Arizona Cardinals offseason: Looking at the OLB and their pass rushing impact

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Do the Cardinals have the personnel they need from the edge when it comes to rushing the passer?

One of the biggest concerns I have had moving forward with the Bruce Arians era was the departure of Ray Horton.

It's not so much that Ray Horton was an irreplaceable force of nature from the booth, but more that I like what Horton did with this defense.

With Horton we saw innovation, putting dynamic playmakers in a position to make plays, and creating pressure without having a pass rushing force to utilize.

I'm not saying that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles won't do similar, but we knew what we had with Horton, and that was comforting for a singular reason: Lack of an elite pass rusher.

As we look forward into 2013 one question will surely be asked by analysts and fans alike, who will be the Cardinals, pass rushing threat?

The Cardinals brought pressure from the inside linebacker position more than any other team in the NFL in 2012, and that created massive holes in the defense that became more and more exploitable as the season went along, Daryl Washington had eight of his nine sacks in the first eight games of the season, and only one the last eight games.

In fact, the entire defense only posted 12 sacks the last eight games of the season, after having 26 sacks the first eight weeks of the season.

One of the situations that came from Daryl Washington's 2012 season was how much he was used blitzing the passer, and that was out of necessity, because the team lacked any real threat to get to the passer.

Is there someone on the roster that could become a threat to get after the quarterback consistently?

Who do you think will have the biggest impact from the outside linebacker position in 2013?

Sam Acho-

One of the continuing problems with Acho is that he lacks any type of pass rushing move set, and isn't exactly an elite athlete off the edge where he can beat blockers purely on speed.

He struggles to disengage from blockers and too often gets "held" up on his initial move, and then is kept out of the play.

Acho does work relentlessly to get off blocks, and can pick up some cheap clean up type sacks, but if he doesn't beat his man initially, he typically won't be making an impact.

O'Brien Schofield-

The biggest issue with Schofield has been his inability to stay healthy over a full season.

He has shown growth as a pure edge rusher over the last two seasons, showing a good combination of burst off the edge, and counter moves to get to the passer, but if he isn't on the field, (he played the most snaps of his career in 2012 despite only playing in nine games) he will never reach that potential.

Lorenzo Alexander-

The soon to be 30 year old racked up 2.5 sacks in 325 defensive snaps in 2012, the most of his career at the linebacker position, as he was a defensive lineman when he started his career.

Alexander's big game was against the Minnesota Vikings in week six, when he rushed the passer on 20 of his 28 defensive snaps.

Alexander shows a relentless motor to get to the quarterback, works up the field nicely, and does a good job of getting his defender off balance and taking advantage.

Matt Shaughnessy-

The wildcard in the mix of veterans, Shaughnessy has never played OLB before, he's been a defensive end for most of his career, but now is getting some time standing up.

As far as scouting Shaughnessy as a pass rusher, he did a good job using his length at the point of attack, but doesn't show a plethora of pass rush moves, and looks rigid at times.

The question is, can he bend and dip around the edge consistently, is he a guy that can drop into coverage, or is Shaughnessy a run stopper only, because throughout his career, he's been very good at that.

Alex Okafor-

Okafor dropped to the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft for a reason; he doesn't possess an elite ability to get to the quarterback.

He, like Acho and Alexander, is a tireless worker, but he utilizes a strong bull rush to push his blocker back, get them off balance and then make a play on the passer.

He doesn't bend the edge overly well, he is a little stiff in his movements, and doesn't have a special first step to blow by the offensive lineman.

Those are the four outside linebacker we'll see the Cardinals utilize in 2013 the most, we could see Tim Fugger make the roster, but these are the guys that will be tasked with bringing the heat off the edge.

Of course, if Todd Bowles is bringing the 3-4 one gap defense to the desert as most expect, it won't be the outside linebackers bringing pressure off the edge.

We'll take a look at how that works over the next weeks.

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