It has been known for some time that Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett was not a big fan of the defense the team ran under Ray Horton. In fact, if you caught it, he is on the record saying he "hated it."
He does, though, sound very excited for the scheme that new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has the team playing.
"Personally, I had nothing against Ray," Dockett said. "But I hated that scheme. I really hated it. I played it because I needed to. But this defense is based on guys and what their ability allows them to be good at. What they were drafted for."
He felt that he and Calais Campbell were neutralized and that the scheme was ill-equipped to stopping the run.
The Cardinals did struggle against the run and Dockett was neutralized statistically, but that wasn't necessarily because of scheme. Dockett only logged 1.5 sacks and 34 tackles. Campbell, though, wasn't necessarily neutralized. He had 6.5 sacks and 63 tackles and played only 13 games. In 2011, Campbell had eight sacks and 72 tackles.
Campbell played very well in Horton's sets.
Now, as for stopping the run, I am going to pull from khodder's Twitter feed to steal what he said. He did number crunching, comparing rushing defense stats for the Cardinals over the years.
From 2004-06 using the 4-3, the Cardinals allowed 4.27 YPC. The team then moved to a 3-4 defense and from 2007-10, they allowed 4.19 YPC. Then came the Horton defense. Over the course of the 2011-12 seasons under Horton, the Cardinals run defense allowed 4.25 YPC and if you remove the "Throw in the Towel" game vs Seattle this year (where they lost 58-0), that average drops to 4.14 YPC, or what would amount to the best run defense in Darnell's time here.
Saying the team could not stop the run under the Horton D as a reason you hated the scheme is just plain wrong, especially when one has not complained about other schemes in the past that have had similar success against the run.
Was run defense a strength of Arizona last season? Heck no, but it was not the scheme's fault. It was lack of execution from the guys on the field. The Steelers front seven runs a very similar style of gap assignment vs the run and they have never struggled to stop the run. They have not allowed over 4.0 YPC in the last four seasons. The scheme may not have been the best fit for what Darnell wanted to do, but the team was far better vs the pass and neutral vs the run. The Horton scheme was the best scheme for this team's defense since Darnell arrived in Arizona. Yet it is the only one he hated?
There really is nothing wrong with not liking a scheme. That happens in every job everywhere. However, his dislike for it caused his performance to slip. He could have and should have had numbers more like Campbell.
Now, Dockett should bounce back, as he and Campbell will be featured under Bowles' defense.
Under Horton, the linebackers were the ones designed to make plays. Bowles will expect his linemen to do more. New defensive line coach Brentson Buckner feels that linemen also need to be given the chance to go after the passer.
"We want to take advantage of their God-given ability," Buckner said. "We don't want to handicap them by the things we do. We want to line them up, make sure they have good technique, and let the dogs hunt."
Bowles has said that he tries to cater his schemes to fit the players' strengths, which means, we will see more of Dockett and Campbell being told to get into the backfield and bust up plays.
This brings up an important point. When you have a defense, which is better? Do you take a successful scheme and make your players fit in, even if it means they are sacrificing some of what they do best? Or do you adjust it so that those players do what they do best?
Is it talent or scheme that is better?
If you look at the numbers, you would think that scheme is definitely the reason, and you can point to the success the defense had under Horton to point to that. At the same time, though, the defense had very talented players. In previous years, there was not a Patrick Peterson at cornerback. The defense was talented. How much worse off would they have been with a different scheme? That is the answer we will never really know.
You could say that we will know this year, except there has been roster turnover. If you look at the defense, you will see that, on paper, that the defensive line, linebackers and cornerbacks are better from top to bottom than they were a season ago. You can say that the safeties saw a downgrade overall.
However, I will counter with something regarding the defensive line. The players that the team has added -- Matt Shaughnessy, Frostee Rucker, to name a pair -- are a different fit than Nick Eason or Vonnie Holliday. Because of the scheme, you did not need big playmakers on the line, it would work with guys that help up well at the line of scrimmage. This year, the line will be expected to do more playmaking, so naturally the players they brought in needed to be better playmakers.
There is no reason to believe that this year's defense can't be at least on par with last year's unit. The talent is there. According to the players, the scheme is not too much different.
Dockett will play with more motivation and the depth is better.
The question regarding talent or scheme? We just might have an answer at the end of this season.
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