Defensive uncertainty surrounding the Arizona Cardinals
By Jim Koch
Despite finishing 2017 as one of the league’s best defenses, questions surround the Arizona Cardinals’ unit going forward
Along with a new head coach came a new defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals. Al Holcomb, a linebackers’ coach from the Carolina Panthers, is about to put his imprint on the Cardinals’ unit. A group that has finished in the top-six of the NFL for the past three campaigns.
With that kind of success, one would think that making changes on that side of the ball would not be a great idea. Attempting to fix something that is working superbly could have disastrous results. Unfortunately, that may be the scenario facing Arizona with the new coaching staff.
Cards’ head coach Steve Wilks, the defensive coordinator of the Panthers in 2017, is a proponent of the 4-3 alignment. The top-six finishes that the squad has enjoyed under ex-coordinator James Bettcher have been with a 3-4 setup. Would it be crazy to think that the new boss would want his defenders to play in the alignment that he prefers?
Wilks has been vague when asked what kind of defense the Cardinals would run. Insinuating that it’s possible that Arizona could remain in the 3-4. A defense that their current personnel would be much better suited to operate.
The biggest concern about the Cards morphing into a 4-3 would be the negative impact that it could have on Chandler Jones. It’s true that the Cardinals’ sackmaster started his career playing in the New England Patriots’ 4-3. Upon being traded to the desert in 2016, Jones made a transition to an outside linebacker spot.
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The change has worked out just fine for the 6’5″, 265 pounder. This past season, Jones set a franchise record with an incredible 17 sacks. The former first-round draft pick’s stellar play got him voted to the Pro Bowl for the second time.
A switch to a 4-3 could present another problem as well. As it stands now, Arizona just doesn’t have the pieces on the front line needed to make it work. There may be a solution to that particular dilemma, however.
Two defensive linemen scheduled to become free agents in March are very familiar with Wilks’ and Holcomb’s defense. Despite having just turned 38-years old, Julius Peppers is still capable of getting to the quarterback. The defensive end racked up 11 sacks as a situational pass-rusher with Carolina in ’17.
Another Panthers’ lineman who may be available is defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The 6’2″, 315 pounder is the prototypical run-stuffing plug in the middle of the line. Pairing Lotulelei with another DT, Cards’ starter Corey Peters, could reap tremendous dividends.
Obviously, the quarterback position isn’t the only offseason quandary surrounding the Cardinals. Once moves in the personnel department start occurring, the questions pertaining to which defense will be implemented will begin to be answered. And hopefully, the success that Arizona defenders have enjoyed over the past few years will continue.