Pros and Cons: Arizona Cardinals Defense

By PFC Cardinals Writer Kelley Smelser

In his first season at defensive coordinator in 2004, Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast improved the team’s overall defensive ranking from 26th to 12th. In 2005, Pendergast’s defense improved to 8th overall, the unit’s first top ten ranking since 1994 (3rd). It has been inconsistent the last 2 years. We are graded well above average in talent across the defense 1st string and have quality depth at most positions. I wrote this prior to watching the Oakland preseason shut out tonight but I will stick to my views. It worked out well tonight, but with the words of Ken Whisenhunt about penalties ” I need to see it a few times in a row before I believe it.”


This is the ultimate flex defense. Clancy Pendergast has the schematic knowledge and personnel to electrify between a three-and four-man front. DL/LB will be the indicator of the direction the Cardinals are headed in 2008. Eleventh-year veteran Bertrand Berry finished the last three seasons on IR and ninth-year pro Chike Okeafor will likely be starting after missing an entire year with a torn biceps tendon. Both men be are competing with Clark Haggans and fellow free agent pickup Travis LaBoy. LaBoy has been a 4-3 defensive end his entire career and will likely need time to transition to a two-point stance. Fourth round rookie Kenny Iwebema has been an animal in camp, and 2nd round Miami Hurricane Calais Campbell is evidence of a deeper commitment to a 3-4 scheme. Campbell is a 6’8” versatile defensive lineman who will play outside in the 3-4 and inside in the 4-3 (as a pass-rusher). In 07 Antonio Smith held these responsibilities alone and wore down in November.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby’s is impressive, he’s been moved around throughout his career. Dansby produced pro bowl statistics last season, leading the team in tackles (99), collecting 3.5 sacks, forcing four fumbles, defending eight passes and intercepting three. He was signed to an $8.065 million franchise tag. The Cardinals will start Dansby on the weak side this season, but will continue to roam around as needed. He can handle most NFL tight ends. Middle/inside linebacker Gerald Hayes is the best kept secret in the NFL, He is smart, tough and disciplined.  He’ll unselfishly allow others to do the superstar Sports Center thing, while the Cards trust Hayes to cover other’s misses. Hayes single-handedly won the Seahawks game by splitting their star QB and RB and taking the ball away, Destroying Seattle’s momentum and confidence for games afterwards. With Dansby, Hayes and Beisel the Cardinals have three good inside linebackers to fill two spots. Rookie Harrington is in development only time will tell at this point.

Tackle Darnell Dockett, in his fifth-year is coming off a career year in which he registered nine sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Dockett is dominant when he’s able to use his quickness and win positioning. 332-pound Gabe Watson and 331-pound Alan Branch from Michigan have answered any questions about their effort. Branch, who showed potential as a rookie is a year better and developing as a 3-4 NT. Both are young and developing, they must stay healthy and demand a double team to free up Dockett. When all three were playing at the same time Dockett dropped into coverage making it effectively a 2-5 defensive formation!

I liked Adrian Wilson being in coverage more last year than the years before but with Rolle to safety and DRC we may need him less in the defensive 2ndary this year. But we should be able to compete with a base defense to make the trickery more effective. Our corners are good but not elite cover corners. Once DRC develops this may change but right now Eric Green is right for concentrating on the sticks instead of risks for interceptions without safety back up. Hood and Green can take more risks with Rolle and Wilson on the field.


Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast desires to succeed but the Defense is not consistent, they do get turnovers in his high risk high reward- bend don’t break schemes, but they should do better with the talent Cards defensive players possess. If we do not get QB pressure we do not get turnovers. If we do not get turnovers this D does not work. I think Clancy’s schemes more than our player’s ability is at fault here. He either needs to adapt or move over after 2 years of potential without consistent success. The offense’s high risks put unnecessary pressure on the defense and special teams often last year. Starting 10 points in the hole in about half the games last year. The Cards shut down great running games and set Gore, Jackson and Alexander well below their projected top 5 projections in our division and then gave it back in the short passing game and gap mistakes. The Cards faced better run offenses last year than this year, but they are all good in the NFL. Losses have less to do with them than it has to do with us beating ourselves on defense. Playing out of position, Penalties and blown assignments hurt the Cardinals more than any other team in the NFL.
I have thought for the last couple years that Clancy throws new players in complex schemes, like throwing a rookie QB into the fire and the pressures on them to make or break. Rolle is the prime example but if the coach is not responsible for scheme and execution, WHO IS? I see frustrated players out of position and yes they have their mental mistakes, more than a NFL defense’s fair share.  After this many years with the same coach there seems there would be more consistency.  AW, Hayes, E. Green are consistent but Rolle and others was asked to do what they couldn’t do and it shows regularly. To be able to execute their assignments is a lot different than a coach planning the greatest plan that works only 66% of the time. Opposing teams are suppose to execute offensively with great plays, but lack of execution on the Cards defense seems to make average teams seem fantastic on routine plays.  I get excited when I see a LB/DL drop into coverage and make the play! Not so fantastic when they give up so many catches it makes your eyes hurt. When opposing teams play better with less talent it falls on Clancy P. and Whiz for keeping him. That is the fancy Clancy mystery, we are getting tore up in the short passing game and it’s a lot about scheme. 08 is show or go for DC Clancy P.

Quarterbacks worth their salt ripped us to pieces in the short passing game and opens up the run and sets us up for the bombs later on. High risk by sending blitz’s from the 2ndary often and dropping LB/DL in coverage. Keeps opposing offenses on their toes for sure but it hasn’t worked out well for the Cards. I think we need at least an 8th place defense this year after we improved in depth and talent. It is a high risk bend don’t break defense!

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