The defensive struggles of the Arizona Cardinals in 2019 have been well chronicled throughout the season. They rank last or close to last in a number of different metrics and fans are left to wonder if it is defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme, a dearth of talent or a mixture of both.
But after this past Sunday’s victory against the Cleveland Browns for the Cardinals’ 4th victory of the season, perhaps a small shimmer of light can be seen at the end of this very, very dark tunnel. More specifically, the secondary for the Arizona Cardinals played incredibly well.
Vance Joseph did make a comment after the game of how they knew what the Browns were going to do on every play, but that still left the Cardinals defensive players to execute, which by all accounts, they did. And a lot of that can be contributed to the individual performances by the defensive backs group.
Patrick Peterson ended up taking home NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his stellar coverage on Odell Beckham Jr. and his interception off of Baker Mayfield in the end zone for a touchback. Pro Football Focus gave Peterson an elite grade for his performance and it was his highest since 2013.
Another player that stood out was rookie safety Jalen Thompson. Seth Cox and I were texting during the game and made mention of how he always seemed to be around the ball and was playing very physical compared to his days at Washington State. It seems he is getting more comfortable with the complexities of the NFL as he gets this early career game experience.
Of course, I would be remiss to exclude Budda Baker from this list. Baker is second on the team in tackles behind Jordan Hicks and outside of creating turnovers (which is something he used to be really good at), he has been one of the few bright spots on the defense throughout the entire season. For his stellar play, he was awarded his second Pro Bowl roster spot.
Last but not least, I think it is worth it to mention Byron Murphy. Murphy was thrown into the fire from day one and while he hasn’t produced at the highest level possible (he is among tops in the entire NFL for defensive touchdowns allowed), he has shown flashes of stellar play. It’s also very important to note this: Murphy was drafted to be a slot corner, not an outside corner. Kliff Kingsbury mentioned as much on Wednesday when speaking with the media. Once he is able to move back to his natural position, the hope is that there will be a large uptick in production.
So yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But there are still a lot of questions that remain with each of these players, too. Can Peterson continue this level of play after one good week this season? Will Baker start creating turnovers the way he did as a rookie? Will the Cardinals re-sign him once his contract is up? Will Murphy have success as a slot corner? Will Robert Alford fully recover from his leg injury to be the second outside corner that this defense desperately needs? Will Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson and Kevin Peterson continue to grow in their roles?
But in yet another season of overall disappointment, it’s nice to have some glimmer of hope to hold on to.