Arizona Cardinals Turn Up the Heat on Rookie Russell Wilson
On opening day last year, Ray Horton's defense squared off against the Carolina Panthers' rookie quarterback, Cam Newton. For the second time in as many years, Horton's defense squared off against another rookie QB in Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.
And after today's victory, the defensive coordinator moved to 2-0 against first-year signal callers.
His game plan was similar to last year's. Put pressure on the offensive line, which in turn puts pressure on the quarterback. Wilson was chased down and harassed all day long. Most of the heat was applied right in the gaps of J.R. Sweezy, Max Unger and Paul McQuistan.
Sweezy is a converted defensive tackle who had yet to face the exotic looks and fronts of a Horton-run defense. McQuistan is a journeyman offensive lineman who would find himself on the bench if it weren't for injuries to players in front of him. So, you can see why the Cardinals would want to go after the weakest links on Seattle's offensive line.
Along with Sweezy and McQuistan, left tackle Russell Okung decided to join in on the subpar play, no thanks in large part to right outside linebacker Sam Acho. Acho had Okung anxious and scared all day long. If it wasn't for No. 76 leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain, he probably would have had another false start to his name.
Some of you may be wondering: what exactly did Horton do to turn up the heat? He dialed up plenty of fire-zone blitzes.
Fire-zone blitzes are designed to confuse offensive linemen and additional blockers. One of the biggest advantages is that in a zone blitz, it's hard for the offensive linemen to pick out who is coming as a rusher and who is dropping into coverage.
So, who was the biggest beneficiary of bringing pressure right up the middle? Paris Lenon of course.
I've been known to get on Lenon and dog him about his pass-rushing skills, but he shut me up today and he looked good doing it. Lenon finished the day with two impressive quarterback sacks and two quarterback hits, not to mention the additional nine total tackles he piled up.
Coincidentally enough, the other Cardinals defender that stood out was Lenon's partner in crime, Daryl Washington. Washington validated his monster contract extension by registering 10 tackles, one sack and one quarterback hit.
They combined for 19 tackles, three sacks and three hits. No wonder why Wilson was constantly trying to escape the pocket.
On offense, Arizona did very little until they needed too. Before John Skelton left with a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals offense looked flat and unproductive. They never really got their running game going as they only averaged 2.2 yards per carry on 20 attempts.
The leading rusher on the day was wide receiver Andre Roberts who had one rushing attempt for 15 yards.
Second-year man Ryan Williams drew the start over the banged up Beanie Wells. It would have been encouraging to see him get things going, especially after a year layoff, but he only could pick up nine yards on eight carries. Plus, his first-quarter fumble killed a potential Cardinals scoring drive.
Arizona relied heavily on the passing game, particularly down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Eighty-seven of the team's 201 passing yards came in the final period.
Kevin Kolb saw one full series of action and was 6-of-8 for 66 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Roberts changed the whole momentum of the game. The pass injected life into a crowd that had very little to cheer about on offense before.
It sounds like Skelton will be sidelined for a few weeks, so Kolb will draw the start against New England next week. If the Cardinals want their passing attack to be successful, they have to make sure receivers are running short routes so No. 4 can get rid of the ball quickly.
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