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Bettcher has Cardinals keeping pressure on QBs

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher vowed that the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive philosophy wouldn’t change simply because Todd Bowles left to become the Jets coach.

And through seven games, it hasn’t.

In Bowles’ two seasons, the Cardinals blitzed more than any other NFL team. And they still are.

The Cardinals are blitzing at about the same rate, roughly 42 percent, as they did under Bowles.

There have been games in which Bettcher has pulled back a bit, against the Pittsburgh Steelers for example, but for the most part he’ll blitz as many people as it requires to pressure the quarterback.

Bettcher didn’t back off in the final minutes against the Baltimore Ravens last week, and pressure forced quarterback Joe Flacco’s last pass to be intercepted.

“It was a very good combination, because the offense killed a lot of clock and took all of their timeouts,” Arians said. “Didn’t finish the job; got a good punt, good protection on the last one and the defense held up.”

The Cardinals are struggling to get a consistent pass rush, however, and the effort has been hindered by outside linebacker Alex Okafor’s calf injury. Okafor led the Cardinals with eight sacks a year ago. He had two in week one but had been shut out through week five.

Okafor probably won’t play this week against the Cleveland Browns.

The Cardinals are hoping defensive end Dwight Freeney can provide some pressure from outside. Freeney had a sack last week against the Ravens, his first as a Cardinal.

Freeney had only 3 1/2 sacks a year ago with the San Diego Chargers, but the Cardinals said he was among the league leaders in pressuring the quarterback.

“You need another compadre to hold him in the pocket for you, either coming up the middle or coming off the other side,” Arians said. “Calais (Campbell) needs to show up a little bit more coming up the middle, and then Dwight will get those sacks.”

SERIES HISTORY: 50th regular season meeting. The Browns lead, 33-13-3. This is only the second time in 21 years that the Cardinals have played in Cleveland and the first since 2003. The teams last met in 2011, with the Cardinals winning, 20-17. From 1950 through 1969, the teams met twice a season. Dating to 1970, they have met only nine times, with the Cardinals winning five of those games.

GAME PLAN: No team runs more exotic blitz packages than the Browns, and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is the perfect person to direct the organized chaos. The Browns are 32nd in rushing defense, and the Cardinals have their best rushing attack in years. That doesn’t necessarily mean try to establish it early. Coach Bruce Arians loves the pass, and the Cardinals receivers are a matchup nightmare. Defensively, the Cardinals need to devote all resources to pressure the quarterback, most likely Josh McCown. The Cardinals have intercepted 12 passes this season and dropped a handful of others.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Cardinals QB Carson Palmer vs. Browns ILB Karlos Dansby.

Dansby is a smart veteran who has seen everything. He also is excellent in coverage and has two interceptions this season. These two will match wits in making adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

–Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Browns CB Joe Haden.

The two won’t be matched up one-on-one all day, but Haden will see plenty of Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has drawn double teams in the last two weeks. That’s not easy to do because the Cardinals align him in different spots.


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