2018 Cardinals' Defense

Mitch

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I am going to try to cover the defensive planning and outlooks in one thread, particularly in light of how man key pieces for the defense are already in place.

Cardinals' insider Mike Jurecki attended the Cardinals' meet and greet media session with the new assistant coaches and he came away with the following info: (1) the Cardinals are going to incorporate aspects of both the 43 and the 34 in their approach and week to week game planning; (2) the coaches are expecting LB Deone Bucannon to be their "green dot" signal caller of the defense; (3) the 3 of their own UFA players they would like to re-sign are DE Kareem Martin, LB Josh Bynes and CB Tramon Williams; (4) all players, especially the likes of Robert Nkemdiche are being give a "clean slate." But they must "follow the process" day by day and not fall behind.

If the Cardinals re-sign Martin, Bynes and Tramon Williams---then the only couple of jigsaw puzzle pieces that remain are adding a LB (to take Dansby's role) and a combo CB/S (to take Tyvon Branch's role). It would appear that Dansby will not be re-signed. Branch, on the other hand, could still be a possibility down the road depending on his ACL rehab.

DTs/DEs/OLBs:

43 Rotations:

DT---Corey Peters, Robert Nkemdiche, Rodney Gunter, Olsen Pierre, Xavier Williams, Pasoni Tasini.
DE---Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Kareem Martin, Josh Mauro, Robert Nkemdiche

34 Rotations:

NT---Peters, Williams, Gunter, Tasini
DE---Nkendiche, Pierre, Gunter, Peters, Williams, Tasini
OLB---Jones, Golden, Martin, Bryson Albright (6-5, 235), Vontarrius Dora (6-4, 256), Praise Martin-Oguike (6-1, 256)

Possible UFA Additions (with Carolina connections):

* DT Star Lotululei (6-2, 320, 6, Utah)---former 1st round pick who is a deluxe run plugger.
* DE Charles Johnson (6-2, 275, 12, Georgia)---rumored to be a cap casualty and could be a valuable rotation DE.

Draft Needs: Low (adding another edge or interior rusher might be in the plans)

Analysis: The Cardinals have strength in numbers and versatility all up and down the front 4. Peters is a stalwart in the middle and Nkemdiche, Pierre, Gunter and Williams are all on the verge of becoming impact players. With the return of a healthy Markus Golden, the edge rush ability from All Pro Chandler Jones and him is prolific. Add a stronger more explosive Haason Reddick to this mix and the Cardinals might challenge for the league lead in sacks. Would love to see them ad another rusher to the rotation like Charles Johnson, because it would be great to keep legs fresh for the 4th quarters where we need the big boys up front to close out games.

LB:

43

SOLB Josh Bynes
MLB Deone Bucannon
WOLB Haason Reddick


Here is one of the bigger question marks---which players fit best in the 3 roles? In giving Deone Bucannon the green dot, do they believe he can play the MLB?

Need: High (imo)

UFA MLB Possibilities: Todd Davis (Broncos), Zach Brown (Redskins), Preston Brown (Bills), Demario Davis (Jets), Avery Williamson (Titans)
Draft MLB Possibilities: Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech), Roquan Smith (Georgia), Rashaan Evans (Alabama); Leighton Vander Esch (Boise St.), Micah Kizer (Virginia), Jerome Baker (Ohio St.), Josey Jewell (Iowa), Azeem Victor (Washington), Jason Cabinda (Penn St.)

