After looking at Arizona's explosive offense and what the Cardinals will likely look to do against the Eagles on Sunday, let's now focus on the other side of the ball. Arizona's defense is a high-volume pressure team that ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in terms of the number of blitzes this season.
Arizona was known for its various A-gap pressures back when Todd Bowles was the defensive coordinator. The A gaps are the spaces between the guards and the center along the offensive line. Bowles was a master at getting extra rushers clean right up the gut at the quarterback. One of those blitz concepts is what we call the triple A-gap blitz, where three rushers come straight up the gut. One of those defenders comes completely unblocked. Bowles was replaced by one of his former assistants in James Bettcher, who has kept the triple A-gap pressures as part of the scheme.
Shot 1 - The #Cardinals still utilize Triple A Gap pressures in their scheme; they love to find ways to attack protections right up the gut pic.twitter.com/YuiGMjnF1s — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
Arizona lines up in an exotic front on this play from a couple of weeks ago against Dallas. Both inside linebackers cross and safety Tyrann Mathieu blitzes from depth forcing Dak Prescott to get rid of the ball quickly on third-and-long. The triple A-gap blitz isn't the only way the Cardinals generate pressure up the middle, however, because they find other ways to get defenders free inside.
Shot 2 - Ive seen increased use of 'mug' fronts to attack protections inside & put RBs in tough spots. #Eagles RBs must be ready in pass pro pic.twitter.com/XRNZSXEZJF — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
Here are two examples of a Split Mug front from the Cardinals. There are essentially six defenders along the line of scrimmage, including two players right on top of the center on either side. With six defenders against five offensive linemen, the running back must be a part of the protection. He's typically assigned to block one of those linebackers because a running back blocking a defensive lineman is not an ideal scenario for the offense.
Arizona knows this and will do different things to try and attack that.
The Cardinals bring two edge rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden off the edge on the first play against San Francisco, looping them around into the A gap to get in on the quarterback. On the second play against Indianapolis, Arizona brings a safety off the edge because the back will not block him since he's occupied with the linebacker inside. The Eagles' running backs will have to bring their "big boy pants" in this game. I expect Arizona to bring the pressure early and often, trying to attack them in pass protection.
I've always known the Cardinals as a defense that will send blitzers from every depth and angle, but one of the things that they're getting more creative with now is with their front alignments. They're using different combinations of personnel up front to create mismatches against opposing offensive lines. And it's working. Eight of Arizona's nine sacks this year have come from four-man rushes, so even though they blitz a lot; they do more than just send the house.
Shot 3 - I've seen ARI vary their nickel rush fronts. 3 pass rushers on one side, overload looks. Expect more Haason Reddick off the edge pic.twitter.com/JZ7uyejbXh — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
This is a five-man rush, but I really like what the Cardinals do with their front on this play. It was a consistent theme I saw from a couple of games this season. They line up in some of their nickel fronts with a defensive tackle head up on the center, essentially cutting the offensive line in half. The benefit of this can be two-fold. You're either going to generate a one-on-one with your isolated edge rusher on one side, or you're going to get multiple one-on-ones to the three-defender side. Here, the Cardinals line up three potential edge rushers in Golden (No. 44 over the left guard), Jones (No. 55 over the left tackle), and rookie Haason Reddick (No. 43 over the tight end). This look causes some confusion for the Lions' protection. The left tackle blows this play, and Reddick flies into the backfield for a hit on the quarterback. It was a busted protection, but you have to give credit to Arizona for causing that confusion.
The Cardinals lost Golden to a knee injury in overtime last week, and he is now out for the season. I expect Reddick to be much more involved as a pass rusher moving forward for this team. Veteran Kareem Martin will likely start, but I think we'll see a lot more reps of Reddick attacking the quarterback in this game which was the role he played at Temple. For most of the season, he's been playing as a straight off-the-ball linebacker for Deone Bucannon who was out due to injury. Bucannon returned last Sunday which could free Reddick to rush the quarterback.
