The cornerback position opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will most likely be one of the most pivotal positions for the Cardinals in 2010. Granted, Matt Leinart’s play at quarterback is important, but the Cards don’t necessarily need Leinart to play too far above average to win. The defense, however, particularly the secondary, must be at the top of its game for the Cardinals to repeat as Division Champions. Greg Toler (pictured above) and the rest of the Cards’ secondary could be a large part of the team’s success. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
It’s axiomatic that a championship team must be well balanced. Knowing that, let’s start analyzing the Cards’ defense in 2010 by talking about the offense. The Cardinals’ offense is going to change, which is not to say that it will necessarily be worse; just different. Specifically, the Cardinals are not going to have their traditional quick strike, spread the field style that suited Kurt Warner’s terminator-like defense reading capabilities. Matt Leinart, unlike Warner, doesn’t want to be blitzed. Leinart wants to get under center and run a methodical, run-heavy drive down the field, complemented by a possession focused passing attack. This will have an immense impact on the defense; I did say this article was about defense.
A team with a possession-driven offense puts much more pressure on its defense than a team with an explosive offense. For example, the 08-09 Cardinals could afford an admittedly below average defense because their offense was always within striking distance. There’s simply a greater margin for defensive error. The Cards’ offense that is currently taking shape will not afford the defense as long a leash; not even close. Chalking up 31-28 wins just doesn’t seem like a possibility for the 2010 version. If the defense starts giving up huge amounts of yardage and points, the offense isn’t going to catch up, which could mean big trouble for this team.
A large part of the burden will rest with the defensive secondary. The Cardinals’ defensive bane the past few seasons has been a feast or famine secondary. The unit would look phenomenal and fit-inducing on a play-by-play basis. This group must establish a greater degree of consistency in 2010; there’s real hope of establishing that goal. DRC and Adrian Wilson are obviously locked in at cornerback and strong safety respectively. In addition, the Darren McFadden nightmare is finally over and a star may be born in the wake. Finally, listen to my case that losing Antrel Rolle was actually good for the Cardinals.
There’s no doubt that Rolle is a playmaker, but for every game he positively impacted for the Cardinals in 2009 with an interception or sack, he negatively impacted another with spotty tackling and horrendous coverage blow-ups. Rolle is not right for the Cardinals defense. Antrel is much better suited for a defense that already has solid and reliable coverage from its CBs, which would allow him to be a ball-hawking playmaker like Darren Sharper in New Orleans. The Cardinals, however, desperately need a free safety that provides solid and consistent coverage without giving up big plays or committing major breakdowns. Whether Kerry Rhodes is that player remains to be seen, but he’s much more polished at free safety than Antrel Rolle. We won’t know how Rhodes fits until we see him play, but we can remain hopeful.
Any Cardinals fan knows that McFadden was just plain horrible last season and I won’t even waste an entire paragraph on him. McFadden, however, did leave a spot to be filled. Greg Toler is the most likely man for the job, although Michael Adams has technically been getting the reps with the first team defense so far this offseason. Despite the meaningless pre-training camp depth chart, Adams is not a legitimate starter at cornerback. Toler, on the other hand, was very impressive in the limited action he saw during his rookie year (120 snaps). Toler replaced the injured DRC in the Divisional Round game and played quite well, although the Cardinals were getting annihilated. There are those in the Cardinals organization that even believe Toler to be more physically gifted than DRC, which would obviously make for an outstanding 1-2 punch at CB. Exactly how Toler will respond to the pressure to step up this training camp and preseason will ultimately determine whether he finds his way into the starting defense.
There are obviously questions regarding Paris Lenon at weak inside linebacker and whether the Cardinals can muster a sufficient pass rush, but I believe that this year’s defense will be much improved if Toler fulfills his projected potential and Kerry Rhodes turns in a quality veteran effort. A resurgence from Joey Porter, quick development of Dan Williams and Daryl Washington, and continued strong play from DRC, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, and Calais Campbell could mean a drastically improved defense in 2010. Why should we mourn a defense that gave up an embarrassing 90 points in two consecutive playoff games, anyway?