Arizona defense still searching for pass rush
Darnell Dockett (Getty)
Darnell Dockett (Getty)

Posted Aug 15, 2011


The Cardinals failed to sustain a consistent pass rush last year and must improve this season under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

While fans are stressed over the team's alleged "need" for a No. 2 wideout, there is a deeper concern on the other side of the ball. Who is going to rush the passer?

The Cardinals have an elite receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. They don't have an elite pass rusher, and they didn't add one through free agency or via trade.

For the past several years, defensive coordinators have had to manufacture a rush through scheme. Ken Whisenhunt installed a 3-4 scheme when he came to Arizona in 2007, but the Cardinals have not been able to develop two of the most important positions in that alignment: nose tackle and outside linebacker.

They signed Joey Porter a year in hopes that the 33 year old still had some pass rush skills left. If he does, he didn't show them in 2010, finishing with only five sacks.

Porter's back, after taking a pay cut, and he's being challenged for playing time by O'Brien Schofield, a fourth-round pick in 2010.

Schofield was an excellent pass rusher in college at Wisconsin, but hasn't had the chance to see if those skills translate to the NFL.

Other than Schofield, it appears the Cardinals are going to rely on players improving upon disappointing seasons in 2010.

End Calais Campbell had just 6.0 sacks, which led the team. End Darnell Dockett was one of three players with three 3.0.

The lack of pressure is a major reason Ken Whisenhunt fired coordinator Bill Davis and replaced him with Ray Horton, the former secondary coach for the Steelers.

In his introductory press conference, Horton promised to blitz on the first play of the season. And he's likely to have to continue to do that throughout the season.

The lack of pressure infected the entire defense. It put extra pressure on a secondary that underperformed.

That secondary appears to have been weakened this offseason. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was traded to the Eagles for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Strong safety Adrian Wilson has a torn bicep tendon and could miss the start of the season.

Both cornerback positions are up for grabs. Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson are the starters now, but they will be pushed by Patrick Peterson, the fifth overall pick, and veteran Richard Marshall.

Rashad Johnson takes over for Wilson, but he needs to show great improvement from his first two seasons to keep that spot. He's going to be pushed by Matt Ware and Hamza Abdullah.

Horton wants to bring the high-pressure scheme he learned as a player and coach under Dick LeBeau. He'll use a variety of blitzes and concentrate on getting those blitzers matched up against running backs and tight ends.



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