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Golden, Amukamara and Bausby

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive personnel reinforcements the Cardinals have acquire recently—-namely OLB/DE Markus Golden, CB Prince Amukamara and CB De’Vante Bausby bring experience and talent to Vance Joseph’s defense—-but also bring positional question marks..

After OLB Devon Kennard and CB Byron Murphy tested positive for COVID-19 this week, Markus Golden has now been penciled in as the starting OLB opposite Haason Reddick and CB Prince Amukamara, now projected to be activated to the roster from the practice squad, figures to be in the nickel CB mix with Kevin Peterson and perhaps De’Vante Bausby.

While Markus Golden should get many snaps as a nickel edge rusher, the question is whether he can keep contain on his edge. The Cardinals are learning for the first time in a long time how crucial it is for their edge defenders to keep contain—-one of the real keys to the Cardinals’ win over the Seahawks was Haason Reddick’s performance on the edge versus Russell Wilson, where Reddick was in on 11 tackles while delivering 3 QB hits and a sack on Wilson.

The Dolphins with Tua at QB like to use play action bootlegs to open up their passing game, particularly to Tua’s left (lefty QB). Versus the Seahawks, Devon Kennard lost contain on a number of occasions as he tended to crash inside on what looked to be running plays. What is unclear is whether Kennard is actually being coached to crash inside, which would mean that either a box safety or the CB to his side would then have contain.

As we know, the Cardinals’ starting CBs, Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick are not especially keen on forcing the run or breaking up screens—-and that nearly coast the Cardinals the game when D.K. Metcalf took a simple hitch pass on Peterson’s side for a TD which thankfully was negated by a holding call on Kevin Peterson.

When Kylie Fitts replaced Devon Kennard at the bandit WILL OLB position, he did a better job at stringing out plays and trying to keep a semblance of contain. Should Golden struggle containing Tua, one could expect the coaches to turn to Fitts—-or to their wild card and potential ace in the hole—-Dennis Gardeck, who is the team’s most athletic OLB besides Hasson Reddick.

Just as there may be questions about Markus Golden being able to display the kind of quickness and athleticism to defend a mobile QB like Tua, there are questions about whether Prince Amukamara can play the nickel CB spot in place of Byron Murphy. Amukamara has typically been a perimeter CB throughout his career, but he is a veteran cover CB who should be able to cover most WRs. Perhaps the coaches are already planning to use Kevin Peterson in the slot and therefore use Amukamara to give Dre Kirkpatrick a breather or two.

Just as Dennis Gardeck is the wild card at OLB, it’s possible that Isaiah Simmons could be the wild card as the slot CB. Simmons excelled in that role in college and with his size and 4.39 speed, Simmons is faster than all of the other CBs on the roster, save perhaps his off-season workout buddy, De’Vante Bausby (who ran a 4.22 with the wind at his back at his pro day four years ago).

Of course, I and many of you were hoping that Steve Keim would trade for CB Stephon Gilmore, Desmond King or Brian Poole—-especially being fresh off a game where the Seahawks’ gifted field crosser and vertical threat, Tyler Lockett, caught 15 passes for 200 yards and 3 TDs.

It felt particularly odd that a Pro Bowl caliber slot CB like Desmond King would not have been of greater interest to Keim given that a 5th round pick could have addressed what has arguably become the Cardinals; biggest question mark on defense.

Against Lockett, Vance Jospeh put Patrick Peterson on him occasionally early in the first half and Pat P. came ever so close to breaking up two picture perfect dimes that Wilson threw up the left seam on the first play from scrimmage and then later on the exceptionally precise deep post TD pass.

Seeing as Peterson was doing such an excellent job on D.K. Metcalf, Joseph stayed committed to having Dre Kirkpatrick try to cover Lockett. Kirkpatrick worked his tail off, but even with his best effort of the night on a 4th and goal, with Kirkpatrick in tight coverage, Lockett made a perfect catch and toe scrapings within an inch of the chalk on a “moon ball” thrown to the back left side of the end zone.

What was very telling about Joseph’s decision to keep Kirkpatrick on Lockett was that Joseph did not to throw a steady diet of Byron Murphy on Lockett. After all, Byron Murphy is the team’s slot CB and Lockett was doing much of his damage from the slot.

How come?

A simple guess is that Joseph didn't think that Murphy has the quickness and speed to hang with Lockett. And to be perfectly honest, few NFL slot CBs do.

What may have happened during the trade discussions is that the Cardinals missed out on Desmond King because they were focusing their attention on Stephon Gilmore instead. The Patriots reportedly were adamant about it taking a 1st round pick and a player in order for them to trade the 2019 Defensive Play of the Year.

Perhaps Keim was being patient in thinking that the Patriots might accept a 2nd rounder and a player or another draft pick—-and the Patriots never budged until the clock ran out. In the meantime, Desmond King was gobbled up early by the Titans for only a 6th round pick which is odd in that the Chargers could have stood to get a 3rd or 4th round comp pick for King next year.

The main question for the Cardinals is who will cover the quick slot WRs such as Jakeem Grant (Dolphins), Stefon Diggs (Bills) and Tyler Lockett (Seahawks) over the next three games? Plus there are two games versus Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp (Rams) on the horizon.

As we know, Patrick Peterson does not relish covering from of the slot. Dre Kirkpatrick seems willing, but in light of his ankle injury and his lack of ideal speed and the fact that Prince Amukamara is best suited to play on the perimeter—-and not knowing exactly why Vance Joseph did not want to have Byron Murphy cover Lockett (plus with Murphy’s COVID-19 recovery and return date in question)—-would the plan be to try the speedy De’Vante Bausby in that role? Or—-is this where Isaiah Simmons can make a huge impact?

What do you think?

It appears that the Cardinals have assembled a host of SAM OLB players and perimeter CBs and now have to figure out who the best and most athletic options are at WILL OLB (‘Bandit”) and slot CB.

if it were up to me—-I would be excited to play Dennis Gardeck and/or Kylie Fitts at WILL OLB in the base 34 and play Isaiah Simmons and/or De’Vante Bausby at slot CB.

In my opinion, the faster and more athletic the defense is—-the better.