Arizona Cardinals correct to build defense with current talent

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals
New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

What makes Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon different from Kliff Kingsbury? His adaptability to the players he has.

In previous articles, I’ve been hesitant to say the Arizona Cardinals are switching to a 4-3 base from the 3-4 look that’s become familiar. Since Gannon ran a 4-3 with the Philadelphia Eagles, the general consensus is that more often than not, coaches implement their scheme, then acquire players to run that scheme. 

But it doesn’t seem to be the case with Gannon. Want proof? Here is what he said in a recent interview at the NFL's annual owners' meeting.

""We don't fit the players into the scheme, we fit the scheme around the player. I don't box ourselves into an alignment. We're going to try to play defense where we make sure we don't get the ball thrown over our head and keep the points down and take the ball away.”"

Jonathan Gannon, via

If you’re reading this as a Cardinals fan, it’s a breath of fresh air. Schematic changes often scream growing pains, especially in those first seasons, when coaches might be forced to play holdovers from previous regimes better-suited for other alignments. 

Arizona Cardinals coach correct to put players before scheme

If Gannon sticks to the 3-4 scheme, one advantage he has is that the players already have experience playing in it under Vance Joseph. Names like Cam Thomas and Myjai Sanders, both serviceable when given a chance in Year 1 of their respective careers, can remain outside linebackers as opposed to learning how to exclusively play defensive end in the NFL. 

The Cards could also be further along at defensive line in this scenario, where players like L.J. Collier, Kevin Strong, and Johnathan Ledbetter can remain at defensive end while Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence would continue to play nose tackle. General manager Monti Ossenfort could then address end and nose tackle in the draft for players who naturally fit the 3-4, simply adding to the unit without overhauling it. 

Overall, Gannon’s comments indicate he’s willing to keep a 3-4 alignment. And it’s a smart move, considering the players’ experience here, and the fact that the Cardinals can add 3-4-friendly talent in the NFL Draft as opposed to overhauling the defense, which could include some vetting. 

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Source: Cardinals Defense Preparing to be Ahead of the Curve by Donnie Druin,