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Suggested Changes for Cardinals’ Defense

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

On early downs the Arizona Cardinals need to go with “the beef” up front—-play Corey Peters at 34SDE, Mike Brown at 34NT and Rodney Gunter at 34WDE. First and foremost, the Cardinals have to load up the front 7 to stop the run.

I would suggest that on early downs the Cardinals start Brooks Reed or the quickly emerging Pete Robertson at 34OLB opposite captain Chandler Jones. Keep 37 year old Terrell Suggs fresh to rush the edge on passing downs.

On passing downs—-rush the QB with T-Sizzle, Zach Allen, Rodney Gunter and Chandler Jones.

In the middle, 34MLB Jordan Hicks needs to be the chief communicator and leader by example. Hicks and D.J. Swearinger are the temp setters. Hopefully Hicks is 100% correct in his belief that 34WLB Haason Reddick is going to have a big year. It is quite possible that Reddick will amass more than 10 sacks as a roving blitzer.

The Cardinals need to make the middle even stronger by moving D.J. Swearinger back to FS where he belongs and where he is one of the more effective intimidators in the NFL. WRs and TEs are loath to catch the ball over the middle with Swearinger bearing down on them. Plus, Swearinger is a force of nature storming the alleys on running plays from the deep middle.

Now that the Cardinals will be missing Robert Alford and Patrick Peterson for an extended period of time—-they need to make an adjustment in their coverage preferences. Alford and Peterson excel at the kind of press coverage that Cardinals’ DC Vance Joseph wants—-but with Chris Jones, Tramaine Brock and Byron Murphy as the starting CBs the Cardinals would be better off playing them primarily in “off-coverage”—-in other words, by having them play a 5-7 yard cushion on the snap so that they can keep square to their man and the QB. These are not the type of CBs you want turning their backs to the QBs. Byron Murphy excelled in “off-coverage” in both man to man and zone at Washington.

So did Budda Baker—-which is why Joseph should utilize Baker’s versatility in pass coverage and play him in key zone spots and key man matchups as a perimeter CB, a slot CB and a box cover S. Of all of the cover men remaining, Baker may be the best in press and zone coverage, that is until Byron Murphy gets his feet under him.

The addition of SS Jalen Thompson allows Vance Joseph to move Budda Baker around like a queen on the chessboard. Thompson is a physical, energetic player both versus the run and in coverage. Meanwhile, Deionte Thompson should be a strong asset as a Cover 2 FS in the nickel and dime packages.

Not only should the Cardinals send furious 5-6 man pass rushes—-they should send an array of run blitzes as well.

Vance Joseph needs to get his players into attack mode. In the first two pre-season games the starters have been playing on their heels, just as they did so often last year. The Raiders game was eerily reminiscent of Game 1 at home versus the Redskins last year—-which is why Steve Keim has been serving the players due notice this early into the pre-season in an effort to combat a painful and frustrating sense of deja vu.

This is a defense that needs to be all-out aggressive. This is not a unit that is built to be a bend but don’t break type of defense.

Besides—-this defense should be gung ho about getting the ball back in the hands of the Cardinals’ offense. Opponents will be trying their utmost to keep the Cardinals’ offense on the sidelines for lengthy periods of time.

Yes—-adjust and play off-coverage—-but with the purpose of seeing the football better and doing everything they can to jump routes, to make deflections and to react quickly while the ball is in the air. If the front 7 is in attack mode, the Cardinals can increase their chances of creating momentum swinging turnovers, sacks and tackles for loss. That needs to be the goal and the pervasive mindset.