Arizona Cardinals making right move by getting younger: Part 2 – Defense

This is the second part of a two part story about the Arizona Cardinals making the move to get younger.  The Cardinals are currently ranked as the third oldest team in the NFL.  They have the second oldest defense and the oldest defensive backups in the league.  As I stated in part 1, since the Cardinals started the season at 1-6, and due to recent injuries, the coaching staff has decided to utilize some of their younger talent in larger roles.  This has ultimately led to more success on the field, as the defense is stepping up, and holding teams to fewer points (18.5 compared to 26.1).

Defensively, the Cardinals drafted a cornerback as their first round pick (fifth overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft.  They also drafted an outside linebacker, linebacker, and defensive tackle in 2011.  Three out of these four picks have already made an impact on this team in their first NFL season.

Arizona Cardinals defensive back Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson has obviously made the biggest difference so far this year, but it hasn’t always been on the defensive side of the field.  On special teams he has already tied an NFL record by returning four punts for touchdowns, which directly helped the Cardinals win two of their four games this season.  In addition to that, Peterson has started every game at cornerback, and has two interceptions.  He is fifth on the team with 43 solo tackles, but only two tackles away from being the second leading tackler on the team.  Peterson has quickness, speed, and good vision, but being a 21 year old rookie, he still makes mistakes and gets beat in coverage sometimes.  On the other side of the field, 23 year old A.J. Jefferson and 26 year old Richard Marshall have shared the starting cornerback role.  They have combined for three additional interceptions, two sacks, and 88 tackles.  It is yet to be determined who will secure that spot for now, and in the future, but the Cardinals know they have good young talent at the corners.

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl WashingtonThe Cardinals drafted Sam Acho, who has been given an opportunity to showcase his talents and has made the most of it.  Due to the knee injury of 34 year old Joey Porter in game six, Acho has been given the start at outside linebacker.  In five starts, he has 19 tackles, 5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.  On Nov. 27, he became the first rookie since 2004 to record multiple sacks in a game.  He seems to have a better understanding of the defense each week, which has improved his performance on the field.  At just 23 years old, he is already becoming an impact player.  In addition to Acho, the Cardinals have second year starter Daryl Washington at inside linebacker.  Washington just turned 25, yet he is leading the team in total tackles, and has three sacks and two interceptions on the year.  Although they are not starters yet, second year linebacker O’Brien Schofield, and inside linebacker Stewart Bradley are seeing more and more playing time and making positive contributions.  Schofield, who is 24, has 1.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble so far this season.  Bradley, who just turned 28, is getting more comfortable with the new defensive scheme after coming from Philadelphia.  With such a young corps of big, talented linebackers, the Cardinals have a good base for their defense for years to come.

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais CampbellThe bookends on the defensive line are Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.  Campbell just turned 25, and is really making a name for himself in the NFL.  Standing at 6’8”, he is a large body to try and move.  He is having his best season ever, with 43 solo tackles, 5 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble.  Nose tackle Dan Williams is only 24 years old, and has started every game for the Cardinals in only his second NFL season.  Unfortunately he suffered a season ending broken arm Nov. 20, while playing in one of his best games of his short career.  Williams is a force in the middle, and a talented run stuffer.  He is a prototypical nose tackle, and as long as he works hard to stay in shape, should be a staple in the middle of the Cardinals defense for a long time.  David Carter was the Cardinals sixth round draft pick, and has already made key contributions this season.  At 6’5”, Carter may end up playing more as a defensive end in his NFL career, but for now will help fill in for the injured Williams.  In limited play so far, he already has one sack and a forced fumble.  Carter is just about to turn 24, and based on how much he has surprised the coaches in his rookie season, looks to be on his way to a long and successful career with the Cardinals.

The biggest question mark on defense is the aging of the safeties.  Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson are both big and physical safeties, but will not be around too much longer.  The Cardinals are allowing over 250 passing yards per game which ranks them 25th in the NFL.  If the Cardinals can find some young quality safeties to replace a couple of the best in the NFL, their defense should continue to improve every year, and be solid for the next five to eight seasons.

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~ by Troy Erickson on December 1, 2011.

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