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Top Defensive Plays Of The Season

Looking back at the best Todd Bowles' unit had to offer


The Cardinals had plenty of memorable plays on their way to a 10-6 record in 2013. We've whittled it down to the best five on each side of the ball, with defense up first. Here they are, in random order. Our rankings of the top five defensive plays are in the final video below. The top five offensive plays will be posted on Friday.


The rundown: Buccaneers 10, Cardinals 3, 4:23 left fourth quarter. Tampa Bay with 2nd-and-6 from its 11.

The situation:The Cardinals were stagnant offensively all game and were on the precipice of losing at Tampa Bay.

The play:The Cardinals were fooled by play-action, since most expected the Buccaneers to run the ball with the lead and a rookie quarterback. Arizona blitzed five but got no pressure. Quarterback Mike Glennon had a perfect pocket and threw for wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but Patrick Peterson undercut the route, picked the ball off and returned it to the Tampa Bay 13.

The aftermath:It was a huge momentum shift, and the Cardinals tied the game on the next play on a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals won, 13-10, on a Jay Feely field goal, and Peterson clinched the victory with his second fourth-quarter interception with under a minute remaining.


The rundown: Cardinals 17, Colts 3, 8:07 left second quarter. Indianapolis with 2nd-and-10 from its 20.

The situation:The Colts had started slowly but were looking for a fruitful drive to cut into the deficit.

The play:Colts quarterback Andrew Luck* *was pressured heavily by defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and unleashed a pass for tight end Coby Fleener. Linebacker Karlos Dansby stepped in, picked off the pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

The aftermath:The score gave the Cardinals a three-touchdown lead and they cruised to a 40-11 victory. It was the first of Dansby's two pick-sixes on the season.


The rundown: Cardinals 10, Panthers 6, 5:34 remaining third quarter. Carolina with 1st-and-15 from its 5.

The situation: The Cardinals scored on their first possession of the second half and an offensive pass interference call on Steve Smith backed up Carolina deep in its own territory.

The play:The Panthers decided to pass on first down, and defensive end Calais Campbell took advantage. He knifed between two offensive linemen and jumped on quarterback Cam Newton for a lightning-quick safety. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy deserves credit for covering tight end Richie Brockel in the flat so Newton would have no emergency outlet.

The aftermath:The Cardinals continued to dominate, sacking Newton seven times and picking him off three times in the contest. The Cardinals won, 22-6.


The rundown: Cardinals 0, Rams 0, 2:41 remaining first quarter. St. Louis with 1st-and-10 from its 45.

The situation: The regular season was just getting started, but it didn't take long for a Cardinals rookie to make a huge impact.

The play:Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hit tight end Jared Cook in stride at the Cardinals 35. Linebacker Karlos Dansby was beaten badly, and Cook seemed poised to score a touchdown. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, though, had other ideas, tracking down Cook inside the 5 and punching the ball out. Dansby recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback.

The aftermath:Mathieu was out of football for a year following his dismissal from LSU, but picked up right where he left off in college. Mathieu flashed his game-changing ability less than 13 minutes into his NFL career and quickly became one of the team's best players.


The rundown: Cardinals 21, Rams 3, 9:15 remaining third quarter. St. Louis with 3rd-and-6 from its 5.

The situation:Punter Dave Zastudil placed a punt on the 1-yard line, and St. Louis was forced to throw after a pair of short runs.

The play:It was a perfectly designed and executed rush. Defensive end Calais Campbell bulldozed two linemen while linebacker John Abraham swept inside on a stunt. He had a free shot on Kellen Clemens, taking down the Rams quarterback in the end zone for a safety.

The aftermath:The Cardinals had been dominating already but this was icing on the cake. Abraham was in the midst of another big game and it helped him garner a Pro Bowl selection. The job by Campbell was indicative of the under-the-radar things he does to help the team win.

Here is how we ranked the top five defensive plays of the 2013 season:

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