At the outset of many practices, linebackers coach Bill Davis runs a drill during individual work that is plain enough in its concept. A tackling dummy sits "in the pocket" as the player lines up ready to rush, with an extra appendage hooking out -- like an arm cocked to throw -- and a football attached to the end of that.
Davis' mantra is repeated over and over. Go for the elbow. Hit the elbow. The idea of the drill isn't to crush the "QB," it's to reach out and wreck the arm -- so the ball will come out. That way, you still get credit for the sack, and maybe, you'll get the fumble too.
The Cardinals are turning it into an art form thus far this season, in particular outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs. The Cards lead the NFL with 10 strip-sacks already this season. Jones and Suggs have four each, tied with Houston's Whitney Mercilus for most in the league.
"Earlier in my career, I tried to just get the sack," Jones said. "My biggest thing was just getting the guy down. But I feel like I know how big of a deal it is for the team to get the ball out. I emphasize trying to punch the ball. Even in practice, we do drills to try to get the ball. It's pretty much what it comes down to."
The linebackers aren't the only one in Davis' drill. Many times defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has put the entire defense through a three-spot set of drills -- that pass rush, a tip drill for interceptions, and tackling. Each of the three defensive position groups take a turn at each drill.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson also had a strip-sack Sunday against the Giants, although his was the fumble-because-of-a-big-hit variety.
"We practice on raking the elbow all week and all training camp," Peterson said. "I was waiting for the elbow to come up because I was waiting to rake at it, but it never came. I just ran through him and the ball came off him."
Of the 10 fumbles caused on strip-sacks (Jordan Hicks has the 10th), the Cardinals have recovered only four of them, three by Jones himself and Haason Reddick grabbing the Peterson-caused one. Suggs has lamented that he didn't recover one he forced in the season-opener, and the veteran knows how important they can be. Suggs has 35 strip-sacks in his career, most by any active player.
"Even the coaching staff, they said, 'These sacks are nice, but you have to get the ball,' " Jones said. "I have to work on that."