All in all it was a very good showing by the Cardinals' defense at Soldier Stadium last Saturday night. They bottled up RB Matt Forte, they sacked Jay Cutler 4 times and they intercepted him twice. But, perhaps most significant of all is the way they came out of the lockerroom at half-time protecting a 7 point lead and laid the wood on the Bears' offense in one of the most impressive shut-down 3 and outs one will see...to the point where Forte was getting stonewalled and Cutler had little choice but to cave in under the pressure.
NT: Gabe Watson had a monster sack of Cutler and Dan Williams scraped down the line and put a crushing tackle on Forte. Here are the two players the Cardinals should count on at NT this season. It would be great if the team could hire Bryan Robinson as assistant d-line coach and thus keep his locker room presence and leadership. With the roster being so tight this year, it may be time to hand Robinson a whistle and a clipboard.
DE: Forget about Ochocinqo and TO being referred to as Batman & Robin, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are the ULTIMATE dynamic duo in the NFL. Dockett was getting good penetration and pressuring Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly and Campbell was in the backfield consistently, even on the field goal that he blocked.
The player fast emerging here is Kenny Iwebema who is showing excellent quickness and finishing ability. Alan Branch made a couple of nice drive stopping tackles. Maybe we should call DD, CC, KI & AB the "Oucho Quatro!"
ILB: Both Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington were solid in this game. Lenon stepped up and made good stops on Forte, while Washington showed his excellent range in chasing down plays. The one area that concerns me a little about Lenon is the way he delivers the defensive signals in the huddle. He looks unenthused doing it. He ought to check out how Ray Lewis does it. While they have Lenon playing the nickle MLB...when Washington gets comfortable with his role in the base defense he should become the nickel MLB because of that great speed, agility and middle blitzing ability.
It is telling that Pago Togafau has stepped in front of Reggie Walker and Monty Beisel on the depth chart. Walker played a little at the end...and he does seem hampered by his injury. Beisel made the opening tackle on the kickoff as he tripped up the returner from the side and he made one nice lick late in the game in the flat. But, at this point, one of them is going to have to have a great game versus the Redskins if one is going to make the roster. It would seem Togafau's pretty much a lock.
OLB: What was great about this game was how well both Clark Haggans and Joey Porter defended the run. They shedded blocks well, forced the plays inside and often got a piece of the tackle doing so, which is ideal. Their pass rushing was steady but not special. The team needs them to be more of a factor there.
Speaking of not being much of a factor as an edge rusher none of the four hopefuls, Stevie Baggs, Will Davis, Cody Brown or Mark Washington generated any sort of pressure...which allowed rookie Dan LeFevour to throw for some good numbers and lead the team on two scoring drives. These four have been four of the biggest disappointments in the pre-season games to date. Baggs has shown a flash or two, but the others have basically been dominated by second string tackles.
CB: Perhaps the most interesting new wrinkle manifested by Donnie Henderson in this game was his switching of DRC to RCB, with Greg Toler taking the LCB spot. This move by Henderson is brilliant. What he anticipated was teams picking on Toler relentlessly on the right side...so what Henderson opted to do is take away the right side with his shut down CB and tilt FS Kerry Rhodes to Toler's side, which is the more natural side to tilt the FS.
If you noticed, when Cutler saw the FS shading the left side he started trying to pass to his left...but this is exactly what Henderson and DRC wanted! No one had been throwing anywhere near him this pre-season when he was at LCB. At RCB and now being tested, DRC was like a thief in the night stepping right in front of his WR to make a great interception, that really dispirited the crowd and the Bears' offense early in that game. On the other side when Toler was thrown at you saw the FS sitting right over the top to help...one time they sandwiched Inglesis and popped the ball loose from him and another, Toler was able to recover up the sideline to make a nice pick with the FS right there to help.
The other CB star in this game was Michael Adams. This year Adams is being used properly and he's being coached up well. Adams was jumping the short routes, knocking passes down, making swift hard tackles and as usual showing a burst to the QB from the edge on his blitzes.
On the second unit, Trumaine McBride was solid at RCB. Justin Miller was so-so at LCB...he's another guy who will need the FS help. Jorrick Calvin got beat on the TD, despite good coverage. He was traded because the reality is the coaches are just as or even more high on Marshay Green and A.J. Jefferson...both of whom are improving each week.
S: Adrian Wilson is going to love it when the regular season starts because he and Kerry Rhodes are going to be, to use a chess analogy, twin queens on the defense...meaning they will be maneuvered all over the place for crash blitzes and disguised coverages.
What I liked so much about this game was that you didn't see Kerry Rhodes have to make too many plays...and that's always a great sign for a defense if the FS does not have to make many plays. It means he was in the right spots and it means that not too many runs broke to the second or third level. On one of the few runs that did, it was Rhodes who made the nice open field tackle on Chester Taylor.
Rashad Johnson had very good coverage and it took perfect passes to beat him...he also was very active in run pursuit, as was Matt Ware, who is putting the wood on people in ways we have never seen before. Hamza Abdullah had a good game playing over the top of the LCB...he was in good position and finished plays off well.
LS: Mike Leach is not only a great snapper, he's a very able and willing tackler.
KR/PR: Justin Miller had ball security issues on all his returns (bobbles and late fumbles that thankfully weren't lost...thus, he missed a great opportunity to solidify a roster spot. He needs a big week this week. Marshay Green is the steadier receiver as a punt returner, but did not have any room to run.
DEFENSIVE SUMMARY: If the Cardinals can find a way to get edge pressure in a four man rush, with the way Henderson is coaching the secondary and with the powerful thrust the Cardinals are getting up the middle, this defense could be special.