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Cardinals’ recent defensive improvements are highly encouraging

Credit JG, Nick Rallis, Buda Baker and Garrett Williams for bringing new hope and confidence to a struggling unit

Baltimore Ravens v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you were watching the Arizona Cardinals’ defense for the first time this season during the team’s 31-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens yesterday, you were very likely impressed with the way the unit battled toe to toe with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ high-flying offense.

As well you should have been, given that the Cardinals’ defense limited Lamar Jackson to 157 yards passing and 17 yards rushing and 1 combined touchdown —- while managing to give up a stingy total of 268 yards for the game.

Another excellent outcome of the Cardinals’ aggressive and tenacious defensive effort was holding the Ravens’ offense to 4 of 11 3rd-down conversions.

Yet, if you have been watching Jonathan Gannon’s and Nick Rallis’ defense for the full eight games this season, you are well aware of how Jeckyl and Hyde this defense has been.

However, yesterday felt like a reset for the Cardinals’ defense going back to Week 1 when they turned in their best overall performance of the season:

Game —- Total Yards Against —— Total Points Against

  • Week 1 —- WAS —- 248 —- 20
  • Week 2 —- NYG —- 439 —- 31
  • Week 3 —- DAL —- 416 —- 16
  • Week 4 —- SF —- 395 —- 35
  • Week 5 —- CIN —- 380 —- 34
  • Week 6 —- LAR —- 382 —- 26
  • Week 7 —- SEA —- 318 —-20
  • Week 8 —- BAL —- 268 —- 31

Season To Date Defensive Rankings:

  • Total Yards Against: 355.8 —- 29th
  • Total Points Against: 26.6 —- 27th

So how did the Cardinals’ defense play so well against the Ravens?

Mind you, for the sake of context, the week before that Ravens’ offense pounded on the then 5-1 Lions, to the tune of 503 total yards, 356 through the air and 146 on the ground during their stunningly dominant 38-6 win.

  • The Cardinals played a highly physical, aggressive brand of defense —- forcing a number of 3rd and longs.
  • They confused Lamar Jackson by rushing three and playing a combo man and zone coverage with 8 defenders.
  • They maintained, even while rushing 3 defensive linemen, very good contain rushes on Jackson. limiting easy escapes and sacking the former NFL MVP 4 times. Rookie DT Dante Stills had 1.5; rookie DE B.J. Ojulari had 1; practice squad call-up Ben Stille had 1; and DE Victor Dimukeje had 0.5.
  • A sign of their aggressive style of play were the 5 tackles for loss they created: Kyzir White, Jalen Thompson, Dante Stills, B.J. Ojulari and Zaven Collins each had 1.
  • Budda Baker, now in his 2nd game since returning, made his presence felt with 5 big solo tackles and 6 in total. Plus he has that awesome leaping interception attempt where he ending up towering over OBJ to the point of Budda’s knee colliding with OBJ’s mid-section.
  • Garrett Williams in his 2nd game only had one tackle, but his steady play on the back end of the defense helped to eliminate the type of long “explosive” passes other teams have made against the Cardinals’ secondary far too many times this season.
  • The secondary had 5 pass breakups with Antonio Hamilton Jr. notching 2, and Jalen Thompson, Zaven Collins, Starling Thomas V, and Kyzir White each providing 1.
  • Despite some costly PI flags, the Cardinals limited the Ravens receivers to: Mark Edwards: 4/40/1-TD; Justice Hill: 4/40; Rashod Bateman: 2/34; Zay Flowers: 5/19; Gus Edwards 2/14; Isaiah Likely: 1/10; and get this —- OBJ: 0/0 (albeit two PIs on him let to 14 points) and Nelson Agholor: 0/0. Total: 157 yards; 1 TD.

The Cardinals’ defense still gave up 31 points, how come?

  • The Ravens scored two short field TDs following their two interceptions, one off a widely overthrown slant pass by Josh Dobbs that came in a 7-7 game with 2 minutes left in the first half; and the other coming with the score 14-7 Ravens, off an ill-advised bootleg throw from Dobbs into an area where 2 Cardinals receivers (Marquise Brown and Trey McBride) were so poorly spaced that one defender could have taken care of both receivers.
  • Note—- a similar bunching of receivers in the Cardinals previous home game versus the Bengals led to a very untimely interception as Zach Pascal stood in the passing lane to Marquise Brown on a simple 3rd down slant pass—- it was right before the half with the Cardinals up 14-10 and the Bengals scored to go up 17-14 at half-time, a lead the Bengals would never surrender, just as the Ravens never surrendered their 14-7 half-time lead following the very untimely overthrown slant pass.
  • In the second half, the Ravens got their running game going with Gus Edwards carrying the ball 19 times for 80 yards (4.2) and 3 red zone TDs.
  • Antonio Hamilton Jr. had a feast or famine type of game —- brilliant one minute in coverage and making big tackles on screens and then penalty-prone the next.
  • Marco Wilson continues to struggle in pass coverage —- on the Ravens’ first TD drive he misplayed a deep pass that he could have intercepted and had the ball ripped away from him by Rashod Bateman for the longest pass completions the Ravens would have all game at 29 yards. Two plays later, Wilson was called for blatant pass interference penalty on OBJ up the left sideline.

Positive National Perception of Cardinals’ Efforts

As an avid Seahawks fan, Mina Kimes would have seen the duration of the Cardinals Week 7 game at Lumen Field. The Cardinals defense played hard in that game and came up with a huge goal-line stand. Similar to this week, the Cardinals; offense ran the ball fairly well, but were not effective in the least passing the ball.

This is two weeks in a row where the Cardinals’ defense has showed significant grit and improved 60-minute type of stamina.

Where just a few games ago the Cardinals offense was keeping the team in the game for 3 quarters or so, now the tables have turned and the Cardinals’ defense is doing its part to try to give the team the chance to win.

The improvement from the defense is a highly encouraging sign for Jonathan Gannon, Nick Rallis, Budda Baker and the players who are bring the passion and high energy to make it work.

Note: this week’s Red Rain Podcast will be taped tomorrow morning. Kyle “L’ll Rock” Ledbetter and I will be discussing trade news and scenarios with Cleveland Browns’ SB Nation (“Dawgs By Nature”) writer Barry Shuck. Barry has an ARI/CLE trade proposal mapped out. I will poll you to see if you would take the deal.