The Cardinals are getting reacquainted with the 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but the bigger issue at this point may be personnel. Defensive linemen Darius Philon and Robert Nkemdiche have both been released in recent weeks, while inside linebacker Haason Reddick (knee) is still out and questionable to be back by the opener.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said the Cardinals are actively searching for ways to get better against the run. GM Steve Keim believes there are run-stoppers on the roster, but told Arizona Sports on Friday morning that he is seeing some “bad habits” on the field.
“Guys playing tall, urgency getting off blocks, playing with poor pad level, not playing within your gaps or playing within the scheme,” Keim said. “Too many mental mistakes. You want to see all these kinks worked out in preseason camp but at the same time, as a perfectionist, you want to see guys execute.”
The defensive concerns go beyond the rush defense. The loss of cornerback Robert Alford (leg) for a significant amount of time could leave the Cardinals without their top two cornerbacks for the first six weeks of the season, as Patrick Peterson is suspended for those games.
While there has been an outsized focus on the offense, life will be tough on rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and Co. if the defense doesn’t hold up. Inside linebacker Dennis Gardeck said the group needs to “lean on each other” to weather the recent attrition.
“It’s a team sport at the end of the day,” Gardeck said. “It’s what I love about football. You have that ability to lean on the man next to you, and I think it’s going to bring us closer together.”
The Cardinals defense is not naïve enough to think all these losses won’t have any effect, but Peters is focusing on the silver lining.
“It’s a good thing it’s happening early, so we have some time to work it out and figure those things out,” Peters said. “I’m confident that when we open the season with Detroit, we’ll be ready to go and we’ll be strong.”