In what's becoming a bit of a trend, the Arizona Cardinals defense had some up and down moments throughout their game against the Seattle Seahawks. On the upside, they allowed just only 20 points but on the downside they gave up 472 yards of total offense to a unit that was averaging less than 340 yards per game. The defense also harrassed and sacked Matt Hasselbeck four times but allowed relatively unknown Justin Forsett to rush for over 120 yards. All in all thought the bottom line is that their effort was good enough to win and they made some very important plays when they needed to perserve the lead.
Rush Defense: What else can you really say? Forsett, a seventh round pick from a year ago with 20 career carries coming into the game, basically ripped up the Cardinals front seven from start to finish. In total he carried the ball 17 times, with six of those rushes going for at least ten yards. Since the Hawks didn't trail by two scores until the the latter half of the 4th quarter, they were able to keep the running game a factor for most of the game. In addition to Forsett's yardage the Hawks got another 41 yards on a combined seven carries from Julius Jones (who suffered a terrible injury), Louis Rankin and Matt Hasselbeck. In total they racked up 164 yards on the ground on 24 carries (a gaudy 6.8 ypc average) while only losing yards on two of those carries. The Cardinals rush defense has fallen to eighth in the league and with Stephen Jackson, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson coming in the next three weeks, they'll need a much better effort to stay inside the top ten.
Pass Defense: This might be a hard stance to defend but I think the Cardinals pass defense was at least decent on Sunday. Sure, Hasselbeck threw for over 300 yards but he also only completed 50% of his passes, threw more picks than touchdowns and had a QB rating under 60. Digging a little bit deeper, 84 of his 315 passing yards on the day came on two mistakes by Bryant McFadden, but more on that later. Most of Hasselbeck's game was limited to short passes, as evidence by his yard per attempt number of 6.1, and the pressure that the front seven was able to apply certainly had an influence on his performance. The overall yardage number is tough to ignore but considering that it took 52 pass attempts to barely break 300 yards, I'd still consider it a decent performance by the secondary.
McFadden's Tough Day: If there was one guy who had a tough day on Sunday, it was Bryant McFadden. He not only was personally responsible for the Hawks two biggest offensive plays but he also accounted for three penalties totaling 51 yards. The first big play allowed, a 53 yard pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, was simply a case of McFadden never finding the ball. By the time he turned his head to locate the ball, it was in Housh's hands and McFadden had to grab a handful of facemask to get him to the ground. It total the play moved the Hawks from their own one yard line to the Cardinals' 31 and they would score thier first touchdown five plays later. His next big mistake was a bit less obvious but head coach Ken Whisenhunt confirmed it yesterday during his press conference. On the Seahawks second touchdown the Cardinals secondary was in a "three deep" defense and it was McFadden's job to cover anyone who went deep on his side. Somehow though he overlooked John Carlson streaking down the seam and the pass ended up going for a 31 yard touchdown. Blown coverages are going to happen at every level of football but this combined with a couple more poor plays really highlighted a bad day at the office for McFadden.
Pinning the Seahawks Deep: One thing that I think has gotten overlooked so far is where the Seahawks had to start most of their drives and once you see this you may look at their yardage totals a bit differently. The Hawks had 13 drives in this game and their average starting field position was their own 19, but even that doesn't tell the whole story. Four of those 13 drives started inside the Hawks' five yard line, including back to back drives that started at their own one yard line, and nine of the 13 drives started at or inside their own 20. Pinning them that deep is a testament to not only Ben Graham and the Cardinals special team coverage units, but also the Cardinals offense. When the offense doesn't turn the ball over they take a tremendous amount of pressure off this defense and making an opposing offense drive the length of the field really helps the "bend but don't break" philosophy.
Will Davis: We haven't talked much about him even though there's a large segment of the Cardinal-fandom that lists OLB as our biggest need heading into next years draft, but Davis is playing really well. Officially he had just one tackle but if watch the tape he's starting to show up more and more. With Chike Okeafor sidelined with an injury, Davis was splitting time with Bertand Berry and he was able to pressure Hasselbeck a couple of times and looks fairly comfortable in his role at outside linebacker. All in all not a bad rookie season for our sixth round pick.
Clark Haggans: Perhaps the games's defensive MVP, Haggans registered two sacks and six total tackles. We didn't expect a great deal from him but so far he leads the team in sacks and is on pace for his best season since 2006.
Antrel Rolle: Somebody must be whispering in Rolle's ear about the possibility of big dollars in his future because Rolle is finally turning into a bona-fide playmaker. He once again led the team in tackles and his pick of Hasselbeck in the fourth quarter was the first of two nails in the Hawks' coffin.
Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett: I almost didn't want to list these guys considering that the Seahawks ran all over the Cardinals front seven but Dansby and Nine-0 were instumental in the pressuring of Hasselbeck. Dansby carried the load without Gerald Hayes in the lineup and finished with eight tackles and half a sack. Dockett registered half a sack as well and finished with six tackles of his own.
Considering the defense was missing two starters, I still look at this as a positive game for them as a whole. There are some aspects that can certainly be improved upon but overall I think this kind of effort/outcome gives this team a chance to win more often than not. Thoughts?