Disciplined Defense Key to Cardinals Victory

Scott Z BradyCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Adrian Wilson #24 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a Green Bay Packers missed field goal during the second quarter of the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Oh when the Cards...Oh when the Cards...Oh when the Cards come marching in. They better bring their disciplined defense...when the Cards come marching in.

The Cardinals have an All-Pro safety in Adrian Wilson. They have a pro bowl cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They have a pro bowl alternate in safety Antrel Rolle, and a highly paid and fairly decent cornerback in Bryant McFadden. In other words, the Cardinals have a very talent-rich group playing in what should very well be the most key position to win or lose Saturday’s Divisional Playoff game in the Bayou.

The question is, will they have learned anything from last weeks shootout in Glendale? Will they execute their game plan as they did in the first half against the mighty Packers? Will they be the defensive team that held Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to about 100 yards through the air for the first 30 minutes? Or will they be the defensive team that allowed Rodgers closer to 320 yards in the final 30 minutes?

The Cardinals' game plan against Green Bay wasn’t a fluke. What they did in the first half in holding the high flying Green Bay offense to a touchdown and late field goal was by design. It was a plan drawn up by defensive coordinator Bill Davis that, when executed with focus and discipline, worked like a charm.

It was a defensive scheme that did everything it was supposed to do. It put pressure on Rodgers. It put the players in position to  force two early turnovers. It had Rodgers feeling uncomfortable at best, and downright rattled in general. It took the Packers offense off the field, and put the Cards show of firepower back on the field. It enabled the home team to take a lead that looked shockingly easy to take.

But when the Cardinals increased their 24-10 halftime lead to 31-10, that focus and discipline seemed to go by the wayside. The players were in position to make plays, but be it adrenaline or an uncontrolled desire to "make a play" and/or "create a turnover," it backfired. Instead of breaking up a pass, they too often tried to cut off the route, leaving acres of wide open spaces around the receiver as it came to rest in their mitts.

The Cardinals should be able to get some pressure on Drew Brees. DE Calais Campbell will be matched up against Saints LT Jermon Bushrod, who was beaten like a drum consistently by Dallas DE Demarcus Ware a few weeks back, and hasn’t played very well overall. Darnell Docket of the other side will be a threat to cause havoc regardless of how well RT Jon Stinchcomb plays. That should be a good matchup to watch as well.

The Cardinals have the talent, and play in a scheme that can certainly slow down the Brees express. But they need to play with that first half focus that worked so well against Green Bay last week, for a full 60 minutes. They need to stay disciplined, and "know" that the turnover opportunities will present themselves if they stay within the system. Once they start trying to "make plays" too freely, the defense breaks down. There’s a very fine line in this ultimate game of inches between making plays and making mistakes.

The Cardinals will go a long way to reaching their next goal, a chance to defend their NFC title in the Championship game if they do. Whether it’s in Minnesota or Dallas, the only way they make it there is outscoring the NFL’s highest scoring team. A sound, solid, disciplined defense will go a long way toward making that happen.

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