The Arizona Cardinals’ 2018 season was a disappointment, and their defense needs to become more consistent if they want to get back to competing for division titles.
The Cardinals defense is flush with talent across the board, but they also have struggled to identify what to do with that talent. The Cardinals have been back and forth between a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense. In today’s NFL, you have to play multiple fronts, but you also have to know where your personnel fits best.
Overall, the Cardinals were pretty stout defending the pass lead by Patrick Peterson. Peterson, according to Pro Football Focus was ranked number 5 amongst all qualified cornerbacks. Peterson rumored to want out of Arizona midway through the season was able to hash things out with the front office and play at a high level.
The team ranked fifth in sacks which is crucial in today’s NFL. There are exceptions like Baltimore and Chicago for example, but for the most part the key to defense in this era of offensive juggernauts is sacks and turnovers. The Cardinals racked up 49 sacks on the year, lead by Chandler Jones. Coming off a career year in 2017, where he recorded 17 sacks, he was able to pick up 13 more in 2018. Despite all the sacks, the Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the league in turnovers, something they will need to improve on in a big way if they want to take the next step.
Young linebackers like Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon struggled to produce consistently on the field under Al Holcomb. Both guys are extremely talented with first round pedigrees, but again the Cardinals struggled to figure out how to best utilize them, especially Bucannon. The Cardinals ranked dead last in the league defending the run. If you can’t stop the run, you’re in big trouble, because that opens up the opponent’s entire offense.
Vance Joseph heads over from Denver to lead the defense in 2019.
The Cardinals will find themselves likely making another schematic change defensively, going back to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator, and former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph. Joseph is a defensive guy who should be able to bring fresh ideas into Arizona. He has talent on this side of the ball, Joseph just has to know where and how to use his talent.
Budda Baker is a guy that Joseph can play around with on where to play him. Baker will be heading into his third year and made some huge strides in his second season. Baker is a guy who can come down in the slot, he can blitz, play some safety, he’s just a solid, all-around player.
The team also brought back an old friend in D.J. Swearinger at the end of the year. Swearinger had an ugly divorce in Washington and Arizona claimed him off waivers. Arizona is really where he turned his career around after some disappointing stints with Houston and Tampa Bay. He will immediately come into that room and be a leader for the defense.
The Cardinals own the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Most draft experts have them choosing Nick Bosa, the brother of Joey Bosa out of Ohio State. Bosa would be a plug and play guy with Chandler Jones on the other side. Those two could put up numbers similar to what Bradley Chubb and Von Miller did in Denver under Joseph.
Everyone is going to be tuned in to what new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the offense can do, but the key to the Cardinals success will be how quickly Joseph can get this defense back to playing top-flight defense.