The Arizona Cardinals defensive line performed well when healthy. But injuries hit the group hard at around midseason and it affected the play of the overall defense.
Before their first tilt with the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals averaged 18.7 points per game. One of the best in the league at the time. Obviously, what looked like the NFC’s best scoring defense and second-best in the NFL at the time didn’t hold. As the Cardinals gave up 367 points, or 22.9 per game.
And their collapse correlated with a rash of injuries occurring on the defensive line to where the team started not just second-teamers, but even the third man up. It shows us the line has a lot of potential when healthy. But as with any unit hit hard with injuries, its effects on the other defensive units can be devastating.
Zach Allen looked like an anchor, posting decent statistics for a 3-4 defensive lineman. But as with his rookie season, the injuries hit and he started just 7 games, appearing in 13 of them. If he stays healthy, he’s a solid starter. But after just 17 appearances and 8 starts in two seasons, it’s a big ‘if.’
Jordan Phillips was a prized free agent, coming over from Buffalo. Just one year removed from posting 9.5 sacks, he was a major disappointment, posting just 11 combined tackles and 2 sacks in 9 games. He’s signed through 2023, but the Cardinals may move him.
Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence were our rookies and both did some good things. Fotu posted just 11 tackles but showed potential with 4 tackles for loss. He saw limited playing time when healthy and could make The Leap in 2021. Lawrence posted similar numbers with just 9 appearances in 2020. He too can hang around. But both must remain healthy.
Angelo Blackson was a fantastic piece to the puzzle, adding much-needed depth. He posted respectable numbers in a rotational role, including 4 tackles for a loss and 8 quarterback hits. The Cardinals need to bring him back.
Despite his age, Domata Peko played well in 6 games with the Cardinals. An in-season pickup, there is no guarantee Peko will be back. He will turn 37 this year and if he returns, it’s on a year-to-year basis.
Corey Peters is one of the finest locker room favorites and he continued to play well. He’s slated to be a UFA and after a season-ending injury, there’s no guarantee he will return in 2021.
Michael Dogbe recorded one sack in week 11 but spent most of the year on the practice squad. He signed a reserve/futures deal in 2021.
If the Cardinals give Phillips another chance and keep Allen, Lawrence, and Fotu healthy, this young defensive line can be one of the better units in the NFL. Bringing back Peters, Blackson, and even Peko will transform the line into a solid rotation.
Draft a couple in the middle rounds. Sign an insurance policy in free agency. Bring back familiar faces, and keep them healthy. The defensive line can become a strength for this football team.