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No Abraham would be a blow to defense

9/10/2014

TEMPE, Ariz. – It's a good thing Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn't have any hair.

If he did, he'd pull it all out after this week.

Arians got more bad news Tuesday about his defense, the foundation for last year's second-half run. John Abraham, who suffered the first reported concussion of his 15-year career during Monday night's victory over the San Diego Chargers, took a leave of absence Tuesday. He has five days to decide if he'll return to the team or hang it up for this season and possibly for good.

There's a personal side to this that renders football meaningless. A man who dedicated his life to the sport has been plagued by memory loss for more than a year, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

And, of course, there's also a football side. Without Abraham, the Cardinals' defense takes another hit, having already lost a pair of inside linebackers, Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency) and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (injury). Through one game, Arizona's ability to absorb the losses has been impressive.

Take those four and add safety Yeremiah Bell, whom the Cardinals didn't re-sign during the offseason, and Arizona has lost 49.9 percent of its tackles from a year ago and 56 percent of its sacks.

Losing Abraham for the year might be the knockout punch.

With him on the field last season, opposing quarterbacks had a completion percentage of 57.5 percent compared to 62.9 percent when he wasn't on the field. The Cardinals had 42 sacks, 20 turnovers and 16 interceptions with Abraham and five sacks, seven turnovers and four interceptions without him.

Sam Acho will be charged with filling in if Abraham decides not to return. With Alex Okafor still recovering from a thigh injury, the Cardinals are thin at outside linebacker. Behind Acho and fellow starter Matt Shaughnessy will be Thomas Keiser and Marcus Benard, who was added with the roster exemption given to the Cardinals in Abraham's case. Beyond that, Arizona also could use Lorenzo Alexander, who started the first three games of last season at outside linebacker but was replaced by Abraham when he got injured in Week 3.

"It's the next guy in there," Arians said. "Each guy is individual. John has his moves, which they've been pretty good for a long time. Sam has his and Sam has a high motor. Matt, even Marcus got around the quarterback during camp, so that's something that doesn't change anything you do."

Keiser, who saw more playing time Monday after Abraham went down, will have a larger role in New York against the Giants, Arians said. When a player of Abraham's caliber is on the field, Keiser said teams tend to game plan for them, which in turn helps other pass-rushers.

Combined, the group that's up next combined for 11 sacks last season -- a half-sack less than Abraham. That needs to improve if Arizona has plans of playing in January. The Cardinals were held without a sack in Week 1 for the first time since the 2013 opener, a run of 15 straight games.

"We just need production," Alexander said. "Everybody's going to be a little bit different. You don't have a whole bunch of John Abrahams just walking around here.

"Whether I get three or four sacks, Marcus gets three or four sacks, as long as we get that same type of production whether it comes from one guy or five guys, that's all that matters."