Shot 4 - Overload look but ARI brings pressure from opposite side. Puts stress on RB. Protection busted. Blitz works but QB makes the play pic.twitter.com/tvmrQ8Axuw — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
Here's another look at that nickel front with three defenders overloaded to one side of the formation. Reddick lines up over the right guard, so Detroit decides to slide the protection that way from the left guard over. Detroit's left tackle and running back will be responsible for the two most dangerous players coming from their side of the field. Again, the protection is busted, and a defensive back comes from depth through the B gap, as quarterback Matthew Stafford rolls away from the blitz and delivers the ball. This play goes back to two themes: Arizona's ability to confuse offenses, and the stress put on running backs in protection.
Shot 5 - Another overload look. This time they loop a rusher around and get a free hit on QB with the RG occupied by Budda Baker #Cardinals pic.twitter.com/IZjYFYxeT3 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
Here's a similar play from the Cardinals-Colts game. There's an overload front, this time from the other side of the formation. Dime defensive back Budda Baker slides up to attack the right guard in protection, which allows Golden to have a wide-open rushing lane on his way to the quarterback. Blitzing defensive backs, looping edge rushers, overloaded fronts, these are all aspects of the Arizona pressure package that the Eagles have had to prepare for all week long getting ready for this game.
Arizona will mix zone blitzes into its game plan, but the Cardinals are primarily a man blitz team. Whenever you have man blitzes, the offense has to be prepared for "green dogs." What are green dogs? They are defenders who start the play in man coverage but take the initiative to insert themselves into the rush when their assignment stays in to block. By doing this, they get the numbers back in their favor.
Shot 6 - #Cardinals get a lot of pressure via 'Green Dog' rushers; man coverage defenders who blitz the QB when their man stays in to block pic.twitter.com/AhdW60mTM8 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
On the first play against Indianapolis, the Colts line up in empty, with just the quarterback in the backfield. This means the Colts have just five players in protection. Arizona is going to heavily blitz this empty set with six rushers.
So now you have six against five. This favors the defense.
Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle stays in to protect Golden off the edge. If you're keeping score at home, there are now six rushers against six blockers.
Safety Tyvon Branch, playing man coverage against Doyle, sees the tight end stay in to block and now "green dogs," adding to the pressure and attacking the quarterback. He ends up getting a hand on the football to force an incompletion.
On the next play, the same exact thing happens with Branch, except this time with the running back. He takes off against San Francisco quarterback Brian Hoyer and delivers a huge hit on a downfield throw that results in an incompletion.
Because these green dog blitzers inherently give numbers back to the defense, that defender is ultimately up to the quarterback to beat. The ball has to come out quickly or he has to make that rusher miss and make a play with his feet. Carson Wentz has shown the willingness and the ability to do both throughout his career, but he will be pushed to do so against this aggressive defense.
Shot 7 - #Cardinals like to 'bluff' pre-snap as well, showing pressure before falling back into coverage. Challenge for #Eagles and Wentz pic.twitter.com/9YPQSOMQwB — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
There is another thing Wentz has to be careful with? The bluff. Arizona likes to show pressure, but the Cardinals don't always bring it. Here against Indianapolis, Arizona drops back into a Cover 2 look after showing heavy pressure before the snap. This confuses young quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has nowhere to go with the football, and he gets taken down for a sack by Jones.
Jones is the Cardinals' best pass rusher, and there's a reason why he was re-signed to a big deal this offseason. There aren't many in the league with his combination of size and movement. He can win in a lot of different ways and is the type of rusher who can change games when he gets in a groove against an opposing tackle.
Shot 8 - The #Cardinals best rusher is Chandler Jones. Gets most of his reps vs LT but they move him around a lot. Huge threat on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/eXViJVlYDF — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 6, 2017
Here are a couple of examples of Jones winning a one-on-one battle from this season. He'll get most of his reps against Jason Peters on the left side, but the Cardinals love to move him around and he's often used on stunts and twists up front as well, so the entire offensive line must be ready to handle Jones and his multiple skill set on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.