The Arizona Cardinals ended a three-game skid by beating the in-form Dallas Cowboys this Sunday. A visit to Dallas promised a tough test for the battered Cardinals. However, a clean game on offense put Arizona’s defense in a position to succeed. Between Vance Joseph and the guys on the field, this Arizona Cardinals defense won against Dallas’ daunting offense in Week 17.
Credit to Arizona’s offense where it’s due; Kyler Murray looked his usual dynamic self. There were a few notable performances from guys like Antoine Wesley. Aside from a handful of penalties, the offense played a clean game. They didn’t give the game away as they have at times this season, and most importantly, they allowed their defense to play the way it’s designed to: with a lead. Dallas was a tall order, but Arizona’s complementary football got the Cardinals back to winning ways on the road.
Arizona Cardinals Defense Wins Key Battle in Dallas
Versatile Cardinals Defense Won With Innovation
Arizona missed some guys on Sunday. Top pass rusher Markus Golden missed out, as did Devon Kennard, leaving Arizona threadbare on the edge. Yet Vance Joseph still generated pressure by utilizing a bevy of exotic blitzes. Not one for traditional blitz packages anyway, shortages on the edge forced Joseph to deploy a ton of unconventional looks, including his infamous ‘NASCAR’ package, and to great success.
Budda Baker is integral to the success of this defense and, indeed, to the dynamism of Joseph’s scheme. Arizona’s star safety has elevated his game during the team’s recent struggles. He was a significant factor against Dallas, their best defensive player, so much so that even Cowboys homer Troy Aikman gave him props on the broadcast. He broke up passes, got up in Dak Prescott’s grill, and played a vital role in a strong defensive performance for Arizona. There is a symbiotic relationship between Baker’s skillset and the fluidity of Joseph’s system. That relationship was responsible for what was a key schematic victory for Arizona’s defense.
Joseph brought Byron Murphy off the edge. He used Isaiah Simmons in the slot, then shot him up the middle to great effect. Personified by Baker, Arizona’s defense is a group predicated on athleticism and versatility, and they’re married to a coordinator who, either by necessity or design, leaned on such to create innovative pressures with a wounded group against Dallas.
Absences Facilitated Zone Blitz Scheme
Missing players are no good for anyone, but Cardinals fans can at least be thankful that absences forced Vance Joseph to remember that Zaven Collins exists. Arizona’s first-rounder saw his first significant snaps since midseason against the Cowboys and made a solid account of himself. He was no standout, but he didn’t stand out negatively either. Collins’ very presence, however, reflected a significant schematic theme in Joseph’s game plan.
Sliding Collins out to the edge might have seemed like an enforced move to many, but Collins’ deployment up front actually exemplified one key way that Joseph sought to generate pressure. Namely, Collins, amongst others, was vital to Joseph’s ability to implement zone blitzes into his scheme. Joseph loves a zone blitz, so much so that he’s insisted on dropping Chandler Jones and Markus Golden into coverage on occasion. In somewhat of a ‘lemons and lemonade’ situation, Joseph took advantage of Golden’s absence by deploying the zone blitz frequently. With athletes like Collins and Dennis Gardeck dropping on the edge, Joseph satisfied his penchant for disguise and was able to generate unique pressures to great effect; Baker’s sack came on one such play. Arizona’s problems became Joseph’s opportunities, his execution demonstrating his schematic talent.
Cardinals Defense Won, But Corners Struggled
Vance Joseph made it work up front with what he had, and thankfully that made up for what he was lacking at corner. Not only were Arizona down two starters in Robert Alford and Marco Wilson, but Byron Murphy, arguably the team’s best corner, played his worst game of the season against the Cowboys. In what was a good day for Arizona’s defense overall, their understaffed cornerback group struggled. Heading in, the hope was that Murphy could, and would elevate the unit, but Murphy’s woes reflected the group’s performance as a whole and, indeed, his own bad run of form.
Vance Joseph prioritized the attack on defense, and it worked brilliantly. However, with Joseph’s blitzes came a ton of man coverage assignments, and it made his corners look bad. They didn’t have a great game, but overall, Arizona’s defense did. They exposed their own inadequacies on the back end but accounted for them, for the most part, with success up front. Arizona’s defense got it done with what they had, and what they had was a surprisingly effective depth, and a defensive coordinator willing to utilize all of it.
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