The Arizona Cardinals have featured a stingy defense for the better part of the last decade. Whether it has been under Todd Bowles or most recently James Bettcher, the defense has been tough on opposing offenses. New head coach Steve Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb are looking to continue the trend as the Cardinals prepare for Washington and their new quarterback Alex Smith. Yesterday we took a look at what to expect when the offense matches up against Washington, today we focus on what to expect when the Arizona defense takes the field.
Pressure the Quarterback
The defense will likely be without defensive end Markus Golden. Golden is returning from an injury which cost him most of 2017. The line still features the sack leader from a year ago, Chandler Jones. Wilkes and Holcomb bring a desire to bring pressure. During the preseason the Cardinals defense held back on some of their more exotic blitzes but found a way to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. This will be the key to grounding the Washington attack.
The offensive line features talented left tackle Trent Williams. He is opposite Morgan Moses and make a pair of talented tackles for Washington. Jones will have his hands full rushing the passer. It will be telling to see if he is moved between either end positions to focus on either of the tackles. The Cardinals will want to force Smith into hurried throws and not allow the veteran quarterback to find a rhythm. Smith is athletic enough to avoid the rush but making him uncomfortable in the pocket will help disrupt the timing of the offense.
Peterson on an Island
Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the few at his position who will shadow a receiver throughout the game. Peterson is the epitome of a shutdown cornerback and has the size and speed to stay with any receiver. That said, it will be interesting to see if Peterson stays with just one receiver on Sunday. Washington features a talented yet young receiving corps. Both Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson are explosive receivers who have size on their side. Peterson will likely pick one of the two and become that receiver’s shadow for the game.
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With Peterson effectively cancelling out one of the receiving threats, expect the rest of the secondary to focus on the remaining weapons for Washington. Linebacker Deone Bucannon has the size and athleticism to cover tight ends Jordan Reed or Vernon Davis. Both are athletic big men who can make big plays in the passing game. Bucannon’s versatility and experience in the secondary makes for a useful tool in the arsenal for the Cardinals defense. Expect up to three safeties on the field in passing downs. The secondary will be able to shade coverage to help likely starter Jamar Taylor with either bracket coverage or safety help over the top. All of this made possible because of Patrick Peterson being on an island.
At the end of the day the defense is where the Cardinals excel and is the unit the team will count on to win games. The preseason saw the defense feast on opposing offenses and dominate games. Holcomb kept play calling simple and allowed his players to make plays. The regular season allows for the playbook to be opened and new wrinkles used. For Arizona to experience victory in the season opener, the defense will need to be the best unit on the field on Sunday.
Prediction: Cardinals win 23-17
The Cardinals defense swarms and the offense gets the ground game going against a tough Washington squad. The offense does just enough to keep Washington chasing the game. As a result the defense forces a pair of turnovers and keeps the Washington offense grounded. The home team comes out victorious to open the 2018 season.