The Arizona Cardinals had one of their biggest free agent spending periods in franchise history this past summer, bringing in a few offensive weapons and three new defensive players to help contribute to the team. Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley and Richard Marshall all signed contracts with the Cards only days after the lockout was lifted.
Eason was only signed as a backup at defensive end behind Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Bradley and Marshall, however, were expected to make large positive contributions for Arizona. And up to this point, that simply has not been the case. These two players are part of the reason the Cardinals are standing at 1-6.
Stewart Bradley signed a 5-year, $30 million dollar contract with Arizona in anticipation for him to become a starting inside linebacker for the Cardinals 3-4 scheme. With Paris Lenon aging and the coaching staff looking to inject some youth into the team, the signing made plenty of sense. There was a need and Bradley was brought in to fulfill it.
However, Bradley has not been able to work his way up the depth chart. He remains a bench player, playing in only 104 snaps this season, compared to Lenon's 510. Against the Panthers and the Giants, Bradley was only in the game for two snaps each time, or 3% of the total defensive snaps per game. Pro Football Focus also states that he has struggled in pass coverage and pass rushing situations up to this point. He only has 18 tackles and one quarterback hit in the snaps he has been in on.
Ken Whisenhunt has cited his unfamiliarity with the new scheme (he came from a 4-3 in Philadelphia) as the reason for his struggles. But after seven games and heading into week nine, I am certain that most of us would have expected to see Bradley starting at the SILB position, next to Daryl Washington, by now. He hasn't made any big plays when he has been in the game and was barely serviceable when he started against the Redskins due to Washington being injured.
Taking a look at Richard Marshall, he has been one of the most inconsistent players on the Cardinals' defense. He was signed to a one-year deal by Arizona in the off-season to help replace the loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was traded to the Eagles as part of the Kevin Kolb deal. Marshall has primarily been used as a nickel corner in defensive coordinator Ray Horton's system.
When looking at the surface, we have seen Marshall struggle throughout the season. Just last week, he gave up a deep pass to Baltimore Ravens wide receiver, Torrey Smith. Eventually, that yardage gain was enough to set the Ravens up to kick the game winning field goal. We also saw Marshall give up a 95 yard pass to Mike Wallace and the Steelers the week before.
Now looking at the numbers, they seem to confirm Marshall's deficiencies. Marshall has registered an overall grade of -11.1 through seven games, the lowest grade of any Cardinals defensive player. This number can be attributed to his poor pass coverage and his abundance of penalties. He has been targeted 29 times this season, allowing 15 of those passes to be caught by the opposing receiver for an average of 20.1 yards per catch. He also struggles in run defense, scoring a -2.4 in that category.
Compare his grade to A.J. Jefferson, who has scored a -3 overall rating up to this point. Jefferson not only has the better grade, but he is also a starter and this is basically his rookie season in the league. Marshall is in his sixth season.
So what does this all mean? It means that both Bradley and Marshall need to start living up to their new deals. They have had basically half of a season to figure out the defensive scheme and should be relatively comfortable within it by now. If Marshall's performance does not improve, I would not expect him to receive a new deal after the season. Bradley, on the other hand, is locked up long term. It would be highly disappointing for him not to be starting going into next season.
With the struggles of Kevin Kolb and his position as quarterback of the team, Bradley and Marshall have really been overlooked. They deserve just as much blame for the Cardinals' losing ways as anybody else. If the Cardinals want to make any type of run to redeem their season, they'll need both of these guys to step it up.
Stats from Pro Football Focus