The Cardinals had one of the best defenses in the NFL last season. Sort of.
They finished second in the NFL in both yards per play (4.8) and yards per game (305.2) allowed. Based on those numbers, the scoring defense should have been among the league's elite, but it wasn't. The Cardinals gave up 22.6 points per game last season, 14th in the NFL.
Some of the discrepancy was out of the defense's control, as the Cardinals allowed multiple scores on special teams and offense. But coach Bruce Arians did not absolve the group of blame, pointing out struggles in critical situations.
The Cardinals didn't do well on third down last season. Opposing quarterbacks were 97-of-155 for 1,039 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions for a passer rating of 92.4.
"Ending halves, ending games, getting off the field on third down, those are more important to me than we're giving up the fewest yards in the league," Arians said. "'We're the No. 1 defense.' No, you're not."
Arians also brought up turnover margin, something the Cardinals have traditionally excelled at during his tenure. The Cardinals created 28 turnovers last year but gave away the same amount.
"Disruptive plays and turnovers is where we kind of made our name," Arians said.
Arians is looking for productivity in critical situations this season, and is hammering that point home to his players.
"You've got defenses that bend-don't-break type thing, where they give up a ton of yards but don't get scored on a lot of points," Arians said. "You've got teams that give up a lot of touchdowns but they don't give up a lot of yards. Those statistics of who is the No. 1 defense in the league sometimes are very skewed. … You can be top-five in this and that, but if you're not top-five in two-minute and not top-five in takeaways, you're probably not winning games."