Under new coordinator, Cardinals build 'attacking' defense

Published August 08, 2013

| Associated Press

Defense was one of the Arizona Cardinals' few strengths last season.

Yet with a change of coaching staffs, there's been a personnel makeover, and the word heard repeatedly in training camp is "attack."

"We're an attacking defense," new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. That gives us a lot of flexibility so hopefully we don't show the same look all the time."

Like his predecessor Ray Horton, Bowles uses a 3-4 scheme, but with a difference.

"I just think this year it's just more of an attack style," nose tackle Dan Williams said before Wednesday's practice. "Last year it was more just reading and reacting."

There's that word again.

New head coach Bruce Arians used it to describe what he wants to see out of his defense in Friday night's preseason opener at Green Bay.

"They're having fun attacking right now and we want to maintain that," Arians said. "They're doing a great job of creating turnovers. I want to see that carry over to the game, that will show your practice habits showing up in ball games, and they normally do."

The trio up front is unchanged — Williams, defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.

Under Horton's scheme, the trio spent much of the time occupying blockers while the linebackers made the plays. That won't necessarily be the case under Bowles' system.

"The way we do things, the coach puts us in a lot of 1-on-1 situations," the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell said. "If I'm a betting man, I'd bet on myself, Dockett, Dan Williams in a 1-on-1 matchup any day of the week."

There still will be plays where the linemen have to occupy more than one blocker.

"There's times now where you've got to take up two for the team," Campbell said. "That's just the nature of the 3-4, but I think Todd Bowles is trying to put us in 1-on-1 matchups more and utilize the D-line a little bit more."

Despite last year's success, there have been changes. Five new players are listed on the first unit.

Lorenzo Alexander is new at outside linebacker, Jerraud Powers plays opposite Patrick Peterson at cornerback and Yeremiah Bell takes over for the departed Adrian Wilson at strong safety.

With Daryl Washington suspended for four games, former Cardinal Karlos Dansby returns to his old team at inside linebacker alongside newcomer Jasper Brinkley.

Sam Acho is back at one outside linebacker, with Rashad Johnson at free safety.

In obvious passing situations, expect to see a lot of 13-year NFL veteran John Abraham — who has 122 career sacks — at outside linebacker and rookie Tyrann Mathieu — a pesky disruptive force throughout camp — in the secondary.

Williams (sprained knee, ankle) and Dansby (hamstring) will sit out the Green Bay game, with David Carter and Reggie Walker filling in.

Quarterback Carson Palmer lavished praise on the defense after going against it day after day.

"The front group is big and physical, the linebackers are very physical and on the back end you have a lot of guys who are really savvy," Palmer said. "Obviously, Patrick Peterson is extremely athletic, but Jerraud Powers has really blown me away in camp. Rashad's blown me away in camp. They've both had great camps. Tyrann's had a great camp. There's been a lot of guys around the football."

One area where the Cardinals struggled a year ago is run defense, and that's an area Bowles will be studying on Friday, when the first unit is expected to have about 15 plays.

"I'd like to see our run defense going up against somebody else," he said. "It's hard when you can't tackle in camp. You try to harp on tackling as much as possible but seeing it live is something I'm really interested in seeing."

The returning players are well aware of the run problems.

"I think you see a big attitude change," Williams said. "We looked at the stats last year and saw we were 28th against the run. We took it personally that we definitely want to improve."

In many ways it's a very fast defense, especially when Washington returns.

But Bowles said it takes a combination of factors to create success.

"Speed is a big part of it. There are certain guys that carry that," he said. "Then we have our power guys that carry different traits. We've got to make sure that elephants stay elephants and giraffes stay giraffes."

In other words, everybody has to do his job and not worry about the next guy.

"It's not about me," Bowles said, "it's about the guys growing together."

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