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Arizona Cardinals defense is candidate for regression in 2014

With key losses, young players and injuries from which to recover, will the defense take a step back?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals defense was fantastic in 2013. The squad was number one against the run, number six in yardage allowed and seventh in scoring defense. But according to a Field Yates ESPN Insider column, they could be a prime candidate to regress in 2014.

The main reasons? They lost their two dynamic inside linebackers and play in a very tough division.

The Cardinals recently lost linebacker Daryl Washington to a season-long suspension, leaving an already-thin linebacker corps in rough shape. Karlos Dansby is now a Cleveland Brown, leaving Kevin Minter (one career defensive snap) and Larry Foote (age 33) as projected starters. Minter is a downhill thumper, but unproven. Foote has the instincts and savvy to quarterback a defense, but the range concerns are legitimate. The Cardinals were just 3-6 against teams with winning records in 2013 and play in the best division in the NFL.

Those aren't the only concerns. This isn't to go all "doom and gloom" on a fanbase that is very optimistic about the coming season, but there are legitimate concerns about the defense taking a step back -- and not just a small one.

Seth Cox discussed it on our last Revenge of the Birds Radio show.

Let's look at some of the reasons why you can't just pencil in another Top-10 defense for Arizona.

1. The inside linebacker situation, where the team got dynamic playmaking in 2013, is a question mark.

2. Tyrann Mathieu, who was another dynamic player, is coming off major knee surgery. And while he is ahead of schedule, he is not participating in offseason practice and might not be able to move the same for a portion of the season.

3. While the team addressed the safety position, the players they will be using at strong safety -- rookie Deone Bucannon and second year undrafted player Tony Jefferson -- are still very unproven.

4. John Abraham had 11.5 sacks in 2013. He is 36 years old. At what point does his production go down? The edge rushers behind him are equally unproven.

5. Antonio Cromartie, who had a rough 2013 with the Jets, had hip issues. Is he fully recovered?

Now, these are concerns. Unexpected production always comes up. A new pass rusher could emerge. Bucannon might as good as advertised. Mathieu might not miss a beat. Minter might be every bit as productive as the team expects him to be. Cromartie could return to form as a top corner.

But that's a lot of ifs.

Are you that concerned about the potential drop in production, or do you think that Todd Bowles' ability to scheme will overshadow the question marks? Or will the expected increase in offensive production offset any potential dropoff defensively?