The Arizona Cardinals offense grabbed most of the headlines last season, and rightfully so. The defense, however, helped propel the team’s success last season, and the effectiveness of that unit can largely be attributed to the way defenders worked together to disrupt opponents.
Arizona made it all the way to the NFC Championship in 2015, falling to the Panthers in Carolina. The loss was devastating for a team that finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, but the Cardinals can duplicate last year’s success if the defense continues to play at such a high level.
That teamwork was on display when the Cardinals beat the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14 of the 2015 season, a win that clinched a postseason bid for Arizona.
The Cardinals had a 23-20 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Vikings managed to get into field goal range, and as time ticked away in regulation, Minnesota’s offense was driving and poised to kick a field goal and send the game to overtime.
The Cardinals forced a third-and-10, and with just 13 seconds remaining, Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass. Dwight Freeney, who joined the Cardinals in Week 5 and quickly assimilated into the defense, was able to get into the pocket and sack Bridgewater, stripping the ball in the process. Calais Campbell recovered the fumble.
The effective teamwork secured the Cardinals’ victory and a playoff bid.
Expect more of the same from the Cardinals this season as they look to build upon, and exceed, what the team was able to accomplish in 2015.
Campbell said via Greg Giralou of ArizonaSports.com that he wants this to be his most dominant year, and credited his teammates as being a big part of his motivation.
"I have a lot of respect for every one of my teammates and I want to lay it on the line for them every time I’m out there," Campbell said.
The Cardinals welcomed safety Tyrann Mathieu back to the field this season. Mathieu landed on injured reserve toward the end of the regular season, but prior to injury, his performance prompted many to mention his name in Defensive Player of the Year projections.
Arizona also has one of the league’s most talented cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson. The team’s only question on defense was really who would start opposite Peterson, and just before the 53-man roster deadline, the Cardinals traded with the Chiefs to bring in Marcus Cooper to potentially fill that role. Cooper and Brandon Williams have split time in that role so far this season.
Freeney was the team’s sack leader last year despite landing on the roster in Week 5, and he’s now with the Atlanta Falcons. The acquisition of Chandler Jones gave a boost the Cardinals’ pass rush.
Not only does the team have the requisite talent to make some noise this season, but they’re also singularly focused on one goal. According to Campbell, the team is on the same page regarding expectations for this season.
"Everybody truly believes that we can be champions," Campbell said, according to Bob Baum of the Olympian.
It's only been two games, and despite a 1-1 record, Arizona's defense is starting to gel. They held the Patriots to 23 points in a Week 1 loss. In Week 2, the Cardinals held the Buccaneers to a measly seven points in a 40-7 win.