The defensive line of the Arizona Cardinals absorbed a huge blow this past offseason when a pair of the unit's most productive performers flew the coop. J.J. Watt and Zach Allen acted as a two-man wrecking crew for the Redbirds in 2022. First-year general manager Monti Ossenfort would be burdened with the task of finding replacements for the dynamic duo.
Much to the fans' chagrin, the Cards went out and acquired alternatives who were far from household names. While first-tier free agents such as Javon Hargrave, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dre'Mont Jones were there for the taking, Ossenfort elected to go with less-expensive options. The club would be saving a ton of money, but would Carlos Watkins, L.J. Collier, and Kevin Strong manage to hold up against the NFL's top offensive lines?
It's obviously a small sample size, but Arizona's D-line turned in a grade-A performance last Sunday against the Washington Commanders. Second-year quarterback Sam Howell was under duress for a large chunk of the afternoon. And the results were fantastic.
Unheralded crew of defensive linemen appear to be up to the task for the Arizona Cardinals
Watkins racked up five tackles and a sack versus the Commanders. Collier and Strong contributed two stops apiece in their Cardinals debut, and generated an ample amount of pressure as well. Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis employed a steady rotation in Week 1, a plan which allowed the squad's linemen to stay fresh throughout the matchup.
The newcomers also got some assistance from a couple of veterans who are leftovers from the previous regime. Fifth-year pro Jonathan Ledbetter totaled six tackles and a sack for the Cards' contingent. Leki Fotu, a fourth-round selection of the team back in 2020, was credited with the second sack of his NFL career.
Unfortunately, a biceps injury will keep Collier out of this weekend's home-opener against the New York Giants. The way the group played last week, however, it's not hard to imagine that one of the line's other members will pick up the slack. A brand-new coaching staff has brought a breath of fresh air to the Cardinals defense, and the unit's front wall appears to be much better than expected.
(Statistics provided by ESPN.com)