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Vance Joseph Adamant Cardinals' Defense Can Be Fixed

Defensive coordinator believes growing pains part of the process

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph knew there could be some bumps in the road in his first season with the Cardinals.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph knew there could be some bumps in the road in his first season with the Cardinals.

The Cardinals' defense is in the middle of a pitch-black tunnel, and after Sunday's performance against the Rams, many are wondering if there is an opening at the end of it.

Vance Joseph is adamant light awaits, as long as his group keeps fighting.

"It takes courage to live through this," the Cardinals' first-year defensive coordinator said. "It's hard times. We're going to get it fixed, and once it's fixed, no one remembers these times. But right now, it's tough. If you're not strong-willed and you don't have courage, you can't fix it.

"We have a plan here, and right now it's the first year of the plan. It wasn't going to be easy. That's why we're here, right? It wasn't fixed (by the previous coaching staff). That's why we're here. We're trying to fix it, and we will."

The numbers against the Rams were ugly. Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff amassed 405 passing yards with 8:44 left in the third quarter. The Cardinals allowed 549 total yards in the 34-7 loss, even with the Rams taking their foot off the gas in the fourth.

The Cardinals are now last in the NFL in total defense and second-to-last in points allowed.

Joseph remains optimistic because he's been through growing pains before, both with rookies adapting to the NFL and veterans transitioning to a new defensive scheme.

"It's a process, and experienced coaches understand that," Joseph said. "It's not going to be pretty early on."

The outside clamor for the Cardinals to replace Joseph has grown louder each week. If it happened, the team would be on its fourth defensive coordinator in four years, something many of the players clearly do not want.

"It's my third year," safety Budda Baker said. "Three different coaching staffs, head coaches, DCs. For me, personally, I just want to have the same guy for consecutive years. Playing in a new defense is kind of like your rookie year every year."

Coach Kliff Kingsbury has shut down the notion of a change, which Joseph appreciates. Joseph said he isn't worried about his job status.

"I'm not," he said. "I've been coaching a long time in this league. I've had success as a coach. I'm not worried about that. That's not my call. My job is to fix the defense."

The defense congregated to watch tape of the loss to Los Angeles on Monday. The players usually do so broken down into position groups, but everyone sat together for this one.

"It was really painful," Joseph said. "It wasn't a fun meeting on Monday. It was our first time, in my opinion, not fighting. We've had some good moments, some bad moments, but it's all been through great effort and focus and fighting, making teams beat us. Sunday wasn't that. That's unacceptable. We can't be that group."

Even though the effort was poor, Joseph didn't give his team a tongue-lashing in the meeting. He believes the defense needs to unify, not fracture, in order to turn things around.

"We can walk in and be emotional, and we can tear into guys, but they've got us and we've got them," Joseph said. "We're all in it together. We have to go fix it. Losing your mind and overreacting, that won't fix it."

Multiple players have been asked in recent days if Joseph's 3-4 scheme is the main culprit for the defensive struggles, but none have singled it out as the defining weakness.

"During the week, he puts us in position, because on game day, those same exact plays are showing up in the game," Baker said. "It's up to that person and that player to hit their pitch."

The players have been striking out too often in their individual matchups, and coverage mixups have also been an issue.

"Everyone on this defense has to talk," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "When you're not on the same page, bad things happen."

Peterson was a key piece of a Cardinals secondary that, from 2013 through 2015, had strikingly little turnover. The group was talented, and the cohesion amplified the success. He believes instability has hurt the current group.

"Keeping guys around, that's the key part," Peterson said. "As you saw as the years went on, we got better and better each and every year. It's going to take some time on both sides of the ball for guys to get comfortable in the scheme, but I really, really do think the sky is the limit for us."

While Joseph preaches patience, he still practices urgency. The Cardinals' offense has made some major strides this season, and the defense would love to get on a similar path in the final month of the season.

Seeing a little light would make everyone feel better heading into 2020.

"We try to solve every issue," Joseph said. "We work every day, all day. I get here in the morning early and I leave late at night. I'm not ignoring issues. We're trying to address the issues. That's our job as coaches. Sometimes you address them and you don't get them fixed right away, but we're trying to solve every issue. That's our job."