NFC West: Tim Fugger

Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield might still be healthy and playing for the Arizona Cardinals if his Week 9 opponent hadn't suffered a hip injury Sunday.

The man assigned to block Schofield, Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga, was out of the game when Schofield rushed upfield on a second-and-6 play early in the third quarter.

Schofield had beaten Bulaga's replacement up the field on the play that would end Schofield's season. Defensive end Darnell Dockett, working against a replacement guard after Green Bay moved its regular one to tackle in response to Bulaga's injury, also got good push on the play.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sensed their pressure and broke from the pocket to his right. The chase was on.

Dockett launched his 290-pound body into the air and was horizontal to the ground as Schofield turned back to the quarterback and accelerated right into Dockett's path. The athletic Rodgers pulled into the clear as Dockett's body, now spinning like a helicopter blade, chopped down Schofield from behind in the lower left leg.

The force of the impact dropped Schofield to the ground instantly, contorting his body. Dockett's weight briefly pinned Schofield's leg to the ground as both players slid across the grass. It was clear right away Schofield would not be OK.

The Cardinals did not reveal specifics on Schofield's injury. Coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters the injury would be season-ending, however.

The Cardinals were betting on Schofield and another young outside linebacker, Sam Acho, heading into this season.

They released veteran Clark Haggans and did not address the position in the 2012 NFL draft. Arizona was the only NFL team to emerge from the 2012 draft without selecting a player for its defensive front seven.

So, when Schofield suffered his ankle injury at Lambeau Field, the Cardinals didn't have a rising prospect to plug into the role. They had Quentin Groves, a former starter and backup in Jacksonville and Oakland. Groves, who has 22 NFL starts and 4.5 career sacks, has played roughly one-fifth of the Cardinals' defensive snaps this season. He projects as the starter with Schofield no longer available.

Jamaal Westerman and Zack Nash are the other backup outside linebackers.

Arizona signed Groves in May to a one-year deal worth $700,000. The Cardinals claimed Westerman off waivers from Miami. Nash is an undrafted rookie free agent. Tim Fugger, a seventh-round pick of Indianapolis this year, is an outside linebacker on the practice squad.

Schofield had four sacks in nine starts while playing better than 80 percent of the defensive snaps. He lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 draft because he faced an arduous rehabilitation from knee surgery. Knee trouble had occasionally limited him this season.
Justin from Phoenix thinks the Arizona Cardinals can't win with critics.

"The Cardinals have caught grief over the last few years for not drafting offensive lineman, so this year they go out and draft three," he writes. "Now, they are catching grief for not addressing the outside linebacker position. Why can't this team ever do anything right?"

Mike Sando: I don't know whether the Cardinals are taking significant grief for failing to select an outside linebacker. Let's assume they are, and then let's weigh their perceived needs against known opportunities.

The Cardinals used the 13th overall choice for receiver Michael Floyd when they could have selected Melvin Ingram, who went 18th to San Diego. Whitney Mercilus (26th to Houston) and Nick Perry (28th to Green Bay) were the other projected outside linebackers drafted in the first round by teams running 3-4 defenses. Time will tell whether the Cardinals might have fared better selecting one of those players over Floyd.

Having no second-round choice limited the Cardinals' options in this draft, but drafting an outside linebacker in that round might have been a stretch. Courtney Upshaw, chosen 35th overall by Baltimore, was the only 3-4 outside linebacker chosen in the second round (Miami used a third-round choice, 72nd overall, for Olivier Vernon).

That suggests Arizona, which sent the 51st overall pick to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb trade, did not necessarily miss out on pass-rush help in that round.

Vernon was the only 3-4 outside linebacker selected in the third round. Arizona, picking eight spots later, took cornerback Jamell Fleming.

The fourth round did provide an opportunity for the Cardinals to select help at outside linebacker. Arizona was picking 112th overall. Dallas took outside linebacker Kyle Wilber with the 113th pick. Washington took Keenan Robinson at No. 119.

Offensive tackle was clearly the No. 1 need for Arizona, however. The Cardinals' decision to use the 112th choice for tackle Bobby Massie seemed reasonable and almost imperative because the team had not taken an offensive lineman to that point in the draft.

Perhaps things would have been different for Arizona in the fourth round if the team had held onto the 51st overall choice. Tackle Mike Adams, selected 56th overall by Pittsburgh, would have been an option for the Cardinals.

Arizona used its fifth-round choice (151st overall) for another offensive lineman, Senio Kelemete. This again appeared reasonable, although teams did take 3-4 outside linebackers among the next 14 picks.

The Cardinals already have young pass-rushing prospects in Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. If they were going to select an outside linebacker, they arguably needed to get a true difference maker. Ingram, Mercilus and Perry would have been the options, but drafting one of them would have meant passing on Floyd.