When the Arizona Cardinals hired Panther’s defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, they knew there was going to be schematic changes to the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinals over the last few years have had a top-10 defense. Now, here is what to expect from a Wilks-led defense:
The base defense for the Cardinals under the rookie head coach will be the 4-3. While that is a change, as they were a 3-4 defense under Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher, sub-package football has taken the league by storm as of late.
Changing to a 4-3 defense will feature the defending sack leader Chandler Jones putting his hand in the dirt as opposed to playing outside linebacker. Wilks is going to put his best players in the best position possible to win one-on-one matchups. Now, most coaches will do the same but Wilks wants his players to react and not think as much. Wilks puts together a solid fundamental scheme that allows his players to play fast.
Zone, Zone And More Zone
According to Pro Football Focus, the Carolina Panthers ran the highest percentage of zone coverage in the NFL a year ago. With Wilks coming over from Carolina, you can expect more of the same. Patrick Peterson, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, has grown accustomed to shadowing opposing teams’ best receiver all over the field. Peterson should expect that to change some under Wilks.
Wilks is coming from a team that has the best linebacker in football in Luke Kuechly. Kuechly can do it all but what stood out about him was his ability to drop in coverage and play the pass. In today’s NFL, you need linebackers that can run and cover. Wilks is inheriting an interesting group in Arizona. The group features two athletically gifted backers in Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick, former first-round picks. Also in the group is the eighth-year veteran Josh Bynes. Wilks will certainly look to use Bucannon’s and Reddick’s athleticism in passing situations.
Tyrann Mathieu was released by the Cardinals earlier in the offseason. The release of the “Honey Badger” puts an emphasis on second-year player Budda Baker. Baker has a similar skill set to Mathieu, and Wilks hasn’t had a versatile safety like Baker. It will be interesting to see how much responsibility Wilks gives to the second-year safety.
Pro Football Focus had the Panthers’ blitz rate in 2017 at 44 percent, which was top in the league in 2017. What does this mean for the Cardinals? Well, they are going to blitz more. Pro Football Focus had the Cardinals’ blitz percentage at 37 percent, which was in the top five of the league in 2017.
Steve Wilks generally speaking will lead a unit that plays fast. It is not going to be a complex scheme, which will bode well for the Cardinals with the athletes they have on defense. The Cardinals should once again be ranked amongst the top defenses in the league in 2018.