The Cardinals won 10 games last year, only the second time the team reached double digits in victories since moving to Arizona in 1988. Their run defense was the key. The Cardinals allowed just 1,351 rushing yards, the fewest in the NFL. They ranked first in rushing defense DVOA, Football Outsiders’ main defensive statistic, and stuffed opposing ball-carriers for no gain or a loss on 28 percent of runs, the most in the NFL.
But three of the key players responsible for that success are gone, including inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby was one of just two players in 2013 to record 100 tackles, more than four sacks, and more than four interceptions. He is a very good run defender, but he is also a strong pass-rusher and is excellent in pass coverage. Of course, that’s why the Cleveland Browns signed him to a four-year, $24 million deal on the first day of free agency.
The Cardinals were prepared for Dansby’s departure, but the other two exits left the team with little time to find a solution. In June, starting inside linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for the season for (again) violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Like Dansby, Washington is a versatile player: He’s a great pass-rusher (his nine sacks in 2012 were the most by an inside linebacker since Bart Scott’s 9.5 in 2006) and above-average in coverage, in addition to being a strong run-defender.
And last Monday, defensive end Darnell Dockett was lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Dockett is not just an above-average 3-4 defensive end against the run, but a team leader and — along with superstar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald — the player on the team with the longest tenure.
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