Arizona Cardinals 2011 Season Grades: The Defensive Backs

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 24: Kerry Rhodes #25 of the Arizona Cardinals sits on the field injured as teammate Adrian Wilson #24 looks on during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

We last looked at the linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals and gave them a grade for their performance during this past season. 60% of the voters gave them a 'B' for their overall play and 26% thought they deserved a 'C'. Young players such as Daryl Washington and Sam Acho really helped to boost the play of that unit, making either one a very reasonable grade.

Let's shift our focus to the defensive backs now. This group was one that was also in constant flux due to injuries, forcing young guys to step up in ways that the coaching staff perhaps did not envision. After the jump, let's look at each of the individual players in the secondary and then assign them all a collective grade.

Let's start with the Cardinals' rookie of the year, Patrick Peterson. With Greg Toler tearing his ACL before the season even began, Peterson was forced into a starting role right away. Due to his youth and relative inexperience, he struggled as a defensive back. He allowed 59% of the passes thrown his way to be caught by the opposing wide receiver according to Pro Football Focus. Peterson was also the most penalized player on the team, collecting 10 flags for various infractions. His play was absolutely stellar on special teams, but in terms of being a solid defender, Peterson still has a long way to go.

Often lined up across from Peterson was the undrafted free agent, A.J. Jefferson. He did not fare well in his first year as a major contributor to the team. He was picked on by opposing quarterbacks, which resulted in him giving up about 12.5 yards per catch. He was forced out of his starting role after being demolished by one time Cardinal Anquan Boldin in week eight. He will remain apart of the team going forward, but will need to regain the coach's confidence in order to see more time on the field.

Richard Marshall was the guy that was able to do it all in the secondary. He took over as the second cornerback after Jefferson was benched for his struggles and played very well. He also spent some time at safety when Kerry Rhodes went out with a broken foot. According to defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Marshall was the defensive MVP. He is an unrestricted free agent, but look for the Cardinals to make a good offer to bring him back.

The last corner we will look at is Michael Adams. Money Mike, as they call him, has always been an outstanding special teams player during his time in Arizona, but his play as a cornerback has been underwhelming. He played as the nickelback or in the dime for most of his playing time. He allowed a catch percentage of 73.3%, the highest on the team.

The one consistent player in the secondary was long time Cardinals safety, Adrian Wilson. A-Dub was by far the best defensive back in pass coverage and his play near the line of scrimmage made him look like the Wilson of old. Anyone that thinks this guy may have lost a step would be extremely mistaken. The guy has always been effective regardless of the role he has been asked to play-- on and off the field.

His running mate, Kerry Rhodes, played well in his seven starts as well. PFF gave him a positive grade in all areas of the game as the primary free safety. Rhodes spent more time near the line of scrimmage than he had in 2010, but he looked very comfortable with that adjustment. The safety position did not look nearly as intimidating with him out of the lineup.

Rashad Johnson was the man tasked with taking over for Rhodes and if you watched the Cardinals, then you know how this story ends. The third year man out of Alabama was decent as a safety in pass coverage, but he always seemed lost on the field. He also allowed 10 of the 13 passes thrown his way to be caught, which is certainly unacceptable. Johnson will now be a restricted free agent and the Cardinals will more than likely tender him, but he will need to improve if he wants to stay on the team.

Overall, the secondary was not as great as expected. They struggled in pass coverage, but I guess that is partially due to the fact that they were often left on an island during blitzing plays. The DBs were unable to force many turnovers and they allowed deep plays to speedy wide receivers. This unit is very young, but they will need to play better if the Cardinals hope to make it back to the postseason. I give them a grade of a D+, as it seems like Wilson was the only player that the team could consistently count on to do well.

Am I being too harsh, Cardinals fans? What grade do you think the defensive back corps deserves? Leave your grade in the poll, as well as your comments below.

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