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What to make of the Cardinals’ Jeckyl and Hyde Defense

Four weeks into the season, how concerned should Cardinals’ fans be about the team’s defense?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Four weeks into the 2023 season, the Arizona Cardinals’ defense has played well enough to shut out the Giants for the first half and to close out a win in the second half against the Cowboys.

On the flip side, in the three games the Cardinals have lost, they surrendered 2 4th quarter leads and gave up 14 points to the 49ers after the 49ers lead to 21-16.

2023 Arizona Cardinals Defensive Points Allowed By Quarter:


  • WAS —- 7
  • NYG —- 0
  • DAL —- 3
  • SFO —- 7


  • WAS —- 3
  • NYG —- 0
  • DAL —- 7
  • SFO —- 14


  • WAS —- 0
  • NYG —- 14
  • DAL —- 3
  • SFO —- 0


  • WAS —- 10
  • NYG —- 17
  • DAL —- 3
  • SFO —-14


  • First Half —- except for the 49ers game, the Cardinals’ defense has been stingy, holding the Commanders, Giants and Cowboys to 20 points total (an average of 6.9 points per half).
  • Second Half —- except for the Cowboys game, the Cardinals’ defense has been quite the opposite, surrendering 41 points (an average 13.7) to the Commanders, Giants and 49er)..
  • Shutout Quarters: 4
  • 3 Point Quarters: 4
  • 7 Point Quarters: 3
  • Double Digit Quarters: 5
  • Save for the Giants’ 14 point 3rd quarter points, the 20 points the Cardinals have given up in quarters 1 and 3 suggest that they are well prepared to start both the 1st half and 2nd half. Plus, three of the four 2nd quarters were well played by the defense.
  • Obviously, the 4th quarter has been the most difficult for the defense. This is where they need to make the most improvement.

Cause for Hope:

  • One can make the argument that the Cardinals’ defense has played well enough to win in 11 of their 16 quarters.
  • Holding the Cowboys to 6 second half points, shows that the Cardinals’ defense can be very stingy when they are highly focused and determined. Holding the Cowboys to 16 points is 20 below their 36 point scoring average in their other 3 games this season.

This is why my early vote for Cardinals’ DMVP is Dennis Gardeck. This play is beyond textbook. This is the epitome of how to take on a block and still make the tackle.

Look at Gardeck on this play, how he shed the chip block and then spun off off the RT’s block to make this stunning sack to force what then in the 3rd quarter was only the 2nd 3rd down conversion the 49ers had to face on the afternoon —- which on the next play Gardeck, rushing against Trent Williams, of all tackles, impacts the errant throw from Brock Purdy.

Cause for Concern:

  • If one combines the 49ers’ 1st half on offense with the Giants’ 2nd half on offense, the Cardinals’ defense gave up TDs on every single possession (9 in all), save for the game-ending FG the Giants made to to win 31-28.
  • In the first half versos the 49ers, not only did the 49er score TDs on all three of their possessions, the Cardinals’ defense forced only 1 3rd down and that was easily coveted on 4th down, because on a 4th and 4, Brock Purdy, on a short pass to his right, was able to find a wide open George Kittle for a 9 yard game. On the next two plays, a short pass to Christian McCaffrey netted 12 yards and here was the ensuing play to McCaffrey which he ran in for a TD from 18 yards:

There are just so many things wrong with this effort by the Cardinals.

  • Notice how the 49ers are lined up strong to the RIGHT and the Cardinals defense is stacking 2 edge defenders to the LEFT.
  • Notice how the 49ers throw a backward lateral to CMC and have a convoy of blockers assignment in particular to block the OLB (43-Luketa), the MLB (7- White) and the FS (34- Thompson) —-and when you watch how slow Luketa and Thomason react to the flow of the play and do nothing but play on their heels to allow themselves to be easily blocked with such little effort to try to shed those blocks —-that made this scamper by CMC so easy. All he had to do is get past the one man not blocked (13- Clark), who mystifyingly dives head first into the sod, when he clearly has a chance to knock CMC to the turf sideways with a big hit.
  • To Kei’Trel Clark’s credit, he said after the game how he was not going to let that kind of tackling mistake happen again —- further to Kei’Trel Clarrk’s credit —- he went on to earn the highest defensive PFF grade on the team in the game at 70.6.
  • Missing Budda at FS —- on that swing pass, had Budda been playing where JT was, he would have stormed the alley like he was shot out of a cannon. What Budda understands as well as any Cardinals FS I have seen since Larry Wilson, is that getting to the ball carrier as quickly as you can is of paramount importance, because once the ball carrier is out in space, the odds of corralling him become much more difficult and predictable.
  • The other thing is watch the Cover 2 safety (22- Wallace) to the other side. Look at how late he reacts to the play and then look at how while in pursuit, he actually slows down at the first threat of being blocked. He could have impacted this play —- Budda would have chased that run down or at least would have tried to run through the blocker to try to obstruct the path of CMC.

