Cardinals to lean on defense down the stretch

The Arizona Cardinals have been leaning on its defense all season long, something that will continue heading into the playoffs.

The one and only constant for the Arizona Cardinals this year has been its defense. That defense holds the key to any postseason success the team will experience in the coming weeks.

This weekend’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks will go a long way towards determining how much prosperity could be on the horizon for Arizona.

Winning this week, however, will be a tall task as the Cardinals lost to the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks a month ago by the score of 19-3.

Like it has all season long, Arizona’s defense did its part, sacking QB Russell Wilson seven times and limiting RB Marshawn Lynch to only 39 yards on the ground. It was the Cardinals offense that sputtered, managing only a field goal on the afternoon.

Offensively, it’s been a revolving door for Arizona all year long. Injuries to its first and second string quarterbacks, the loss of its top running back and wide receiver, you name it, the Cardinals offense has experienced it.

Through all that adversity, though, the team has persevered and enters Week 16 with a record of 11-3, still in prime position as the postseason gets set to begin.

Arizona would certainly get a boost if it can find a way to defeat Seattle this Sunday as it would clinch the NFC West division and keep the Cardinals at home throughout the playoffs.

That advantage could prove to be invaluable as Arizona has won 11 of its last 12 games at University of Phoenix Stadium, including a 7-0 record this season.

The team’s defense has certainly led the way, particularly on its home turf.

While the Cardinals stat line isn’t overly impressive, ranking 14th in the NFL allowing 350 yards per game, they rank third in points allowed (17.4 points per game). A fairly stout defense with a bend but don’t break mindset has been defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ philosophy.

In addition to that philosophy, it’s been the team’s play-making ability and knack for rushing the passer that’s established the unit as one of the league’s best. The Cardinals have a lackluster 33 sacks on the year but the constant pressure of opposing quarterbacks has led to 18 interceptions which ranks 4th in the NFL.

Despite injuries to QB Carson Palmer and RB Andre Ellington (both out for the season), Arizona’s defense has stepped up to fill the void.

In addition to Palmer and Ellington, top WR Larry Fitzgerald has been banged up and missed playing time. The Cardinals are also down to a third-string quarterback (Ryan Lindley) following yet another injury to backup-turned-starter Drew Stanton.

When Palmer went down earlier this year, many pundits wrote the Cardinals off as the feel good story of the season that would end in a downward spiral. Arizona hasn’t faded just yet and its defense gives them a chance to win any game, regardless of who’s playing on offense.

That defense will be tested this weekend and should the Cardinals ultimately prevail, it might be time to once again consider them as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

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