NFC West: Calais Campbel

Pro Bowl selections: Arizona Cardinals

December, 27, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. – Turns out no matter how hard Karlos Dansby campaigned to be chosen for his first Pro Bowl, it wasn’t enough.

Dansby was snubbed by all three components that went into voting for the 2014 Pro Bowl – fans, players and coaches. But the Cardinals are sending two defenders and a special-teamer to Hawaii.

A few weeks after cracking the top 10 of the all-time sacks leaders, veteran linebacker John Abraham was named to his fifth Pro Bowl for his third NFL team. Third-year cornerback Patrick Peterson doesn’t know what it’s like to not play in Hawaii in January, earning the third trip of his career. And in his second year, gunner Justin Bethel was chosen by the players and coaches after he was widely considered the best special-teams player in the NFL.

Defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, linebacker Daryl Washington and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald were named alternates.

That’s five of Arizona’s 11 defensive starters. But the most obvious one missing was Dansby. He’s having a career season: ranked second in the NFL with 109 solo tackles and two defensive touchdowns. His four interceptions are 10th best in the league and he has 6.5 sacks to add. He’s had the most complete season of any linebacker but, alas, his peers and the coaches around the league didn’t think he was worthy of a lei.

The Abraham selection was a bit of a surprise, but with 11.5 sacks at age 35 after signing on the first day of training camp, it’s deserved. After spending the majority of his career as a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was forced into an every-down role in Week 3 and flourished, not showing signs of wear and tear or aging.

Abraham's 11.5 sacks are tied for fifth overall in the NFL and tied for third in the NFC. His 50 tackles are his most since 2005, his last season with the New York Jets.

Thanks mainly to Bethel, the Cardinals have forced opponents to start 53 drives inside their own 20-yard line, tied for the second most behind Kansas City’s 53. The Presbyterian College product also has 18 special-teams tackles, has blocked two field goals and recovered one fumble.

Peterson, who became the seventh player in NFL history to be selected to his third Pro Bowl before he turned 24, leads Arizona with 28 passes defended and has three interceptions to complement his 38 tackles.

Washington’s selection is impressive because he was named an alternate after he was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Campbell and Dockett are two-thirds of the league’s top rush defense and Fitzgerald has 10 touchdowns for the first time since 2009.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
Five things I noticed while watching the Arizona Cardinals during their 19-13 overtime victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 13:
  • Field goal confusion benefited Arizona. The Cowboys twice called timeouts before failed field goal attempts. Dallas snapped the ball and was running a fourth-and-2 play midway through the first quarter when officials whistled the play dead. Tony Romo threw incomplete after the whistle, making it tough to know if he might have done anything different had there been no whistle. The Cowboys had called timeout. They then attempted a 53-yard field goal, which missed. The second pre-kick timeout made headlines because Dan Bailey, having connected from 49 yards for the apparent game-winner, had to re-kick following a late Cowboys timeout call, only to miss.
  • LaRod Stephens-Howling's return to health. The Cardinals' offense wasn't the same when a hand injury sidelined and then limited the third-year running back and utility player. He helped beat Philadelphia with a 30-yard reception on fourth-and-2 a few weeks ago. He finished this game with a 15-yard run, three kick returns, one special-teams tackle and the winning 52-yard touchdown reception in overtime.
  • Defense better against tight ends. The Cardinals' defense has too often struggled against tight ends, especially last season. Arizona fared well against the Cowboys' tight ends. Jason Witten caught five passes for 47 yards. Two plays on one drive in the first half stood out. Safety Adrian Wilson rocked tight end John Phillips at the line of scrimmage, cutting into the backfield to help bring down DeMarco Murray for a 3-yard loss. Two plays later, Paris Lenon and Rashad Johnson blanketed Witten to force an incomplete pass on first down. The drive ended with Darnell Dockett getting a sack on third down. (Arizona turned loose its defensive linemen effectively, including when Calais Campbell rushed inside to stop Murray for a loss, with outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield responsible for outside run containment to Campbell's side.)
  • Matching Cowboys' OLB sack counts. The teams combined for nine sacks, five by Dallas. The Cardinals' outside linebackers matched the Cowboys' outside linebackers in sacks, 2-2. Arizona will happily accept that trade-off. Clark Haggans and Schofield had one apiece. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer each had one for Dallas. This game featured quite a few coverage sacks and/or sacks when quarterbacks held the ball too long. Arizona also unleashed some of the inside linebacker blitzes the team envisioned using this season. Lenon had a sack.
  • Kolb protects the ball. Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb played a turnover-free game for the first time since the Cardinals acquired him. He had eight interceptions and three lost fumbles in seven previous starts for the team. If taking an extra sack or two meant suffering no turnovers while scrambling or forcing balls into coverage, the Cardinals were better off. Taking sacks instead of throwing higher-risk passes also helped Kolb complete 64 percent of his passes, ending a streak of four consecutive games with completion rates between 47-59 percent.

This victory was only a mild upset, in my view. The Cardinals have a chance at home against 10-2 San Francisco in Week 14 if their defense continues playing well and Kolb protects the ball.