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Cards’ Veteran Complacency on Defense

Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Through 10 games the Arizona Cardinals’ defense’s NFL rankings are as follows:

Points Allowed: 23.8 (14th)

Yards Allowed: 367.7 (19th)

3rd Down Stop %: 40.78% (16th)

Red Zone TD %: 51.43% (3rd)

4th Down Stop %: 63.64% (24th)

Turnover Ratio: 0 (12 def. takeaways to 12 off. turnovers—-15th)

PFF Defensive Rankings:

Overall: 53.2 (27th)

Run Def.: 44.9 (29th)

Tackling: 56.0 (20th)

Pass Rush: 62.0 (26th)

Coverage: 52.0 (21st)

What these numbers suggest is that the Cardinals’ defense is performing a little better on the whole than it is from its individual parts.

The NFL Defense Rankings suggest—-the Cardinals are in the middle of the pack.

The PFF Team Defense Rankings Suggest—-the Cardinals are in the bottom third.

The best news is the improvements that the defense has made in Red Zone TD % and on 3rd down conversions % (although those numbers have been slipping in recent games).

For the most part the defense has been well rested in games, by virtue of having the NFL’s #1 offense in total yards. Plus, the turnover ratio is 0 (at 12 takeaways and 12 turnovers in 10 games).

Vance Joseph and his staff:

It is fair to say that Joseph has made tangible improvements from last year (where the defense was at or near the bottom of the NFL in most categories).

Thus far, by giving up an average of 23.8 points per game this season (14th)—-(down from 27.6 points per game last year, which was #28 in the NFL), this year’s defense has been able to keep the games close enough for the Cardinals’ offense to win (more than they lose).

Defensive Patterns:

  • Joseph tends to play more conservatively in the 1st half—-and then more aggressively (and at times far more creatively) in the 2nd half.
  • Problem is the Cardinals have now been behind at half-time in each of their last 4 games—-for both the defense and the offense have been getting off to slow starts.
  • As was the case last year, the Cardinals’ defense is weakest at the ends of each half, giving up points within the 2 minute mark of each half on a regular basis.
  • The loss of Chandler Jones certainly hampered the pass rush (although Jones was uncharacteristically unproductive in the 5 games he played: 8 tackles, 10 QB pressures and 1 sack, and while he was chipped at times, on over 75% of the snaps he was 1 on 1 with the LT or RT)—-which has forced Vance Joseph to employ creative blitz packages—-with a fair degree of success this year.
  • The weakest spots on the defense right now are at DT (injuries have hurt), MLB (not reacting quickly or effectively enough in run support and in pass coverage) and CB (playing too much cushion and incurring too many holding and PI penalties in tighter coverage.).

Why the Complacency?

Why isn’t Vance Joseph getting stronger effort and performances from his veteran players?

As you may recall, this was a huge question mark last season particularly with regard to the play of S D.J. Swearinger, DE/OLB Terrell Suggs and CB Patrick Peterson.

Eye Test of Cardinals’ Defensive Players:

Which players (who have played in the vast majority of the games) would you say are having a good season? Forget the numbers—-just trust your eyes.

The answer (for me) is 3: S Budda Baker (79.0), OLB Haason Reddick (64.7) and DT Corey Peters (62.6, now on season-ending IR with torn patella tendon). I want to add LB Isaiah Simmons to this list by virtue of his recent play, but, as we know, he was largely and mind-bogglingly kept in bubble wrap for the first 8 games. And if S Jalen Thompson and S Chris Banjo had played more, they might merit strong consideration.

In terms of flashing in cameo type appearances—-I would say that OLB Dennis Gardeck, OLB Kylie Fitts and ILB Tanner Vallejo have given the defense timely boosts—-but Vance Joseph has preferred to stick with the underperforming veterans ahead of them.

Underperforming Veteran Starters:

CB Patrick Peterson (50.9)

CB Dre Kirkpatrick (48.2)

ILB Jordan Hicks (52.6)

ILB DeVondre Campbell (48.5)

DT Jordan Phillips (54.3)

OLB Markus Golden (49.6 in 3 games since joining Cardinals)

DT Angelo Blackson (46.3)

Cameo Performers:

ILB Isaiah Simmons (70.4)—-192 snaps

ILB Tanner Vallejo (86.2)—-28 snaps

OLB Dennis Gardeck (85.1)—-56 snaps

CB Johnathan Joseph (67.6)—-25 snaps

S Jalen Thompson (72.3)—-169 snaps

S Chris Banjo (66.1)—-183 snaps

As the PFF Player Grading Scale suggests: all of the underachieving veterans above are in the “replaceable” category. What does it say to the team when the DC keeps trotting out underwhelming and underperforming veteran starters? Especially when the younger guys behind them appear to be potential upgrades—-as even their PFF grades verify it.

Questions of the Day:

1—-Why is it that only one veteran starter on the defense who has played in more than 275 snaps, has a grade above 60? (Corey Peters—-62.6)

2—-Why is Vance Joseph so averse to playing the younger players?

3—-Isn’t this reminiscent of the croneyism that ruled the day when BA, Bettcher and Amos Jones were the coordinators?

4—-What kind of influence does Steve Keim have in wanting to stick to the veterans? After all, he is the common denominator with regard to the coaching staffs, right?

5—-Do you really want any of these underachieving veteran starters back next season?

This Fan’s Answers:

1—-Clearly, Vance Joseph hitches his wagon to the veteran players and is enabling their complacency. It is an enigma as to why.

2—-Joseph gives the majority of weekly 1st team reps to the vets, thus he likely worries that the younger players would fare worse. But, look at how the ILB tandem of Isaiah Simmons and Tanner Vallejo took complete command of the 1st Seahawks game! Look at how brilliantly Dennis Gardeck stepped up as an edge rusher when Chandler Jones was lost to injury, to the point of getting double teamed!—-and yet Markus Golden comes in and Gardeck is back on the sidelines for most of the game. And as a reward for making the best two game saving tackles in the 1st Seahawks game (and season to date), Tanner Vallejo has been given only 2 meaningful snaps in the past 3 games, 2 of which were losses, while last week in the 2nd Seahawks game Jordan Hicks’ grades were 38.3 overall, 29.5 in run defense and 27.4 in tackling.

3—-Yes. Croneyism (playing favorites) is a coaching failure that enables complacency.

4—-It would appear that the coaches want to appease Keim by sticking with his veterans. When this keeps happening from coaching staff to coaching staff, it is hard to ignore. But, look at how things are different on offense. The coaches wanted to give G Justin Murray some snaps at RG and it quickly became clear that he is an upgrade over J.R. Sweezy. Why can’t the defensive coaches do that same?

5—-No. the Cardinals shouldn’t bring any of these players back (save DT Jordan Phillips who was starting to play stronger, before his injury). if the Cardinals genuinely want to compete for championships, they have to hold their players to higher standards of performance.

Some fans keep making the argument for the Cardinals to bring Pat Peterson back because “we have no one else.” But, when a player underachieves as Peterson has for the past 2 12 years, accepting the aspects of his game that are liabilities and continuing to allow for them is like trying to air condition a room with the window open.

What are your answers to these questions?

Hopefully, we will see some or even all of these veterans snap out of their funks to help the team down the stretch. If not, will Vance Joseph step up and make the necessary changes?