UFA OLB Possibilities: Nigel Bradham (Eagles), Tahir Whitehead (Lions), Christian Jones (Bears), Kevin Pierre-Louis (Chiefs)
UFA OLB Possibilities: Malik Jefferson (Texas), Darius Leonard (South Carolina St.), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma), Lorenzo Carter (Georgia), Dorian O'Daniel (Clemson), Hercules Mataafa (Washington St.), Matthew Thomas (Florida St.), Marquis Haynes (Mississippi), Skai Moore (South Carolina), Shaquem Griffin (Central Florida)

Analysis: The chief concern is Bucannon. The Cardinals are investing a lot of money and responsibility in a player who significantly under-achieved through most of the past two seasons. Not only does Bucannon struggle with run diagnosis, he doesn't sift through traffic particularly well and has yet to show he can be a legit factor in pass coverage, especially defending the seams quickly enough in zones (which is a staple of Wilks' defense). His PFF grade this year was a career low of 37.8, ranked as the #78 LB. LBC Larry Foote believes in Bucannon, but if Bucannon remains a weak link in the defense, Foote should be relieved of his duties as LB coach. Bynes was far better than Bucannon and it shows in his 76.2 PFF grade. Bynes is a better tackler and is stronger in coverage. Reddick fits Wilks' LB mode with his speed and versatility.

34

LOLB Golden, Reddick, Dora
LILB Bucannon, Bynes, Scooby Wright
RILB Reddick, Bynes, Gabe Martin
ROLB Jones, Martin-Oguike, Albright

Do the coaches move Bucannon to Dansby's ILB spot and Reddick to $LB?

Again, adding an ILB to this mix is imperative.

Secondary:

LCB Patrick Peterson, Lou Young, C.J. Goodwin
SS Budda Baker, Tyrann Mathieu
FS Antoine Bethea, C.J. Goodwin, Rudy Ford, Harlan Miller
RCB Tramon Williams, Brandon Williams, Ronald Zamort

Nickel CB: Mathieu, Baker, Young, Jarrell Carter

Need: Low (adding a combo CB/S to cover TEs and taller WRs like Tyvon Branch did might make sense---perhaps C.J. Goodwin and Lou Young can manage that role).

Draft Combo CB/S possibilities: Carlton Davis (Auburn), Isaiah Oliver (Colorado), Tavarus McFadden (Florida St.), Justin reid (Stanford), Ronnie Harrison (Alabama), Jaire Alexander (Louisville), DeShon Elliott (Texas), Kamari Cotton-Maya (Iowa St.), Marcus Allen (Penn St.), Dane Cruikshank (Arizona)

Analysis: The Cardinals are going to be playing a good deal of zones in Wilks'/Holcomb's system. New secondary coach David Merritt is going to be instrumental in developing the players' zone and man-to-man skills. The returning players struggled in zones all of last year---poor communication and very loose and slow in picking up coverage. There could be a couple of surprises in players who adapt to Merritt's outstanding teaching more quickly and ably than others. Merritt, like Wilks, expects his players to play a physical brand of football in run support and coverage. Furthermore, one might imagine that the Cardinals will start to do what a number of other teams do in man coverage---which is to bracket the #1 WR with the #2 CB and high safety and to put the #1 CB (Peterson) on the #2 WR. if the Cardinals do, then Peterson could get more balls thrown his way this year, which he intends to make the most of this year. This defense will be focused keenly on creating and cashing in on turnovers.

Contract Question Marks:

* Tyrann Mathieu---early indications are that the Cardinals intend to award Mathieu his $5M roster bonus which kicks in $19M in guaranteed money for the next couple of years. The feeling is that Mathieu played stronger the second half of last year and is on the verge of returning to the Honey Badger of 2015.

* Deone Bucannon---as of right now the Cardinals intend to pay Bucannon $8.7M on his option year this year. Quite frankly, that figure is excessive in light of Bucannon's inconsistent play the past two years.

* Josh Mauro---his cap figure for 2019 is $3.2M which also seems excessive coming off a disappointing year. Mauro, if rejuvenated, could be a great, versatile fit in Wilks'/Holcomb's defense, which makes the prospect of releasing him tenuous.

Decisions (imo): Rework each of their contracts. If the players and their agents balk, try to trade them or release them. Mathieu's contract is the elephant in the room and is going to prevent the Cardinals from adding key pieces, particularly on offense. Bucannon is no sure thing, imo, and it's unclear whether he can be the green dot leader and the consistently productive ILB the coaches want and need him to be. Mauro doesn't deserve $3.2M and it's time to stop paying for potential on the back end of what was a generous contract.

