ARLINGTON, Texas – One of the Cardinals’ main objectives in Sunday’s game was to shore up their run defense, which was punished for 183 rushing yards last week at New Orleans. There was plenty of fault to be found throughout the defense, but primarily, the problems started with a lack of gap integrity.
In a 4-3 base defense like Arizona’s, that will get a team beat almost every time.
“What we have to do a better job of as a defensive front and as a defense in general is being disciplined in our gaps and trusting in the system,” defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. “Guys are in position, then somebody gets nosy, jumps out of their gap and all of a sudden, the ball is on the second level and it’s a 15-yard gain.”
Considering the Cardinals were without three of their best defensive tackles in Corey Peters (knee), Robert Nkemdiche (foot) and Olsen Pierre (turf toe), the Cardinals’ run defense held up rather well against Dallas. The Cowboys only gained 24 rushing yards on 11 carries in the first half against the rest of Arizona’s first-team defense.
It helped, of course, that the Cowboys elected not to play star running back Ezekiel Elliott. With three starting offensive linemen out, it’s the same reason Dallas coach Jason Garrett sat starting quarterback Dak Prescott, too.
Cardinals backup defensive tackles Rodney Gunter and Pasoni Tasini stepped in and provided some balance up front, and they got help from the linebackers with the returns of starters Deone Bucannon (knee) and Josh Bynes (neck). Defensive end Benson Mayowa also provided some solid run stops.
To keep opponents from rushing for 100 yards or more, Holcomb preaches to his defense daily to do their “1/11th,” meaning staying in your gap and trust that the other 10 men around you will do the same.
“We always preach it and talk about it every day that every man in our defense is responsible for a gap, so it’s just doing your job,” Holcomb said. “As simple as it sounds, that’s what it is.”
One way rookie running back Chase Edmonds has been able to keep calm and not let big situations overwhelm him – like playing on “Sunday Night Football” in a huge place such as AT&T Stadium – is by learning how to control his breathing.
It’s something he picked up while participating in some pre-scouting combine training camps and by working with former NFL running back Earnest Byner, who played 14 years in the league. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Byner is now a coach with IMG Academy and he loaned Edmonds a copy of his book, “Everybody Fumbles,” in which he describes some breathing techniques.
“It’s a very real thing,” Edmonds said. “This game is an emotional game … but you can play this game without getting emotional. Sometimes emotions get the best of players, and that’s when you’ll see the 15-yard flags and everything like that. So I just try to stay as mellow as possible so I can just focus on my job, focus on what I have to do so I can go out there and show that I am ready.
“I just really try to maintain my breath … hold onto my breath and focus on what I need to do in my mind and really just get mellowed out. I’m really more of a mellow player when it comes to game days.”
Edmonds, getting the start in place of David Johnson, who did not play, rushed 11 times for 55 yards, which included a nice 28-yard scamper in the second quarter.
One of the reasons why star cornerback Patrick Peterson will play his position a little differently this season is because he and the Cardinals have found a way to make his career last a little longer.
It’s not that he’s old or slowing down yet. Having him play off a receiver from time to time in more of a zone-coverage concept, however, should help the 28-year-old’s reflexes and ability to not only recover when shadowing a target, but be able to anticipate and jump routes to make plays on the ball.
“As you start getting older, you start losing some of your physical gifts,” Peterson said. “I’m not saying I’m losing a step, but now going into the back nine of my career, you kind of want to change it up, pay attention to the body and make sure you’re doing everything you constantly can to continue playing the game at a high level.
“That what’s coach Wilks and coach Al haven’t just been doing not only for me, but for this defense, as well. We’re a complementary defense now, versus back when coach (James) Bettcher and coach (Todd) Bowles was here. We were a man-oriented defense where we were putting all the pressure on the secondary. Now it’s a collective group effort to go out there and be the best defense we can be.”
Peterson jumped the route on a Cooper Rush pass attempt to Tavon Austin late in the first quarter and returned the interception 30 yards for a touchdown.