I expect the 2010 Cardinals defense to be a marked improvement over the 2009 version, despite losing the highest paid linebacker and free safety in NFL history during the same offseason. The Cardinals got younger and more talented in a number of areas while peppering in a few seasoned veterans to light the path. Let’s make a position-by-position comparison between the ’09 and projected ’10 squad. I have the Cardinals improving at DE, DT, OLB, and CB, regressing at ILB, and pushing at FS and SS.
Defensive End (+)
2009- Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Bertrand Berry
2010- Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett
Calais Campbell had an outstanding rookie season and there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll do anything but improve in his sophomore effort. That fact alone leads me to believe that the DE position will be stronger in 2010. Darnell Dockett turned in a Pro Bowl season, though his run support could improve. He’s a bit feast or famine when it comes to stopping the run. I expect the Campbell-Dockett combination to produce around 14-16 sacks. When you factor out an over the hill, underproductive Bertrand Berry, this position only gets stronger.
Defensive Tackle (+)
2009- Gabe Watson, Bryan Robinson, Alan Branch
2010- Gabe Watson, Bryan Robinson, Dan Williams (rookie)
Gabe Watson and Bryan Robinson turned in very mediocre 2009 seasons. Although Gabe Watson has been working harder than ever before, I don’t expect much of a difference in his on-field production. In addition, Robinson’s real purpose is to mentor rookie Dan Williams. Speaking of Williams, he represents the greatest hope for a dominating Cardinals defense in the future. Hopefully, that future will come sooner rather than later. If Williams is ready to make an impact this season, the DT position will be drastically improved.
Outside Linebacker (+)
2009- Clark Haggans, Chike Okeafor
2010- Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Cody Brown, Will Davis
Haggans had a slightly above average season, whereas Okeafor was a shadow of his former self. The addition of Joey Porter immediately brightens the outlook for the outside guys, even if Porter doesn’t return to prime form. I would certainly take 8-10 sacks from Porter this season while he picks up the emotional slack from Dansby’s departure. Anything more would be a bonus. Haggans will be his reliable self. He won’t grab too many sacks (5.0 in 2009), but he shows up ready to play every game.
Inside Linebacker (-)
2009- Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Monty Beisel
2010- Gerald Hayes, Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington (rookie)
The Cardinals take their first hit here. They really need Daryl Washington to develop in a hurry to take the sting out of losing Dansby, but they aren’t going to throw him out there too early. In the meantime, Gerald Hayes is serviceable as long as his weak back holds up. Paris Lenon is a big problem area, which places greater emphasis on the need for Washington to develop.
2009- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Darren McFadden
2010- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Toler, Michael Adams
DRC is going to continue to get better, provided he fully recovers from his knee surgery; there’s no reason to think he won’t. Although Toler is unproven, there are those in the Cardinals’ organization that believe he’s actually more talented than DRC. Toler’s upside, therefore, upgrades the CB position for the Cardinals considering how bad McFadden was last season. He was a bane to that unit in 2009. If Toler doesn’t pan out or DRC gets hurt or both, the Cardinals defense is in really deep trouble. Depth is definitely a concern at this position, but Whisenhunt has mentioned going after a veteran to add some insurance. We do not want to see Michael Adams playing CB.
Free Safety (push)
2009- Antrel Rolle
2010- Kerry Rhodes
Here’s a great debate. I think many people would call this one differently because Antrel Rolle has gotten so much positive press, but Cardinal fans know the whole story with Rolle. I’ve written before 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 play-maker 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. I, along with Cardinal fans everywhere, are hoping that Kerry Rhodes is that guy. At this point we have no reason to think he isn’t.
Strong Safety (push)
2009- Adrian Wilson
2010- Adrian Wilson
There’s not much to say here. As long as Wilson stays injury free, there aren’t many strong safeties in the NFL that can do the things he does. With a healthy Matt Ware to provide adequate nickel and dime coverage, Wilson is a very dangerous weapon for the Cardinals defense. Further, if Toler joins DRC as a shut down corner, which is entirely possible, the sky is the limit for the Cardinals’ secondary.