The Arizona Cardinals had long talked about modeling their defense after the one belonging to the team that formerly employed their head coach and defensive coordinator.
Finally, it appears as if they’ve accomplished exactly that.
The aggressive, attacking defensive style that the Browns know so well from their encounters with the Pittsburgh Steelers will be on display when Cleveland faces the Cardinals on Sunday. Ultimately, that’s because Arizona’s head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, and defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, once coached for the Steelers.
Although Whisenhunt has been at the Cardinals’ helm since 2007, the implementation of the Steeler defensive scheme didn’t happen instantly. The biggest boost to the transition came from the hiring of Horton – who used to be a defensive assistant in Pittsburgh – although it took several weeks (and a 1-6 start) for it to take hold.
The turning point was when the Cardinals suffered a 32-20 to the Steelers. The game gave Arizona’s defenders an up-close look at what Whisenhunt and Horton were striving for them to become. And the lessons from Horton became clearer and easier to understand.
Unlike the Steelers, who have the NFL’s second-ranked defense, the Cardinals don’t have a lofty stature in terms of total yards allowed. In fact, the Cardinals rank an unimpressive 21st overall. They’re 19th against the run and 23rd against the pass.
But don’t let those numbers fool you. There are plenty of others that paint a daunting picture for the offensively challenged Browns. For instance, the Browns shouldn’t count on having success on third down, because the Cardinals have the NFL’s No. 3 third-down defense, behind the Ravens and Jets.
The Browns’ struggles to score touchdowns aren’t likely to become any easier against the Cardinals, who have given up only six touchdowns in the last six games. That is the league’s third-lowest total in that stretch. And how’s this for a stat? Of the 77 drives that Cardinal opponents have had in the last six games, only 30 have exceeded five plays or more.
In the second the half of their 21-19 victory against San Francisco last Sunday, the 49ers ran only a single play in Arizona territory in the second half. Also, only 10 of those 20 second-half plays resulted in positive yards.
In each of the last two weeks, the Cardinals have had five sacks by five different players. With a sack last Sunday, defensive end Calais Campbell boosted his team-leading total to seven.
The Browns can count on seeing blitzers coming from a variety of directions, just as they do when they face Pittsburgh. They’ll need to place heavy emphasis on pass protection, which is likely to mean keeping backs and a tight end in the backfield.
In addition, the passing game is often going to consist of quicker throws, with receivers needing to promptly get open and be ready to make the catch.
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