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One Final Tip of the Cap to Cap

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I think I remain the only 53 man roster prognosticator who believes the Cardinals should keep Cap Capi. Having perused (or listened to) the roster predictions from Darren Urban, Josh Weinfuss, Mike Jurecki, Doug and Wolf, Gambo, Paul Calvisi, Jess Root and our own Seth Cox—-one will not find, see or hear the name Cap Capi.

Thus, I would like to make my final case for the fiery edge rusher.

First of all, whenever a player’s name is preceded by the term “fan favorite” it feels like a stigma. The term always sticks in my craw because the innuendo is that the ignorant fans don’t know jack dung about who deserves to make the football team. But maybe—-just maybe—-players become “fan favorites’ for a very good reason.

Cap Capi is a “fan favorite” for a very good reason—-he has dazzled here in Arizona in the only opportunities he’s been given. That’s right—-dazzled.

For years the Cardinals have had little to no depth at defensive end.

Think of how often second half sacks decide the outcome of NFL games.

The Cardinals were a second half sack away from winning the Super Bowl—-think about that. When you go back and watch Ben Roethlisberger’s game winning drive, the Cardinals’ defensive ends, Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor were getting stonewalled by two mediocre tackles and never once got within a broom’s distance of Big Ben. Why? They were gassed, having played the entire game. There were no other edge rushers on the team. Conversely, a LaMarr Woodley sack of Kurt Warner extinguished the Cardinals’ last-gasp hopes.

They key to the Cardinals’ NFC Championship team in 2015, was acquiring edge rusher Dwight Freeney after five games—-Freeney’s late game sacks and QB pressures were one of the major reasons why the team went on an historic 9 game winning streak which included going 6-0 in prime-time games.

The past two Super Bowls were decided by 4th quarter sacks—-Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack of Matt Ryan—-and Brandon Graham’s strip sack of Tom Brady.

Last year, Bruce Arians and his staff decided to cut Cap Capi (despite the highest total of QB pressures, 18, in the 2017 NFL pre-season) and only keep three edge rushers (Golden, Jones and Martin) on the opening day roster. Their plan was to bring back LB Philip Wheeler after week one to make him a fill-in edge option, if necessary. Really?

That plan was ill-conceived from the get-go. As soon as Markus Golden got injured, the Cardinals had no viable edge rusher to take his place on passing downs. Karen Martin was good against the run, but has never been a bona fide edge rusher. Cap Capi could have been that edge rusher and should have been that edge rusher. As a result, the Cardinals only got 1 sack all year from a defensive end not named Jones. In an 8-8 season of “what ifs”, having another edge rusher, particularly late in close games could have made a big difference. It certainly could have prevented Tom Savage from carving up the secondary.

The thing about Capi is that it isn’t just about the BECAUSE he’s got 4 sacks, 2 for strip fumbles and 1 fumble recovery in the 3 games (and how these big plays have contributed to the 3-0 record)—-it’s HOW he does it.

Capi has a dynamic package of edge rushing moves. His bread and butter combination is his “rip” move, where he punches the tackle with his right hand and then rips his off arm across the tackle’s outside shoulder, which now gives him the leverage to burst and bend around the edge. And, as we have seen, Capi has outstanding timing and reach when it comes to stripping the passer’s throwing arm.

The counter move is his “stagger step,” where he fakes the hand punch and stutter steps, in order to back the tackle off——now Capi has created a little cushion from which he has uncanny vision when it comes to tracking the QB. Capi then reacts on a dime to what the QB is doing and goes right into chase mode.

When one looks at the Cardinals’ other edge rushers, Capi has the best pass rushing moves of all of them, save Chandler Jones’. Markus Golden’s forte is getting coverage sacks. His initial “get-off” is not as explosive as Capi’s. Thus, Golden often has to fight about half way up the arc to a point where he can double back for the QB, who by then may be getting flushed from the pocket.

Vontarrius Dora is the same way. Watch his edge rush. He doesn't have a good rip or swim move and he gets pinned about 2/3rd of the way up the arc. But, Dora excels where Golden does—-on inside twists and doubling back to the ball.

Jacquies Smith has good explosion off the snap, but he’s not as quick in reacting to the ball as Capi. Smith does bend around the arc from time to time, though, which is why I am excited about his potential as well. I like Dora’s potential too. But with a game on the line, I would want Capi opposite Jones.

The main reason the pundits are giving for Capi not making the roster is that the coaches are concerned about “his struggles versus the run.” First of all, you don’t earn a 90.8 PFF grade in a game if you are awful defending the run. Secondly, and most importantly, you want to keep Cap Capi for one main reason—-he can sack and pressure the QB. His primary role is to rush the passer, particularly late in close games. In run situations, you put in Benson Mayowa or Vontarrius Dora. Saying Capi struggles versus the run is like complaining that Paul Goldschmidt strikes out too much.

Lastly, let’s not forget how critical QB pressures and sacks are to the success of the Steve Wilks’ zone defense. The best QBs will pick apart any zone defense given a modicum of time. Conversely, even the best QBs will turn the ball over under pressure.

Steve Wilks preaches that what a player does in practice he can do in the games. In fact, he just showed the team a pick six Patrick Peterson had in practice followed by the one he had versus the Cowboys. I hope that Coach Wilks sees Capi’s 4 pre-season sacks and imagines seeing ones just like those from him on Sundays. Like the coach says, you have to envision it and do it in practice first.

Rushing the passer in the NFL is an art—-and Capi Capi is a regular Jackson Pollack out there, splashing past offensive tackles and splattering QBs.