NFL Wire News

Never mind QB, Cardinals’ defense must improve


TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback situation drew most of the attention during the final month of the season as the team has tried to cope with Drew Stanton’s knee injury.

But poor defense became even more of a concern. Unlike the offense, it doesn’t have injuries to blame.

The Cardinals knew their offense would struggle with Ryan Lindley taking over at quarterback. What they needed was for their defense to continue playing at a high level.

It hasn’t. The unit hasn’t forced a turnover for the last two weeks and it has been gouged by big plays.

It’s going to be difficult to flip a switch and play well Saturday against the Panthers, who have won four straight.

“It’s been huge,” coach Bruce Arians said of the lack of turnovers. “We’re not getting any short fields, either through the return game or turnovers. We’re having to go the length of the field too often. In these critical games, especially on the road in the playoffs, they’re going to be huge.”

The Cardinals lost four of their last six games. The defense yielded more than 100 yards rushing in five of those games. In the first 10 games, the unit allowed 100 yards rushing one time.

“For the last couple weeks, we haven’t been able to consistently stop the run and we’ve been giving up big plays,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “We’ve trying to say that’s not who we are, but that’s who we are right now. Until we get it fixed, that’s going to be a big problem for us.”

What should trouble the Cardinals is that it’s basically the same unit that excelled earlier in the season. So either players have either worn down, lost their passion, or a combination of both.

The offensive problems might have had a subconscious impact on the defense, too. It knows the Cardinals are going to struggle to score 20 points. That means the defense’s margin for error is thin.

“You play a little looser when you feel like your offense is going to score points and you don’t have to win the game,” Arians said. “When you feel like you have to win the game, you’ll press and try to do too much. There will be guys getting out of their gaps, trying to go make a play and they’re really hurting the team more than helping the team.

“You just go back to fundamentals. Stay in your gap. Good pad level. Tackle. Tackle. That’s the key.”

–All five NFL teams with head coaching vacancies have contacted the Cardinals for permission to interview defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Bowles is aware of the interest, but doesn’t want to know much more than that at this time. No interviews have been scheduled.

“You got a playoff game, that’s the No. 1 thing going on,” Bowles said. “If you don’t have your guys ready to play, you lose and you go home.”

Arians likely has a handful of successors in mind, but he isn’t interested in revealing them.

“We have guys who are more than capable of filling it,” he said.

SERIES HISTORY: 14th meeting, including postseason play. The Cardinals lead 8-5, including a playoff victory in the 2008 season. The teams played in Arizona last year during the regular season with the Cardinals winning 27-7. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times and the Cardinals intercepted three of his passes.

NOTES: QB Drew Stanton isn’t expected to play in Carolina after developing an infection in his injured right knee. Stanton hasn’t practiced all week and it’s questionable if he would be ready next week should the Cardinals beat the Panthers. … NT Dan Williams (foot) missed practice Thursday.

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