Defensive Line Off-season Analysis

Ken Whisenhunt patched a lot of holes in his first season as the Cardinals' head coach. