Cards' defense still has room to get better

December, 25, 2013
12/25/13
12:30
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. – If stopping the best team in the league on its home turf with a defensive scheme that all but rendered Seattle’s Russell Wilson ineffective isn’t the best the Arizona Cardinals can do, then watch out.

Because, according to them, the best is yet to come, even if they may have just one more chance this season to prove it.

Both coach Bruce Arians and veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby said the ceiling for Arizona’s defense isn’t close to being reached.

[+] EnlargeCalais Campbell
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCalais Campbell mimed hitting it out of the park after a sack in Seattle, but the Cardinals reckon their defense can pack an even bigger wallop.
“It’s up there,” Dansby said. “It’s up there. We still got a lot of growing to do. We still left a lot of plays out on the field. We gave them a little too much than we wanted to give them, but they’re a great offense. You can only shut them down for so long.”

Or for the whole game, whichever comes first.

Arizona enters its final regular-season game with the best run defense in the league and the third-best in terms of passing yards per play, which makes for the sixth-best unit overall. But Arians said there are still some nuances of the defense that need to be learned.

Yet that hasn’t stopped Arizona. Winning seven of their last eight, Arizona is among the hottest teams in the league – if not the hottest. And beating the Seahawks in Seattle by holding them under 200 yards has put the rest of the league on notice.

“I don’t think too many teams want to see us in the playoffs, especially the way our defense is playing right now,” Arians said. “To have a road win like that, it’s a playoff atmosphere because they were playing for everything, I would feel very confident going anywhere in the National Football League playing anybody.”

Arians may have felt this way before about other defenses he’s been around – including the Steelers from 2004 to 2011 – but none can compare to this year’s unit, he said, because of the number of takeaways. Arizona intercepted Wilson once and recovered a fumble, giving the Cards 30 takeaways this season, more than all but three teams in the league.

The core of the defense is going to return, Arians said, which means next season could pick up where this one ends. That’s an equally scary thought for the rest of the league.

Dansby, who signed a one-year deal during the offseason for $2.25 million, didn’t rule out the possibility of returning for less money, but he said it’ll all be worked out once the season’s over.

“All depends on the situation,” he said. “Come back next season, man, it’s no telling what we can do as a team.”

That ideal will help Arizona when it comes to re-signing its defense, Arians believes.

“Change is inevitable in the NFL now,” Arians said. “There is no way this team will be put back together, but we’re going to keep every component that we can possibly. Some guys are going to test the market. Hopefully what’s happened in our locker room is worth some dollars because if you can’t match dollars, we can at least match that.”

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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