," unquestioned his best of the season.

Sanders finally crossed the 20-snap mark just two games ago, and still hasn't played 100 defensive snaps this season. But he has two sacks and six quarterback hurries (Jones, by comparison, has a half-sack and 12 QB hurries in 460 snaps with the Raiders.)

"I feel like I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like I'm getting way better at it," Sanders said. "Watching film and the more I watch film the more the game slows down and when the game slows down, a lot of good things for me start to happen."

Golden said the hardest part of learning to edge rush in the NFL is to understand all tackles aren't the same. In college, all basically set the same. In the league, he said, some change up to attack, to vary their steps, all things to throw off the defender.

And when sacks are often the symbol of success, that can be hard too.

"My second year I ran off (12½), and then people expect it," Golden said. "It's a gift and a curse. You do it, people expect it, when you don't do it, people are like, 'He's bad, he's having a horrible season.' That's just how it is."

Sanders isn't worrying about that now. He said after the Rams game his best was yet to come, and he feels like that mindset is self-explanatory.

"I wouldn't say there is a spotlight on us," Sanders said. "I'd just say once we go in, we're expected to do what we were brought here to do."


Running back Eno Benjamin, who was claimed off waivers by Houston this week, met with the Texans media for the first time on Thursday and was asked about why the Cardinals released him.

"I actually haven't spoken to anybody over there as far as the situation," Benjamin said. "I feel like that's as much as I'll say about that."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 11 regular season matchup against the San Francisco 49ers

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