Arizona Cardinals-San Diego Chargers: Defensive review

The Arizona Cardinals' defensive front did an excellent job generating pressure against Chargers' quarterback Kellen Clemens.

In this week's defensive installment of "Upon further review," CardinalsSource breaks down the first two series of the game for the Cardinals' first team defense.

After the midway point of the first quarter, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians began mixing second team players with the first unit, so we looked exclusively at the first two series to determine how prepared the Cardinals' defense looks at this point in the preseason.

With three weeks to go until the Cardinals' season-opener, the defensive line already looks like it should be one of the team's strengths this season. 

First defensive series  

1st and 10: Chargers' starter Philip Rivers did not play Friday night, so backup Kellen Clemens led the first team offense onto the field. Arizona starts in its base defense, with both outside linebackers walked up to the line of scrimmage to give the Cardinals a 50-look defensively. The Chargers' left guard does a great job pulling to the hole to wall off Kevin Minter, while outside linebacker Markus Golden completely loses contain on the edge. Cornerback Brandon Williams took a terrible angle in secondary contain, so Melvin Gordon is able to break to the outside and pick up 12 yards on the first play from scrimmage.

1st and 10: Arizona sticks with base personnel, and walks up safety Tony Jefferson into the box to give the Cardinals an 8-man box against 21-personnel for San Diego. Josh Mauro beats his man off the ball and gets into the backfield, but nose tackle Corey Peters was moved off the ball by the Chargers' center which opens up a slight lane for Gordon. Jefferson lunges into the running lane to make a stop after a 3-yard gain.

2nd and 7: The Cardinals' show a four-down linemen look with just two interior players on the field and Jones and Golden both playing out of three-point stances. Nickel back Tyvon Branch is on the field, so it's about a 7.5-man box for Arizona with a single high safety. Clemens makes a quick read and sees a wide receiver open on a slant route, but linebacker Deone Bucannon makes an even better read and delivers what will likely go down as the preseason hit of the year. Bucannon knocked the helmet off of the receiver on a legal hit, and didn't allow the catch to be made.

3rd and 7: On 3rd down, the Cardinals use more of a dime look with two high safeties with a nickel cornerback in the game and Bucannon lined up over a slot receiver. After a motion from San Diego, though, the defense returns to its nickel shell. Arizona only has two down linemen on the field, as both Golden and Jones are playing out of a two-point stance to give Arizona a four-man front. At the snap, both Golden and Jones get off the ball with great speed and apply pressure on Clemens, and because the pocket collapses, perhaps the lineman with the worst get off in Mauro is the one who earns the sack to end the drive.

4th and 7: The Chargers' punt sails over the head of J.J. Nelson, the returner, but takes an impressive Chargers' hop and is downed at the two-yard line. Nelson was really in no man's land on this one.  

Second defensive series

1st and 10: Arizona starts out in its nickel defense on first down, which it has a tendency to do after the first few series of the game. Branch is on the field as a nickel corner, and so far during the preseason, this is where we've seen him play the majority of his reps. (It will be interesting to see if this continues when Tyrann Mathieu returns). At the snap, the Chargers show pass, but then use a delayed handoff on a draw play. Jones didn't have a great rep here, as he allows himself to be blocked and that enables running back Danny Woodhead to gain three yards when a stronger effort could have closed the hole closer to the line of scrimmage. 

2nd and 7: Cariel Brooks comes on to replace Branch as the team's nickel corner, as it looks like the Cardinals are beginning to rotate their second team defenders. Clemens targets Williams on the outside, and hits Keenan Allen for a 13-yard gain. Williams was in decent position with his body, but fails to put his hands up to deny Allen the ball.

1st and 10: The Cardinals' base defense personnel comes back on, as the team brings eight men into the box against 21-personnel. D.J. Swearinger is lined up as the single-high safety, and Jefferson blitzes off the edge on the wide side of the field. The Chargers use a quick toss running play to the boundary, and Jones takes a risk by dipping inside the offensive tackle despite having contain responsibilities. The risk works out perfectly for Jones, who sheds his block and brings down Gordon in the backfield for a three-yard loss on a play that makes up for his poor effort two plays earlier. Josh Mauro also had great pursuit on the play.

2nd and 13: The nickel package returns on second and long, and with a six-man box, the Chargers elect to run the ball. The Chargers have numbers, but Kevin Minter slides through and makes a nice stop on a run play which is important because he has struggled with run fits to this point in the preseason.

3rd and 11: Four-man front for Arizona with an interesting look as three players are lined up in front of the left side of the Chargers' offensive line with Golden playing a wide 9-technique outside the right tackle leaving a big void on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Both Mauro and Calais Campbell break through with pressure against Clemens, and he's forced to get rid of the ball early and can't complete his third down pass. The incompletion ends the drive, and ends the night for some of Arizona's first string defenders. 


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