All throughout the offseason, fans of the Arizona Cardinals voiced their concerns regarding the squad's defensive unit. Top-notch contributors like J.J. Watt, Byron Murphy Jr., and Zach Allen would not be returning, and it did not appear as if the players were adequately replaced. As a result, Cards followers were expecting the worst when the team flew east to meet the Washington Commanders this past Sunday.
Arizona suffered a 20-16 opening-day loss to the Commanders, but the defense was hardly to blame. Nick Rallis, the group's 30-year-old coordinator, definitely passed his first test. It wasn't perfect, but the bright young assistant certainly gave the "Red Sea" a lot to look forward to on the defensive side of the ball.
Halfway into the first quarter, Redbirds linebacker Kyzir White set the tone for the day when he leveled Washington quarterback Sam Howell with a helmet-to-helmet hit. Shortly after, the 6 foot 1, 222 pound signal-caller was being evaluated for a concussion on the sideline. Unfortunately, White was slapped with a 15-yard penalty, but you couldn't help but feel that the Cardinals had sent a message.
Several Arizona Cardinals defenders got off to an impressive start on opening day
It was a fantastic day for third-year pro Zaven Collins, who intercepted an errant Howell pass, and also recovered a fumble by Commanders running back Antonio Gibson. Dennis Gardeck, an edge-rusher who's known mostly for his special teams play, sacked Howell twice. The second one recorded by Gardeck was a strip-sack that fellow outside linebacker Cameron Thomas recovered and turned into a Cards touchdown.
Arizona's leading tacklers were White (9) and safety K'Von Wallace (7), a pair of former Philadelphia Eagles who are obviously familar with what head coach Jonathan Gannon and Rallis want to do. Joining Gardeck in the sack parade were Jonathan Ledbetter, Carlos Watkins, Leki Fotu, and Victor Dimukeje.
It does need to be pointed out that the Cardinals had success against Howell, an inexperienced passer who was making just his second NFL start. Rallis' crew will face plenty of QBs who will adapt better to the pass rush. Nevertheless, the fact that "Big Red" managed to generate such an impressive amount of pressure is something to be optimistic about.
Next up for Rallis' contingent is a New York Giants offense that failed to muster one measly point this past weekend versus the Dallas Cowboys. Even so, Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones, and the rest of the Giants scoring attack should not be taken lightly. The exact same thing could now be said about an unheralded Cards defense that appears to be much better than advertised.
(Statistics provided by ESPN.com)