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Fantasy Football: Is the Arizona Cardinals a fantasy defense to fear without Tyrann Mathieu?

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There was a time that the Arizona Cardinals were a defense to be feared. Even with injuries and suspensions derailing them, Arizona pulled together as a unit and remained one of the best defenses in the league. Slowly, but surely, it seems that defense might be in danger of eroding before our very eyes.

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This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NBAandNFLInfo or on the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Arizona Cardinals Rumors and News visit Fantasy Football Overdose.

There was a time that the Arizona Cardinals were a defense to be feared. Even with injuries and suspensions derailing them, Arizona pulled together as a unit and remained one of the best defenses in the league. Slowly, but surely, it seems that defense might be in danger of eroding before our very eyes.

The most recent injury to young safety Tyrann Mathieu could be the icing on the cake. Mathieu suffered a thumb injury in week 13 and is expected to miss the next two weeks, while he could potentially have to sit out the remainder of the regular season.

The next two weeks almost certainly cover your fantasy football league’s playoffs, so you may not have the luxury of waiting on Mathieu to heal. That could be leaving you without an elite IDP player, while it could have enough of a negative impact on the Cardinals as a whole to cripple them as a fantasy team defense, as well.

Needless to say, fantasy owners everywhere have to be curious if they can trust the Cardinals as their weekly defense to end the year. After seeing the Atlanta Falcons have their way with them in week 13, there has to be some doubt. Take Mathieu out of the equation, and things could get even uglier.

While NFL fantasy owners have every reason to be concerned, it’s obviously worth noting that Arizona isn’t allowing their opponents to score a ton of points, as they’ve allowed more than 19 points just four times all season.

Aside from points allowed, however, this fairly no-name unit is a middle of the road bunch when it comes to sacks (tied for 18th with 26) and has the third least forced fumbles (five). Where they’ve made their money this year is interceptions (second with 16) and touchdowns (tied for the lead league with three).

Touchdowns are tough to gauge for a defense, while the interceptions might be more a result of their competition. Of those 16 picks, nine of them were registered against the likes of Kirk Cousins, Austin Davis, Eli Manning and Nick Foles. Cousins was revealed to be terrible, Davis nothing more than a replacement level talent and Manning and Foles have been turnover machines for all of 2014.

Heading into the stretch run, Arizona is going to be tasked with creating turnovers against Alex Smith (who doesn’t turn the ball over), Shaun Hill (who might), Russell Wilson (who doesn’t, either) and Colin Kaepernick.

The game against the Rams looks like the only one anyone can really feel good about, but with the way the Rams have been playing, that might not even be true.

Unless the Cardinals are shutting all of these teams down and getting interceptions, there’s not a lot to like here. On the surface, one would imagine Arizona would just keep to their season average of 21.5 points allowed per game and that the picks will keep coming.

But even that hasn’t translated into weekly production for fantasy owners. They stand as a top-10 overall unit on the year, but that’s stemming from when they were at their best and actually healthy. That season long ranking isn’t exactly factoring in an elite rush defense (you don’t normally get fantasy points for yardage allowed) and the injury to Mathieu.

Without Mathieu, an elite run defense could easily suffer without his support in the box. No Mathieu could also cripple a pass defense that has already seen it’s share of struggles in 2014. With matchups against three competent quarterbacks in the final four weeks of the season, the Cardinals suddenly could be a vulnerable unit to attack.

Of course, that’s if you take the loss of Mathieu as a death sentence and if you’re not giving any respect to everything else they’ve done. The reality is, Mathieu is a big loss in a year of many big losses for the Cardinals. They don’t have a great pass rush and their secondary can get scattered, yet they routinely force turnovers and keep opponents out of the end-zone.

In fact, only the Denver Broncos (in Denver, mind you) have scored more than 29 points against this defense all season. The fact that the Atlanta Falcons are the next closest with 29 last week is mildly worrisome for the stretch run, or it can be looked at as ridiculously impressive.

We can’t know how the Cardinals will perform without yet another talented body on defense. What we can guess, though, is that every single one of their four games remaining could easily be defensive battles. If they can keep the points down and the offense can do anything to help them out, this can still be an elite fantasy defense. The potential is there, but now it’s up to the fantasy owner to give them a chance.