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Cardinals’ AdVANCEments on Defense

Arizona Cardinals v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Vance Joseph acknowledged this week that when he arrives at team headquarters each morning at 5:30 AM, he is late in comparison to head coach Kliff Kingsbury who habitually arrives on the premises by 4:30 AM.

Coincidentally, over the course of Kingsbury and Joseph’s first 23 games with the Cardinals, the team’s offense has been more prompt in generating levels of success—-but Joseph’s defense has been making quite a charge up the rankings this season.

In 2019:

Cardinals’ Offense: 21st in Yards per Game (341.7)—-17th in Points per Game (22.6)

Cardinals’ Defense: 32nd in Yards Against (402.0)—-28th in Points Allowed (27.6)

In 2020 (through 7 games):

Cardinals’ Offense: 2nd in Yards per Game (419.1)—-9th in Points per Game (29.0)

Cardinals’ Defense: 20th in Yards per Game (378.4)—-10th in Points Allowed (20.9)

In terms of unit ranking improvements from 2019 to 2020 thus far, the offense is +19 in yards per game and +8 in points per game.

As for the defensive improvements from 2019 to 2020, they are +12 in yards against and +18 in points allowed.

Yet, perhaps the most significant improvements the offense and defense can be seen here:

3rd Down Conversion % and Red Zone TD %

2019 Cardinals’ Offense: 3rd Down % 23rd at 36.04%—-Red Zone TD % 29th at 45.28%

2020 Cardinals’ Offense: 3rd Down % 13th at 43.68%—-Red Zone TD % 5th at 76.0%

2019 Cardinals’ Defense: 3rd Down % 30th at 46.73—-Red Zone TD % 20th at 59.68%

2020 Cardinals’ Defense: 3rd Down % 8th at 36.78%—-Red Zone TD% 2nd at 44.44%

The 3rd Down % and Red Zone TD % improvements:

Offense is +10 and +24 in these key rankings.

Defense is +22 and +18 in these key rankings.

In a way, the Cardinals’ defensive performance last Sunday night versus the Seahawks is symbolic of how Vance Joseph has been able to improve the defense from last season to this season, in that the first half performance was very reminiscent of last year’s struggles—-and the second half performance was a dramatic and glorious improvement.

Here is a marvelous inside view of the creative changes that Vance Joseph brought to the second half play calling. The orchestration of his defensive looks, blitz and coverage disguises was extremely impressive. Look at the combination of calls that were designed to try to frustrate and confuse the top rated QB in the NFL in Russell Wilson:

Some of the highlights:

  • The 6 LB all in 2 point stances disguising their blitzes and coverages.
  • The combo man and zone concepts—-notice that on one of the one passes that worked for Wilson, Patrick Peterson slipped while passing Metcalf on his crossing route to the LBers thus was late in getting back to his deep third assignment where Lockett caught the pass, otherwise Peterson may have had his second great pick of the night.
  • The highly-disguised and well-timed CB and S blitzes.
  • The swift dropping of DTs and ILB’s into underneath zones on the snap of the ball.
  • Key Point: look at how well the Cardinals’ blitzers were coached in how to tackle Russell Wilson by not running straight at him where he could easily break contain, but but running to Wilson’s outside shoulder and then closing in on him, epitomized by Byron Murphy’s textbook takedown.
  • The tackling and cover techniques late in this game showed how well drilled the players were—-look at how many players were involved in these packages, the most stunning of which was the ILB tandem of Tanner Vallejo and Isaiah Simmons.
  • Vallejo makes the best and most clutch downhill tackles on the ball for the Cardinals in this game, while Simmons makes the best play in zone pass coverage that the defense has created all season.
  • It’s just surprising that with all of the preparation that went into Vance Joseph’s 2nd half packages that he didn’t employ them sooner in this game—-but—-the key advantage of waiting until the 2nd half was that the Seahawks’ coaches couldn’t make half-time adjustments on them.
  • At half-time the players urged Vance to bring the heat—-and Vance and his dawgs were primed and ready.
  • The other thing to remember is how brilliant Russell Wilson was in the first half—-picking the best times to take off with the ball and throwing utter lasers to Tyler Lockett on the deep passes and on that incredible “moon ball” TD to the back of the end zone on 4th and goal.
  • The fact that the Cardinals were able to withstand and recover from the number of superb plays that Wilson made in the 1st half is a testament to the team’s resilience and determination—-and ultimately to Vance Joseph’s creativity—-not just in his play calling, but in the drilling of the fundamentals of tackling, shedding, backpedaling and covering.

While Vance and the players would be the first to tell us that they still have a long way to go to be as tight and disciplined on defense as they desire to be, they have already shown an ability to find solutions. When teams find creative ways to fix their issues, that is what builds individual and team confidence.

Those early mornings that the coaches are turning in are beginning to pay handsome dividends. You know, Vance, 5:30 AM is looking more and more like you are arriving right on time. The coffee pot is full and the white boards are clean. Congratulations for painting up a Rembrandt in that epic 2nd half and overtime versus the Seahawks.

When you paint up a few more of those, the Birdgangers are going to have to open you a gallery. Word is that there’s a building for sale on a corner in Winslow.