Are there any details I missed? Any questions about a player or scheme? Suggestions? Do you want more detailed posts about the position analyses, or does this suffice?
 
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I had to look these guys up Mitch to see if they were on the roster Bryson Albright (6-5, 235), Vontarrius Dora (6-4, 256), Praise Martin-Oguike (6-1, 256). Praise doesn't even have a number assigned to him. Were these guys undrafted FA's?
 

Snakester

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Thanks for another good writeup Walter! I think we should definitely re-sign Tramon Williams and Josh Bynes. I would let Bucannon go and sign Preston Brown of the Bills or Zach Brown (Redskins). Basically giving Bucannon's salary to Brown but getting a much better player. Roquan Smith (1st RD) and Leighton Vander Esch (2nd RD) would be my picks in this draft if we were to take a linebacker in the draft.

I would add another CB in free agency or high in the draft even if we re-sign Tramon Williams. To me Honey Badger is already gone. At this point I don't think he would be worth half of his present salary. I would do my best to trade him.

I like your idea's of bringing in Charles Johnson or Star Lotululei. We could use another good D-lineman. Because we have so many other needs to fill I think we will have to work with the guys we got. I would also bring back Kareem Martin. He's going into his prime and is a good rotational player. I would address the D-line high in next years draft.
 

phillycard

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i'm really going to need Rodney G to step it up. He was invisible at times too much last year, and I had expected him to be well on his way to becoming a late round gem. Olson Pierre was a monster down the stretch which probably didn't help RG in playing more.
 

Jetstream Green

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DE Kareem Martin, LB Josh Bynes and CB Tramon Williams, which really needs to include Pierre unless he's already in the mix because he is frankly better than Nkemdiche, screw draft privilege... yes, these are the four they need to secure, and I hope that is exactly what the Cardinals are thinking
 
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Mitch

Mitch

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I had to look these guys up Mitch to see if they were on the roster Bryson Albright (6-5, 235), Vontarrius Dora (6-4, 256), Praise Martin-Oguike (6-1, 256). Praise doesn't even have a number assigned to him. Were these guys undrafted FA's?

Albright was activated to the 53 man roster the last few games of the season. He played STs and took a handful of snaps at OLB. He's long and athletic---needs added strength and counter moves on his pass rush. Here's a highlight video of him #95 at Miami (Ohio).

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Dora (was added to PS late in the season) and Martin-Oguike were signed to future's contracts. Here are some college highlight videos of Dora (#8---Louisiana Tech) and Martin-Oguike (#50---who played on the opposite edge from Haason Reddick at Temple):

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daves

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which is to bracket the #1 WR with the #2 CB and high safety and to put the #1 CB (Peterson) on the #2 WR. if the Cardinals do, then Peterson could get more balls thrown his way this year,
Fine, comprehensive post! But regarding this part, wouldn't QBs test Peterson even less if he's covering a #2 WR than they have been doing with him on the #1 WR?

Of course, as described you have three defenders covering two WRs, so both the #1 and #2 WRs would seem to be better covered. I'm not sure how a more zone-heavy D would compare overall vs. the more man-based scheme they used, at least through 2016.

...dave
 

oaken1

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Fine, comprehensive post! But regarding this part, wouldn't QBs test Peterson even less if he's covering a #2 WR than they have been doing with him on the #1 WR?

Of course, as described you have three defenders covering two WRs, so both the #1 and #2 WRs would seem to be better covered. I'm not sure how a more zone-heavy D would compare overall vs. the more man-based scheme they used, at least through 2016.

...dave
the theory is that most QB's would throw at PP rather than throw into double coverage.... but in practice... yeah.. likely to see lots more passes to TE's and RB's and slot WR's
 

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