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Cardinals pass rush is flourishing with Haason Reddick and Dennis Gardeck at the helm

The Cardinals’ young playmakers are breaking out at the right time as they make a push for the playoffs

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

As we wait for the updates regarding Dennis Gardeck’s injury, him along with Haason Reddick have already established themselves as a formidable pass rush duo in the NFL.

Reddick, the Cardinals’ 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Temple, struggled in his first three seasons in the NFL as he was groomed to be an inside linebacker.

He had different defensive coordinators in his first three seasons in James Bettcher (2017), Al Holcomb (2018), and Vance Joseph (2019-present) as he was forced to learn a position that he had very little experience in playing.

He was already given the bust label as a failed first-round pick as the Cardinals declined his fifth-year option in the offseason. Since then, the tides have changed for Reddick.

With the leadership stability on the defense in the return of Joseph and the permanent switch to outside linebacker, Reddick’s career is flourishing before our eyes. Chandler Jones’ season-ending biceps injury presented even more opportunities for Reddick to prove himself and he has made good use of it.

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Reddick is currently tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks (11) and second in forced fumbles (5). He put himself in the Cardinals record book as their all-time single-game franchise sack leader with five in Week 14 against the New York Giants.

With this being a contract year, Reddick has put himself in a position where he will get paid a lot as a young and ascending pass rusher in the 2021 offseason.

Next up is Dennis Gardeck, who has been a phenomenon for the Cardinals this year. In his first two seasons, the special teams captain already established himself as one of the best special teams players in the NFL as he was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate last year.

Just like Reddick, the former undrafted free agent out of Sioux Falls made a switch from inside linebacker to outside linebacker this season and since has seen his production rise.

In only 79 pass rush snaps, Gardeck has generated 18 total pressures with seven sacks on the season. His seven sacks is second-best on the team behind Reddick. He is the highest-graded defender on the team with an 89.6 overall grade with an 84.4 pass rush grade by Pro Football Focus.

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Gardeck will be a restricted free agent in 2021. Both him and Reddick have transformed the Cardinals defense into one of the more respectable units in the NFL.

Other pass rush help on the team...

After Reddick and Gardeck, Markus Golden is the third-best pass rusher on the team. He has 29 total pressures since being traded to the Cardinals in Week 9. The total pressures include two sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 20 hurries.

No. 43 (Reddick), No. 44 (Golden), and No. 45 (Gardeck) have all been great for the Cardinals. If Gardeck misses any time, No. 42 in Devon Kennard will need to step up.

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

One of the biggest issues with the Cardinals this season has been the underwhelming production from their free agent acquisitions this year. Since signing a three-year $20 million contract with the team, Kennard has only two sacks and 18 pressures. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips signed a three-year $30 million deal but has only two sacks and nine pressures to show for it. He is on injury reserve and will miss the rest of the regular season.

Isaiah Simmons, the Cardinals No. 8 overall pick, has been making huge strides this year. He has two sacks on the season and had four hurries against the Philadelphia Eagles. Aside from the inside linebacker position, the 22-year-old has gotten looks at the safety and outside linebacker positions. When tasked to drop into coverage or blitz, he has been really good and already has 44 tackles on the season.

Over the last two weeks, defensive tackle Zach Allen has been lights out for the Cardinals. The 2019 third-round pick is coming off one of the best games of his career with 11 tackles and a sack against the Eagles. He had five total pressures against the Giants.

Fourth-round pick Leki Fotu has also flashed the last few weeks, showing great display of power in the bull rush.

The Cardinals are finding ways to win again with a lot of their young players rising to the occasion. The defense has looked better in recent weeks and it has because of the quality production from their linebacker unit.