Legit or Lucky: Arizona Cardinals defense

The Arizona Cardinals defense played great in Week 1 but can they do it again?

Much of the talk following the Arizona Cardinals Week 1 win against the Tennessee Titans was about quarterback Kyler Murray and his five touchdown performance. While he was impressive, the most impressive Week 1 performance in the entire league was on the other side of the ball for the Cardinals.

The Arizona Cardinals shut down the Titans offense

The entire Cardinals’ defense had the best performance of any player or unit on any team. The work they did against the Tennessee Titans was special to watch.

The Titans are an offense with a 2000-yard rusher in Derrick Henry, emerging third-year receiver AJ Brown, Pro-Bowl quarterback Ryan Tannehill and five-time all-pro receiver Julio Jones. When Jones joined this already good offense over the summer, everyone envisioned how unstoppable they would be.

Well the Arizona Cardinals’ stopped them, repeatedly, for four quarters.

Led by Chandler Jones, who had five sacks, the Cardinals held the Titans to 13 points (two touchdowns) and 248-yards of offense. One of the touchdowns came in a short field situation when Tennessee intercepted Murray giving their offense the ball on Arizona 32-yard line.

The Titans’ poor play wasn’t a result of self-sabotage or just having an off day, it was all a direct response to the great play of the Cardinals.

Stopping Derrick Henry

The first key to slowing down the Titans is to contain the reigning rushing champion Derrick Henry. The Cardinals did that by limiting him to 7-yards on nine carries in the first half. Second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons was a focal piece of that.

The do-it-all defender out of Clemson struggled early in his rookie season but eventually found his footing. In his second season debut, he led the Cardinals with nine tackles, two pass deflections and an interception, showing he’s ready to make a year two leap. Look at these two plays made on Henry:

In both plays, Simmons recognizes the run action, shoots the gap, and brings his pads to take down the physical Derrick Henry.

Stopping Julio Jones and AJ Brown

The Titans offense is designed for defenses to pick their poison. If you focus your attention on stopping Derrick Henry, AJ Brown and Julio Jones should exploit the secondary. The Cardinals stopped that from happening as well.

Led by veterans Budda Baker and Robert Alford, the Tennessee secondary got spectacular play out of young corners Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson.

The defensive backs were able to hang with two elite receivers and play through their hands limiting their production. AJ Brown was targeted eight times and finished with four catches for 49-yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones was targeted six times and finished with three catches for 29-yards.

The activity of the defensive backs led to the Titans only interception of the day. A pass intended for Julio Jones was tipped into the air by Robert Alford and Isaiah Simmons, who was everywhere, came down with it.

Can the Cardinals defense do it again

Now the question is can they replicate this performance? No matter how good or bad you play, you have to turn the page to next week. Waiting to challenge the Arizona defense will be a talented Minnesota Vikings offense.

The Vikings, coming off a disappointing Week 1 loss, will be motivated to redeem themselves. They present similar challenges to the Titans. They’ll have two-time pro-bowl running back Dalvin Cook, two-time pro-bowl receiver Adam Thielen, second-year all-pro receiver Justin Jefferson, and two-time pro-bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins.

In theory, the Cardinals defense should be able to put forth another quality performance. On paper, this is actually a good defense. Three-time defensive player of the year JJ Watt hasn’t even been mentioned yet. When you add Watt, Chandler Jones, who missed last season to injury, and first-round linebacker Zaven Collins to a defense that finished 13th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed last season, it’s pretty plausible that this years unit may be a top-10 defense.

All eyes will be on them in Week 2 to see if that’s the case or not.

Published at Fri, 17 Sep 2021 22:56:56 +0000

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