The turnaround in the postseason for the Arizona Cardinals has come from two big areas – the improvement in the run game and the sudden tight play by the Cardinals defense. Starting with a 30-24 win over the Falcons, and ending with a NFC Title win over the Eagles 32-25, the Cardinals defense has gone from a position of weakness suddenly to an area of strength.
“Our guys are really confident and are playing well right now, so I hope they have one more game in them and they can play better. They took the challenge upon themselves to play better in the last game against Seattle because we knew we needed to catch some momentum going into the playoffs,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said Tuesday at media day in Tampa.
That momentum started with shutting down the Falcons run game and Michael Turner in the first wild card playoff game, then beating up Panthers QB Jake Delhomme and forcing him to throw five interceptions in the Divsional Playoff game in Carolina. Then they played well enough vs the Eagles in the NFC Title game to make it to their first ever Super Bowl.
“We’ve got a core group of guys that have been in this system,” Pendergast said. “We’ve got guys with a lot of heart. Up front, Darnell Docket. At the linebacker position, Karlos Dansby. At safety, Antrel Rolle and Adrian Wilson. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of heart and they really responded when the playoffs started.”
The question for Pendergast and that Cardinals defense now is if they have enough to do it for one more game, this time against a Steelers team that has played well on both sides of the ball in their two playoff games vs the Chargers and Ravens.
“They’re very tough to deal with. They’re a two-headed monster so to speak with the running game and obviously the big-play ability with Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes,” Pendergast said. “They’re going to be a tough challenge for us.”
For the Cardinals, it will be about pressuring Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, and if they can force some mistakes, there is no question that they can pull off their fourth upset of the playoffs, and make Pendergast one of the hotter assistant names heading into the 2009 season.