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Turnovers Cards' Name Of The Game

Stripping opponents of possession will be cornerstone of defense

Safety Tyrann Mathieu showed off his ball-hawking last week with two interceptions in practice.

The whole question hadn't yet been asked before Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles answered.

Where do turnovers rank…

"Number 1," they both answered.

This wasn't one of those times where Arians gave Bowles a look and they both knew how to correctly respond. They were asked separately about where turnovers rank in Bowles' new 3-4 defense and neither hesitated.

"Points against and turnovers, the only two things I want to lead the league in," Arians said. "I don't give a crap about where our defense is ranked because that's all yardage. If we lead the league in points against and turnovers, we got a heck of a defense."

Turnovers were a trademark for last year's team, which finished with 22 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles. With just 12 of

those interceptions and four forced fumbles returning after the Cardinals' new regime overhauled the roster, Bowles said the coaching staff made sure each piece to their puzzle had big-play potential.

Through free agency and the draft, the Cardinals landed players Bowles refers to as "ball hawks," guys who have a tendency to find the ball and could change the game in an instant. But you won't just find them roaming the secondary looking for an interception.

The Cards' most important ball hawk could be John Abraham, the NFL's active leader in sacks. His presence alone is a complement to the secondary, cornerback Patrick Peterson said, but Abraham's pressure off the corners could shrink the pocket, forcing a quarterback to either step up right into the mouth of the Cards' defensive line, or scramble, leaving the ball more vulnerable to a strip.

"You got to be (strong) up front and stop the run, make a team one dimensional and when they start putting it in the air, that's our job as DBs to get it out of there, be in position to make those plays," safety Rashad Johnson said. "It's high on our radar and it's something that we want to be very good at."

Floating in the secondary this year will be one face most quarterbacks won't want to see. Although he missed last season, rookie Tyrann Mathieu had 12 forced fumbles in two seasons at Louisiana State and has been showing glimpses of his college self. In Thursday's practice in Tempe, Mathieu had two interceptions in three plays.

While it may have only been practice, that's where Bowles wants his unit to get used to picking off passes and stripping balls.

"You can practice that until you're blue in the face and they come in bunches," Bowles said. "Sometimes you can practice it and they don't come at all but you got to keep preaching it and preaching it, and try to do things and show people different ways to get turnovers as far as drills and sacks.

"However they come, you got to get them by any means necessary."

The defense, and secondary in particular, is trying to establish its identity around turnovers.

"It plays a lot into it," Johnson said. "That's something that we emphasize as a DB unit. We want to be a big-play unit. We got a lot of big-play, big-name guys on our end and we got guys that can get it done.

"Every time it's in the air and we have an opportunity to make a play on it, we want to bring it down and if we can't, if it's a running play, we want to separate the running back from the ball. Every time we can get a chance to get our hands on it, that's the object of the game right now for us on the back end."

Peterson feels this year's secondary is more well-rounded than in years past, especially with more variety at cornerback. But the Cardinals' defensive star has fallen in line with his new defensive coordinator. They both believe in turnovers. As in the more you get, the more you win.

"The more turnovers you can get the more you can keep people off the field," Bowles said. "And we have guys that are capable of making turnovers, and turnovers are the big thing. There are a lot of defenses that are No. 1 in the league and (have) no turnovers, and they play safe. At the end of the day they end up losing ballgames.

"If we can get the turnovers included with playing a sound defense, we'll be a better ball club."

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