TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Bruce Arians has 21 years of experience as an offensive coach in the NFL, yet his Arizona Cardinals are developing an image as a team that thrives on its defense.
The offense? Well, it still needs some work.
The Cardinals stifled the Carolina Panthers with a dominating second half in a 22-6 victory on Sunday. The Panthers’ Cam Newton was sacked a career-worst seven times and threw three interceptions.
Until Sunday, only three players in Cardinals history had two sacks and an interception in a single game. Two Cardinals, inside linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby, did it against Carolina.
The defensive image does not bother Arians at all. Quite the contrary.
“I love it,” he said Monday. “That’s always been my motto. We want to be dominant on defense. We’ll scratch some points out, but we always want to be a dominating defensive football team.”
After holding the Panthers to two field goals, Arizona has held its opponents without a touchdown for seven consecutive quarters.
In that span, Cardinals foes have had possessions that ended in 11 punts, five interceptions, three field goals, two lost fumbles, one safety, and one possession that ended on downs. The other possession ended with the half.
But that was against Tampa Bay and Carolina. Things get a lot tougher this weekend when the Cardinals go to San Francisco. Four days after that, Seattle comes to the desert for a Thursday night contest.
The offense will have to produce more against those two NFC West powerhouses, but for now, Arizona’s stout defense has been enough for a 3-2 start.
The success on Sunday centered on Daryl Washington, who had a spectacular return after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“I didn’t want to be a Superman. I wanted to just come in and play ’58′ football,” he said, referring to his uniform number, “and make sure that I help my teammates out any way that I could.”
Washington and Dansby led the team with eight tackles apiece. Washington had two tackles for loss, Dansby one.
“It’s always great to have your playmaker back in Daryl Washington,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We were definitely missing him over the last four weeks. Now that we have him back it adds a new dimension to this defense. He’s a sideline to sideline guy.”
There were plenty of other defensive playmakers. Calais Campbell, Arizona’s towering defensive tackle, had two sacks, one for a safety and the other jarring the ball loose from Newton for a fourth-quarter turnover that clinched the victory. Peterson had an interception and rookie Tyrann Mathieu earned his first career sack.
Campbell was a disruptive force all afternoon. He wasn’t sure it was his best game. He talked about several missed opportunities, but it did include two big plays.
“I want to be a game changer,” Campbell said, “and yesterday I had a couple of opportunities to change the game.
Defense was the strength of Arizona’s 5-11 team a year ago, too. But popular defensive coordinator Ray Horton departed for Cleveland and was replaced by Todd Bowles. There also were several personnel changes, and a couple of significant injuries when starting outside linebackers Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander went down with season-ending injuries three games ago.
But Bowles’ defense has been as good, and probably better, than the one Arizona had a year ago. That team had trouble stopping the run. This team is ranked second in the league in run defense, giving up just 79 yards per game.
“Last year we had a really good coordinator and this year we have a really good coordinator as well,” Campbell said. “Todd Bowles does a really good job of making adjustments at halftime and putting us in really good positions to win during the week. He always has a new wrinkle that we’re doing, adjustments that really help us against the team we’re playing.”
Offensively, the team had more problems. Carson Palmer was intercepted three times, twice trying to force the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, who had just three catches for 43 yards.
That will be the focus of Arians’ attention this week.
“Offensively, we’ll get the job done sooner or later,” he said.
He will leave the defense to Bowles, and so far that’s been a good place for it to be.
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