After 13 long seasons in the NFL, few believed that pass-rushing extraordinaire John Abraham would return to the field for a 14th season after the Atlanta Falcons released him back in March. Other than winning a Super Bowl, there wasn’t much the three-time All-Pro selection had left to accomplish on an individual level.
Aside from garnering three All-Pro selections with the New York Jets and Falcons, Abraham appeared in the Pro Bowl four times and joined the 100-sack club in 2010. What more could a pass-rusher of his caliber want at 35 years of age?
Honestly, Abraham wasn’t looking to achieve anything in particular. All he wanted was to continue his career, because he knew that he was still capable of playing at a high level. Lo and behold, he wasn’t the only one who felt he had the necessary skills to continuously be a disruptive force in the backfield.
Sometimes when you study a 35-year-old on tape, he looks likes a 35-year-old. For whatever reason — I don't know if they put this guy in wax or what — but this guy can still get off the rock. He had 10 sacks last year, seven forced fumbles and his get-off to this day is still like I remember it back when I scouted him at South Carolina.
Keim was right: Abraham can still get off the rock and put pressure on the quarterback.
Through 10 games this season, the ageless wonder has amassed seven sacks, four quarterback hits and 31 quarterback hurries. Additionally, his seven sacks and 31 quarterback pressures are both team highs with six regular-season games left to play.
What’s even more amazing than his team highs is the fact that Abraham is considered to be the 10th-best pure pass-rushing outside linebacker in the league this season, according to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Based on his snap count when he rushes the passer, the 263-pound edge-rusher is averaging a quarterback pressure once every 6.5 snaps. This, in turn, means he is getting to the quarterback more often than Washington Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
It’s also worth mentioning that Abraham has put together a three-game stretch that will forever be etched in the record books. At the conclusion of Arizona’s contest versus the Houston Texans in Week 10, the Elias Sports Bureau determined that Abraham’s six sacks in the span of three games leading up to that point is indeed a franchise record.
Heading into Week 12, the seasoned veteran now has 129 career sacks, which is good enough for 10th place on the all-time list.
His top-notch performances, week in and week out, have pundits around the league pondering one simple question: how has Abraham been able to find the fountain of youth under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles?
The transition to an entirely new defensive system was slow in the beginning, but everything started to click Week 7, when the Cardinals hosted the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football. Bowles has been doing a phenomenal job of using Abraham as an impact rusher at both outside linebacker positions.
Yes, Abraham spends a majority of his time at right outside linebacker, yet the sporadic use at left outside linebacker keeps opposing offensive linemen on their toes. Moreover, it doesn’t hurt that defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are two of the best 3-4 ends in the game.
Their presence on the defensive line allows Abraham to take advantage of more one-on-one matchups.
On this third quarter play-action pass, you can see Dockett being double-teamed by right guard J.R. Sweezy and center Max Unger. The double-team from the interior offensive linemen gave Abraham an isolated matchup versus rookie right tackle Michael Bowie.
Despite the fact Bowie had been performing quite well in Breno Giacomini’s absence, the well-versed pass-rusher dipped his shoulder and turned the corner like a bat out of hell. The end result was a sack that lost 10 yards along with a forced fumble.
This second play took place against Jacksonville this past week.
Late in the third quarter, on third down, the Cardinals defense ran a twist with Dockett and Campbell. As soon as the Jaguars offensive line recognized the twist, the center and the right guard doubled Dockett, which ultimately left Abraham in a favorable position to beat the left tackle cleanly.
To no one’s surprise, Abraham conquered the inferior player and dropped quarterback Chad Henne for a seven-yard loss. For the second time in as many plays, his speed around the edge proved to be crucial. But as we all know, Dockett and Campbell were the driving forces behind the sack.
Even though I don’t want to take anything away from Abraham, the Cardinals' stud interior defensive linemen are the main reason behind Abraham finding the fountain of youth.
Yes, Abraham's acceleration off the ball and overall speed play a role in his ability to get to the quarterback, yet there’s no question that he should be buying Dockett and Campbell lunch on a daily basis to thank them for making him look so good.
However, this is exactly how a well-oiled machine should look 10 games into the season. The defensive line, linebackers and secondary should all be working together and helping one another out by consistently doing their job as each play passes.
Considering that there is no “I” in team, all 11 players have to come together and play as one.
Abraham’s outstanding showings may be getting all the press, but to the Cardinals, he is nothing more than an integral piece to Bowles’ defense. Furthermore, I can tell you that no one player is the lone reason as to why Arizona currently sports the ninth-best defensive unit in the NFL.
As the great Eddie Murray once said, “You win as a team, you lose as a team.”