We took a look at individual performances against Green Bay, both featuring the good and the bad. Against Dallas, we studied the Cardinals' basic schemes and who excelled in their roles. Finally, we took a deep look at Arizona blitzes against San Diego. With all this analysis in mind, let's go over what exactly is holding back the Cardinals' pass-rush and discuss how to fix it going into their final preseason game.
Facing top 10 quarterbacks
This is not as facetious as it sounds. Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers are some of the best in the business. Even when the rest of the team is in shambles, these guys deliver, quickly and accurately reading defenses and getting rid of the ball in a timely fashion.
They're not bulletproof, however. Bringing pressure is the first step to slowing them down, and the Cardinals have shown they can do that with the blitz.
The second step is covering better. In response to the Chargers game, Cmcinaz pointed out that the Cardinals' corners were playing too far off of their assignments, especially when the team called blitzes, leaving too much space for receivers to make plays. Arizona's secondary and linebackers need to do a better job taking away the quarterback's first read and getting to the hot read/check-down. Even sub-par quarterbacks can defeat blitzes if their first read is available every time.
Failure to beat single blocks
Though they've done a nice job with their blitzes, the Cardinals struggle to bring pressure when they only rush four. This has everything to do with the personnel on the field. We know by now that Dan Williams and Sam Acho don't add much to the pass rush. That's not to say they aren't playing well overall. Williams was a monster in the run game in his only appearance, holding his ground against double teams and disengaging from blocks to shut down runs at the point of attack.
The limitations of those two are well-documented and being mitigated by substitutions. They spend as much time on the sidelines as they do on the field, and the Cardinals aren't using Williams in any of their nickel formations.
One problem appeared in the third game. John Abraham saw his role change against San Diego. He was racking up hits and hurries in his first two appearances and, in what appeared to be an audition to be a full-time starter, Abraham saw a significant increase in his snap count against the Chargers. He was invisible the entire game. Maybe it was just a bad match-up for Abraham, or maybe he's not up to taking on extra plays. Either way, using him only on passing downs was working, and that should be how the team handles him from here on out.
The primary culprit in the first team has been Darnell Dockett. He has struggled, and it hasn't been limited to this year. ProFootballFocus gave him a -17 for the 2012 season, compared to Calais Campbell's +34. Dockett has always been inconsistent against the run but now he's being constantly negated by single blocks, whether it's as a pass rusher or in run defense.
This leaves Campbell, who has been playing well, to be double-teamed on almost every play. Whether it's Dockett's age or effort remains to be seen, but far too often the Cardinals' basic defenses rely exclusively on Campbell's ability to bring pressure. If Dockett continues playing like he has been throughout the preseason so far, he needs to start losing snaps to other players.
Matt Shaughnessy and Frostee Rucker have done a good job bringing pressure when asked to spell Campbell and Dockett. It's not just against back-ups, either, as they were both on the field for about 30 plays against the Chargers, and many of those were against starters. Though the Cardinals' other reserve lineman, Ronald Talley, plays more like a lighter version of Dan Williams, Shaughnessy and Rucker have flashed the ability to be disruptive in the pocket.
They're not going to win on every play, but Shaughnessy in particular has done a nice job getting after the quarterback. Both players appear to be capable of filling the blitz-happy role intended for Darnell Dockett, and should get more opportunities to do so.
Before taking a quick look at one of the team's new formations, what's your take on the defensive line? Are you okay starting Acho, then subbing him out in favor of John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy in certain situations? Do you think Okafor has shown enough to see a little more time with the first team defense?
Is it time to start reducing Dockett's playing time, or should they give him a chance to step up once the regular season gets underway? Should the Cardinals start planning for a future without him?
New formation: 3-4 "Over Stack"
The Cardinals showed off a new formation against the Chargers, moving Matt Shaughnessy away from the line of scrimmage and lining him up as a 'proper' outside linebacker. Sam Acho stayed on the line as a defensive end. That may not be the best use of personnel, as Shaughnessy struggles in space a little bit and Acho fares better in coverage than on the blitz, but here it is.
We've now seen a base 3-4, 4-4, and a lot of their 2-4-5 and 3-3-5 nickel, which is basically just a 4-2 nickel with an extra outside linebacker instead of a defensive end. Will we finally see some dime looks against Denver?