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Checking in with Cardinals' defense

10/8/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals are hovering around the NFL's top 10 in yards allowed per game, ranking 12th through five games. They have the best defense in the division by most measures, particularly if we don't focus to heavily on that rough outing against the Jets in Week 5.

Four of five Arizona opponents have completed at least 70 percent of their passes. But three of five have failed to score more than two touchdowns.

The game against the Jets showed how vulnerable a defense can become when its offense turns over the ball repeatedly. The absence of safety Adrian Wilson, a difference maker in the Arizona secondary, was another big problem for the Cardinals in that game.

The philosophy this season has been to rotate players regularly, taking advantage of depth provided by veteran newcomers Travis LaBoy, Clark Haggans and Bryan Robinson. Rookie draft choices Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema are also playing.

I spoke with Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast this week in advance of the Dallas game. A few of his thoughts:

On the rotation: "We wanted to keep guys fresh and particularly in the front five guys, our base and then the four down guys in our nickel. We like the two rookies that we drafted in Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema. They will continue to play more."

On snap counts for Chike Okeafor, Haggans, LaBoy and Bert Berry: "Twenty or 25 snaps a game. We have missed Bert the last two weeks. It has taken those guys getting more reps. When they are all healthy it makes a big difference."

On LaBoy: "He brings a high intensity a high motor and a certain attitude to the defense. Those are the kinds of guys we are looking for, that play with an attitude."

On Wilson's importance: "He is one of the top players in the league at his position and definitely a difference maker. We like to use him in a lot of different spots. When he is not up [active], it takes away some of those opportunities."

On simplifying the defense: "A couple years, I played some five-down defensive-line fronts and now we don't have to substitute to get to those packages because of the way the defense is structured. We can get into a lot of the same looks without substituting."