Jun. 11, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA: Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington (58) during mini camp at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Watching the Cardinals defense this season, one thing really stands out to me. This team really misses Daryl Washington. Washington’s story is well documented; he was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for a violation of the NFL’s drug policy. When you add on top of that an arrest for aggravated assault, it was not a good offseason for the pro bowl linebacker.
Washington was a force for the Cardinals last year with 134 tackles, nine sacks, and an interception. It is clear that the defense is suffering without him as he serves his suspension, but I think that may become much more evident this week when the Cardinals travel to New Orleans to play the Saints.
Consider this is a defense that allowed St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook to have a huge day to the tune of seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns (should have been three if not for an amazing defensive play by Tyrann Mathieu to force a fumble). In contrast, Cook was held to just one reception for ten yards in week two against the Atlanta Falcons. It was clear that without Washington’s speed, the Cardinals simply did not have anybody fast enough to keep up with the athletic tight end.
Now on to the New Orleans Saints, when you look at this team, there are good weapons all around for Drew Brees to use, but the two best skill players on this team are wide receiver Marques Colston, and tight end Jimmy Graham. Colston in my opinion does not present a huge issue. I expect Patrick Peterson to follow him around similar to what he did in week two against Detroit covering Calvin Johnson. If Peterson is the elite shutdown corner we all think he is/can be, Colston is a guy he needs to shutdown, (see Richard Sherman against Anquan Boldin). But Graham presents a huge problem for the Cardinals in my opinion. I don’t see anyone on this roster outside of Peterson who I would feel comfortable leaving in man to man coverage against the 6’7” 265 lb Graham. While some may say Mathieu would be a logical choice, may I point out the near one foot height advantage Graham has on Mathieu. Karlos Dansby was torched time and time again by Cook, do you really expect him to be able to stay with a perennial pro bowler like Graham? Yeremiah Bell may end up being the best choice, but does he have the speed and coverage skills to keep up with Graham? Maybe the Cardinals switch Peterson off Colston to Graham and hope guys like Mathieu and Jerraud Powers can hold their own against Colston and the rest of the Saints wide receivers. This is where the problem lies for the Cardinal defense this week. I’m expecting a mix of zone coverages and some bracket coverage on one, while Peterson matches up with the other.
All of this to say, this week may be when the Cardinals miss Washington the most. Washington not only has the size, but also the speed to match up and at least contain a guy like Graham, which would then allow the Cardinals to run some more complex schemes to take away the other weapons of the Saints, while also trying to get pressure on Brees.
By no means am I saying the Cardinals defense does not have a chance. Look at the game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last season. If you get pressure on the quarterback, good things can happen. Similarly, I feel if the Cardinals can get pressure on Brees and force a couple of turnovers, they have a good chance to win the game. However, I would feel much better about this matchup if the Cardinals had a guy like Washington to match up with the big, physical weapons of the New Orleans Saints.