Two weeks ago, the Arizona Cardinals' defensive front was thoroughly outplayed by a suspect Buffalo Bills' offensive line.
The Cardinals were gashed in the run game and barely impacted the Bills' passing attack, ultimately succumbing in a demoralizing 33-18 loss.
On Thursday night in San Francisco, Arizona knew the play of its defensive front was paramount to shutting down the 49ers' read-option plays and creative rushing attack, and the Cardinals delivered.
Arizona limited San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde to just 3.5 yards per carry and sacked quarterback Blaine Gabbert seven times, marking the most Cardinals' sacks in a single game since the team recorded 10 against the Eagles in 1986.
"It felt good, it felt real good just to get back in the win category and we were able to do it," outside linebacker Markus Golden said. "It felt good, we just have to keep it going."
Golden and teammate Calais Campbell paved the way for Arizona's defensive front against an outmatched San Francisco offensive line all evening on Thursday.
Golden, a second round draft pick in 2015, racked up 10 tackles and 2.0 sacks and nearly had a third that was ultimately negated by a penalty.
Campbell stuffed the stat sheet as well, recording four tackles, 2.0 sacks including one on a safety, and a game-changing interception on a tipped pass from Chandler Jones that set up the Cardinals' first touchdown.
"I was very pleased with our defense, it was a very hard offense to get ready for in walk-throughs," Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians said. "Just the tempo of it, assignment-wise, I thought we handled the option extremely well. The quarterback got out once or twice but other than that I thought we handled their option game pretty well."
Campbell is the highest-paid defensive linemen in the league, and the Cardinals expect him to perform at a high level on a weekly basis. Golden, however, has been a pleasant surprise, as he now leads the NFL with 6.0 sacks on the season after finishing with 4.0 during his rookie campaign.
"Really, I'm not doing anything special, I'm not doing anything special, I'm just playing like I always play," Golden said. "Of course I know what to do now, I'm not thinking out there anymore, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm playing to win."
The Missouri product hasn't just outshined Jones in terms of his ability to pressure the quarterback, he's been a far superior edge defender against the run this season as Jones has struggled with leverage at the line of scrimmage.
Against an offense whose success is predicated on a successful read-option attack, Golden's disciplined manner and backside pursuit on run flow were critical to shutting down the 49ers' run game.
"We did great, all week Calais (Campbell) was telling us all week we have to get after the quarterback and make a statement," Golden said. "We followed Calais and he's our leader, we made sure we did what we had to do, we made sure to get after Blaine (Gabbert) and we ended up sacking him seven times and that's a pretty good game, you can never complain with that. He's saying we just have to keep playing to win and keep going."
The win moves the Cardinals to 2-3 on the season, and pulls them within a game and a half of Seattle and Los Angeles heading into the weekend. With a long week of rest that includes an additional break because the Cardinals' next game is on Monday night, Golden said the win proved pivotal for his team.
"Yes, I feel like we needed it because any time you win a big game like this, the way we did it tonight with special teams, defense and offense, I feel like it's a special win and we're going to be able to come back and build off of this on Monday," Golden said.null