Take a look at this 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line alignment for the Cardinals:

  • Look at the left side of the defensive alignment —- why in the world aren’t the Cardinals —- on 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line —- in a goal-line defense? They are showing a 4 man line, with 7 defenders in the end zone. What a freaking gift
  • Plus, it was clear right from the get-go that the 49ers were trying to exploit the Cardinals’ 3rd starter at WILB in 4 games, Zeke Turner. Look at how deep Turner is lined up —- and look at how easy the Cardinals made it for Trent Williams to down block on the inside DT to set up an iso block on Turner. Zeke Turner had no chance on this play. None. To Zeke’s credit, after a rough first couple of drives been picked on in the running and passing game in trying to defend the best dual-threat RB in the NFl, he battled hard the rest of the way and wound up leading the Cardinals in tackles with 10.
  • Lastly, after Dennis Gardeck’s sack to set the tome for the 2nd half and the Cardinals’ epic 99 yard TD drive, here is how the defense responded in their first chance of the game, if they could geta defensive stop, to give the team the chance to take the lead: (thanks to ESPN)

1st & 10 at SF 25

  • (4:12 - 3rd) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass deep right to B.Aiyuk to ARZ 41 for 34 yards (J.Thompson).

1st & 10 at ARI 41

  • (3:26 - 3rd) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass short left to R.Bell to ARZ 34 for 7 yards (K.White).

2nd & 3 at ARI 34

  • (2:46 - 3rd) C.McCaffrey up the middle to ARZ 24 for 10 yards (E.Turner).

1st & 10 at ARI 24

  • (2:02 - 3rd) C.McCaffrey right tackle to ARZ 26 for -2 yards (C.Thomas).

2nd & 12 at ARI 26

  • (1:23 - 3rd) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass short left to C.McCaffrey pushed ob at ARZ 13 for 13 yards (K.White).

1st & 10 at ARI 13

  • (0:41 - 3rd) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass short left to K.Juszczyk to ARZ 9 for 4 yards (K.Wallace).

2nd & 6 at ARI 9

  • (15:00 - 4th) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass short left to C.McCaffrey pushed ob at ARZ 2 for 7 yards (E.Turner).

1st & Goal at ARI 2

  • (14:22 - 4th) (Shotgun) C.McCaffrey left guard for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.J.Moody extra point is GOOD, Center-T.Pepper, Holder-M.Wishnowsky.

Note: Do you see any 3rd downs on this grid?

How about on this 49ers’ possession right at the end of the 1st half after the Cardinals got on the board with Matt Prater’s FG to make the score 14-3:

1st & 10 at SF 25

  • (8:13 - 2nd) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass short left to B.Aiyuk to SF 36 for 11 yards (Ma.Wilson).

1st & 10 at SF 36

  • (7:43 - 2nd) B.Purdy pass deep middle to B.Aiyuk to ARZ 22 for 42 yards (Ma.Wilson).

1st & 10 at ARI 22

  • (6:54 - 2nd) B.Purdy pass short left to R.McCloud pushed ob at ARZ 8 for 14 yards (K.Clark).

1st & Goal at ARI 8

  • (6:11 - 2nd) C.McCaffrey right tackle to ARZ 6 for 2 yards (R.Lopez).

2nd & Goal at ARI 6

  • (5:22 - 2nd) (Shotgun) B.Purdy pass short left to C.McCaffrey for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN.J.Moody extra point is GOOD, Center-T.Pepper, Holder-M.Wishnowsky.

Note: do you see any 3rd downs? That was a 5 play 75 yard TD drive.

Fortunately: the Cardinals’ offense s]answerred right back with a, 8 play, 79 yard TD drive which culminated in this stellar TD pass from Josh Dobbs to Michael Wilson:

21-10 at the half.

ROTB Poll:


Do you uphold higher standards for the Cardinals defense than what they showed versus the 49ers?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    (68 votes)
  • 35%
    (37 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now

How did you vote and why?

What irked me so naggingly in that 49ers game was not only such a shoddy effort from the coaches and players, but having to watch what looked so often, play after agonizing play, like a total breakdown in defensive fundamentals —- like —- basic tackling —- basic get of the ball techniques —- the basics of leverage and shadow techniques in pass coverage fundamentals —- the job of a free safety to pick up the deepest WR and play him man to man.

Players can run around as crazy as they want to make it look like they are giving premium effort, but when it comes time to do their jobs, if they abandon basic fundamentals, then that is actually the epitome of poor effort.

I am hopeful that we will see a much improved effort from the Cardinals’ defense this Sunday versus the Bengals.

Who will show up?



Or both?