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Arizona Cardinals defense and OLBs in pass coverage

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How are the Cards' OLBs used?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I saw an interesting debate develop on the Markus Golden production article, and it didn't really have anything to do with the article itself. IT was about the Cardinals' linebackers and dropping into coverage.

I thought I would pull out some numbers to show that the Cardinals don't ask much of their edge players in terms of pass coverage.

These numbers are from Pro Football Focus.

Alex Okafor: 719 total defensive snaps, 90 in coverage -- 12.5 percent

Matt Shaughnessy: 341 total snaps, 29 in coverage -- 8.5 percent

Lorenzo Alexander: 53 total snaps, eight on coverage -- 15.1 percent

John Abraham: 37 total snaps, three in coverage -- 8.1 percent

Thomas Keiser: 79 total snaps, nine in coverage -- 11.3 percent

Marcus Benard: 72 snaps, 13 in coverage -- 18 percent

Sam Acho: 483 snaps, 101 in coverage -- 20.1 percent

Aside from Acho and Benard, Arizona asks very little of the OLBs in coverage.

To contrast this, let's look at the inside linebackers.

Larry Foote: 1018 total snaps, 454 in coverage -- 44.6 percent

Kevin Minter: 325 total snaps, 133 in  coverage -- 40.9 percent

Glenn Carson: 82 snaps, 32 in coverage -- 39 percent

Schematically, the Cardinals more or less use their inside linebackers to cover players -- tight ends, running backs, etc.

Even Acho's numbers were skewed a little because several of his coverage assignments came out of 4-3 sets, where one of the OLBs is more like a 3-4 ILB.

The way the Cardinals ran their defense with Todd Bowles was like this -- their outside linebackers are really glorified defensive ends. In base 3-4 sets, it is almost as if they ware running a 5-2 the way the OLBs are expected to set the edge.

In sub packages, the nose tackle comes out and you have two inside rushers and two outside rushers. The OLBs are basically DEs again, sometimes standing up and sometimes with their hand in the dirt.

It is perhaps an oversimplification, but the end we have this -- Cardinals OLBs don't really have to cover anyone. They use their inside backers to do that, and it is for that reason the Cards subbed in two DBs last year -- the slot corner coming in for the nose tackle, and then Deone Bucannon was a coverage linebacker coming in for Kevin Minter.

In 2013, the Cardinals only subbed in one DB because they were confident in the coverage skills of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby.

Depending on what happens with Daryl Washington and whether or not one of the undrafted inside linebackers shine, we will probably be looking at the 2014 scheme again. While Washington is gone and Sean Weatherspoon plays with Kevin Minter, then Bucannon will continue to be used to sub in for Minter, leaving Weatherspoon in the middle of the field.

If Washington comes back, then we might not see Bucannon as the dollar linebacker. The speed of Washington and Weatherspoon would be sufficient.