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Paris v Anderson, The Pass Rush, And Friday Before The Texans

Paris Johnson played against Will Anderson in high school, at the All-America Bowl, before a lot of people knew Anderson.

"We found out," Johnson said. "We're like, 'OK, that's a guy.'"

The Cardinals play the Texans Sunday, and the two are tied together still, beyond the fact Johnson could end up trying to block the Texans defensive end. When the Cardinals had the No. 3 pick in the 2023 draft, many had them projected to take Anderson. Instead, GM Monti Ossenfort swung a trade with the Texans, moving back from 3 to 6, picking up a 2024 first-round pick and other benefits. The Texans grabbed Anderson. The Cardinals, eyeing Johnson all along, took Paris.

"When I found out that I still had the opportunity to go to the Cardinals, I will say I did have that chip for a little bit in that room," Johnson said. "You know what I mean? But I think it's just a me-versus-me mentality."

The Cardinals wanted to build on an offensive line that needed young, talented pieces. The Texans, despite the steep price, are happy with Anderson. He is in the top three in pass-rush win-rate and run-stop win rate, and has consistently played well.

(The No. 2 overall pick of QB C.J. Stroud was a much bigger reason the Texans are 5-4 and currently in the playoff hunt, but that's a story for later.)

The one thing Anderson hasn't done is sack the QB. He has only two despite all his pressures, and while sacks aren't the end-all be-all, the Cardinals have done a nice job piecing together a pass rush with Dennis Gardeck (5), Victor Dimukeje (4), Zaven Collins (3.5) and BJ Ojulari (3) leading the way of 121 guys totaling the team's 28 sacks.

"Good is the enemy of great," outside linebackers coach Rob Rodriguez said. "I like the progress we have made but the standard hasn't been met yet."

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Cardinals spend one of their first-round picks on an edge rusher in April. Then again, another offensive lineman makes sense too. There there is this from defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, when I asked him if his need to rotate the edge rushers like he does would change if there was an elite edge guy on the roster.

"Overall in the front you want to keep those guys fresh," Rallis said. "Playing in the trenches is not something you can play every snap. It's really you don't even want to be playing 80 percent of those snaps. You want those guys to be playing on the line of scrimmage, rushing fresh. No matter what yeah, you want to keep those rotations."

-- Is one day of "real" practice enough to allow new running back Michael Carter to be active with a role on Sunday? Emari Demercado is still dealing with a toe issue and is out. Keaontay Ingram is available, but pulling up Tony Jones from the practice squad or letting Carter out will be something to watch.

-- The Cardinals will have to deal with yet another starting defensive lineman being out now that Jonathan Ledbetter will sit. That position has been ravaged this season.

-- Gardeck's five sacks give him 13 in his career – most of which has been spent on special teams – and now he has surpassed former middle linebacker Ron McKinnon for the most career sacks by a one-time Cardinals undrafted rookie.

"I'm trying to get rid of those asterisks man, for the undrafted," Gardeck said. "But I'm really happy to have that undrafted record. That's not the standard that I hold myself to, so we're going to keep hunting."

-- Rodriguez noted that the most inexperienced pass rusher he has isn't Ojulari, who did it all through college. It's Collins, who before had been an inside linebacker. Rodriguez loves what Collins can be as an OLB but reiterated it will take some time.

"It's discouraging a lot to go out and not be natural at something," Rodriguez said. "How it is with this technique we are teaching."

Rodriguez pointed to the second of two Ojulari sacks against the Falcons and Collins' impact on the play. "It's one of his best rushes. When we get him to rush like that every time, he'll be a really effective rusher."

-- Matt Prater has been fantastic this season, and against the Falcons his two 50-yard field goals – one from 51, one from 56 – gave him 17 in only 40 games with the Cardinals, setting the franchise record. Neil Rackers had made 16 50-plus-yard field goals in 100 games with the franchise.

Prater continues to build on his lead for the most 50-plus field goals in NFL history; he has 76. His 56-yarder was the 22nd of his career of at least 55 yards, putting him one ahead of Jets kicker Greg Zuerlein.

"It's one of those things where wherever the offense sends me out to kick from, I expect to make them," Prater said. "Whether it's a 20-yarder or a 50-yarder they're all the same to me."

-- Speaking of kickers, it's interesting that the Texans kicker, Matt Ammendola, booted a game-winning field goal on the game's final play last week – and now he'll kick against the Cardinals, for whom he famously missing a game-tying kick against the Eagles last season (and then had Justin Pugh dress down the media talking to the kicker after the game.)

-- Uniform update: The Cardinals will wear white-on-white in Houston.

-- As awesome as Stroud has been with the Texans – and he does deserve to be in the MVP conversation right now – it was interesting to hear longtime Houston reporter John McClain (who has been in deep with the Texans since they appeared) say that the Texans would have taken Bryce Young over Stroud had they had the choice. Young, of course, is struggling in Carolina with a bad team. He may still become something. But again, sometimes, luck is involved.

-- The Cardinals have only played in Houston twice. In 2005, it was memorable because – during the first iteration of the third quarterback rule (the third QB was inactive but could play in emergency) – Kurt Warner started 10-for-10 and then went down with a knee injury, Josh McCown was deathly sick and after trying to play gave way to John Navarre.

Then came 2017, which was the first career start for future Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker (and will be six years to the day on Sunday). Baker had 13 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two pass breakups, and also the last word in this post.

"I remember it very well actually. I know the week before we played the Seahawks at home and (safety) Tyvon Branch got injured and I was the next man up. I just remember the coaches at the time, BA and all those coaches telling me, 'Anyone can have a great first game, what's going to happen when you start for the first time? How are you going to play.' I took that serious."

See you Sunday.

LB Dennis Gardeck with a sack against the Falcons
LB Dennis Gardeck with a sack against the Falcons