When Ray Horton was hired to replace Billy Davis as defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, we all knew that he was going install a Dick LeBeau-type system. As many know, it is not an easy scheme to implement because of the complexities of the blitz packages and coverage schemes.
So it really should not be a surprise to see the Cardinals struggle so far. However, in a result-driven league, after watching Arizona get torched to the tune of 422 passing yards to Cam Newton in his debut and follow that up with almost 300 yards passing by Rex Grossman and 170 yards rushing by Roy Helu and Tim Hightower, people are getting worried and are ready to press the panic button.
On Monday, comments made by Kerry Rhodes seem to indicate that there are going to be adjustments made to make things a little simpler.
Here are a few things he said:
"I talked to coach (Ray Horton) earlier. We'll probably try to scale some stuff back. It's a tough system to learn. Coming into a new season with it, it's been a little frustrating but we've got a lot of time to rectify it."
"It's complicated but we've got to be pros at the same time and figure it out. This is what we get paid to do. It's football for us right now. We don't have anything else to do but learn it and try and get it down."
"You can throw it off on it being complicated all you want, but at the end of the day we've got to run it. Other teams have had success with the same defense and they got it down so we got to get it too."
It is completely understandable in my opinion for the team to have the struggles they have. They have a pair of corners whose only starting experience come from the past two games. The lockout wiped out all offseason workouts with the defensive staff. The schemes are new to the team.
This is why the mistakes have been so glaring. Ken Whisenhunt described it perfectly. He explained:
"We made a number of good plays defensively. When we're on the same page and guys are understanding what they're doing we're a pretty good defense. But when we make our bad plays, they're really bad. We're dropping coverage. We're not hitting the right gaps. We're not stepping the right way when we're blitzing. All those things are things we've got to work to get cleaned up."
So obviously, now the most logical thing to do would be to scale things back, as Rhodes said.
The question, though, is this. If it was going to be as difficult as it has been, should they have not tried to do a full implementation (if that is, in fact, what they did) from the start and instead ease into things?
If I were to answer that question, I would say that they did the right thing. It may have cost them a game, but the early opponents were expected to be weaker. Why not see what the players could handle with the bigger package? If they live up to the expectations, then you have great success. If not, then you can pull things back.
It is far easier to pull back if the players cannot handle all the complexities and are not executing because of missed reads and coverages than it is to take a simplified approach that is not successful and add more.
Of course, if the simplifications don't really help, then there will be other issues. But it seems to be that this has been the case. It has been execution and not scheme that has been the issue.
"I'm not by any stretch trying to make an excuse. We're not where we want to be," said Whiz. "We're working to get it corrected and I know our players are committed to doing that."
While I don't expect to see Steeler-like defensive domination this year, I would not be surprised if things start settling in by the midpoint in the season. But in the meantime, it sure would be nice to not be getting shredded by rookies and journeymen like the team has gone through so far this year.