clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Cardinals’ formerly fearsome defense is about as average as you can get

New, comments

And Robert Nkemdiche still sucks

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Twelve and a half months ago I posted a breakdown of Arizona Cardinals 2016 first round pick Robert Nkemdiche, who had barely played in his brief career to that point because of a lingering calf injury and Bruce Arians’s stupid temper.

The point of interest for me was how Nkemdiche had been a prospect of interest in Seattle Seahawks mock drafts that spring and though Nkemdiche had been available when Seattle was initially scheduled to pick, John Schneider traded back to eventually select Germain Ifedi after Nkemdiche got scooped up by the Seahawks’ prime threat in the NFC West. Some Seattle fans remained in fear of what Nkemdiche could potentially bring to an Arizona defense then already featuring Calais Campbell, Markus Golden and Chandler Jones and wondered if Schneider would someday rue passing over the Ole Miss defensive tackle.

Anyway the conclusion back then was pretty clearly incomplete but with discouraging hints that Nkemdiche might already be a bust. Yet the article—which might have been the one I spent the least effort crafting in my budding Field Gulls career by then (with a video assist from Mike Bar; RIP Mike)—ended up becoming a huge hit, approaching hundreds of thousands of views in its first 24 hours. I don’t introduce this detail to brag so much to set up the fact the next thing that happened was a huge internet hack that crashed dozens of web sites and providers, preventing access to SB Nation from most of the country for most of that Friday.

Of course we now know about a plague of internet hacking around that time designed to influence the American elections that November, leading me ever since to wonder if the bizarre spike in traffic that day was not genuine interest in Nkemdiche and/or my football writing but instead some seige of bots opening a gateway to an automated cyberattack that might have altered U.S. and world political history! Who can say.

But whatever did happen to Nkemdiche and the Cardinals? Turns out Nkemdiche barely saw action in the 6-6 draw against Seattle, and only played three games the rest of the season while battling ankle and elbow injuries. He did get in 12 plays in Arizona’s week 15 win over the Seahawks but still only managed to record one assisted tackle in 82 snaps his entire rookie season, as the Cardinals overall sank to 7-8-1.

Though a reinjured calf has kept Nkemdiche sidelined again most of 2017, he has been more of a factor playing 63 downs across Arizona’s most recent two contests and "makes one play a game that tantalizes you with the idea of what he can be" according to Revenge of the Birds’s Seth Cox. So while Ifedi has been a questionable performer at right guard and later tackle as a pro, the fellow Nigerian American has at least been a regular starter while Nkemdiche remains mostly a nonentity. Nkemdiche still has only three tackles and one assist on the season, and his greater participation in the rotation likely comes from the overall thinning of the Cardinals’ defensive front.

Campbell does his serious business for the Jacksonville Jaguars now and Golden was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Arizona’s first match against the San Francisco 49ers in week 4—although Golden had not made any sacks so far after producing 12.5 of them in 2016.

With Alex Okafor also gone to the New Orleans Saints, that leaves Jones as the only apparent threat to Russell Wilson Thursday; behind Jones’s 9 sacks no other Cardinal has more than 1.5 as the team that got to Wilson seven times in their two meetings in 2016 and led the league with 48 total quarterback takedowns is now on pace for a much more average 36. Hopefully, Duane Brown in his second game with the Seattle club can somewhat neutralize Jones, allowing Ifedi and the rest of the Seahawks offensive line less to worry about.

Indeed Arizona is a pretty average challenge all around on defense: The Cardinals are tied for 16th in the NFL in yards given up per play (5.2), and they are 15th in yards conceded per drive (28.8). Arizona allows 5.9 ANY/A, placing it 15th also in that passing score, and even though the Cardinals are a top 10 defense in yards per rush (3.7, tied with five teams for seventh) Football Outsiders rates them the 14th-best rush defense by DVOA.

They’re also 18th in passing DVOA, giving them a total defensive ranking of 19th—but technically the defensive DVOA rating is 0.1 percent: a decidedly average score.

You can taste the cactus juice I’m passing around. Thursday night 4-4 Arizona will present a quite ordinary league measuring stick to calibrate Seattle’s offense after two very different scoring displays the last two games at home. The Cardinals have actually been one of the worst teams in the NFL in points surrendered (25.1), despite playing the 49ers twice as well as the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers already.

As long as Nkemdiche doesn’t suddenly look like an invasion of electronic surrogates hacking through the Seahawks’ interior linemen, Seattle ought to avoid the struggles it found facing Arizona a year ago.