Most recently in our positional grading series, readers were able to take a look at the defensive line. Overall, the majority of people felt that the front three did an above average job. 53% of the voters gave them a 'B' and 37% felt that they were phenomenal during this past season and deserving of an 'A'. It's hard to argue those two letter grades, as guys like Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell truly were outstanding.
Now we move on to what might be the most important group in Ray Horton's defense -- the linebackers. During 2011, we saw a lot of movement among that corps due to both injury and performance levels. After the jump, let's look at some of the players individually and then give the group a grade as a whole.
Given all of the various complicated schemes that are used in the Cardinals' defense, the linebackers are expected to do quite a bit. Whether it is blitzing the quarterback, dropping into a zone, or playing man coverage on a running back or tight end, the linebackers are an intricate piece to the puzzle.
When searching for a guy that can pretty much do it all for Arizona, we first have to look Daryl Washington's way. He was arguably the most consistent player on the defensive side of the ball for the Cards. In his second season, Washington had six sacks, five QB hits and 96 tackles from the inside linebacker position. He was superb both in pass coverage and run defense.
His running mate, Paris Lenon, was not quite as good. The veteran was given low marks by Pro Football Focus, mainly due to his poor performance in run defense. Lenon had 65 tackles, three sacks and three quarterback hits in 2011, but he also played a much larger role than he was expected to.
The reason Lenon saw so much time on the field was because of the unimpressive play of Stewart Bradley. After signing a free agent contract with the Cardinals, Bradley struggled adjusting to the 3-4 defensive scheme. He saw only 235 snaps, as compared to Lenon's 1126. Bradley played well on special teams, but will be expected to contribute much more in 2012.
Another linebacker that was rather underwhelming was Joey Porter. Porter played in only six games before having a season ending knee surgery. In those six games, Porter registered just one sack and one QB hit. His playing days in Arizona have probably come to an end.
The other outside linebacker and former Pittsburgh Steeler, Clark Haggans, was better, but still not great. The Cardinals probably did not expect Haggans to play that many snaps either, but that's what happens when some of the younger guys either don't pan out or don't step up. Haggans ended the season with four sacks and six QB hits. He is now an unrestricted free agent and is questionable to be re-signed by the team.
The Cardinals' biggest bright spots were Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. Acho took over the starting spot once Porter went down and proved to be an excellent pass rusher in his rookie season. After switching from defensive end to the outside linebacker position, the Cards will be looking for an improvement in both run defense and the pass coverage departments. Schofield had similar numbers and brought some positive things to the table. He ended the season with five sacks and three QB hits.
Based on the overall play of the linebacker unit, I would have to give them a C+. Acho and Washington played really well and are going to be good building blocks for the future, but age and poor play by some of the younger players could end up hurting this team. A truly consistent pass rush is still needed from the outside linebackers and the run defense could be better up the middle.
What do you think about the linebackers? Do they deserve a different grade than what I gave them? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.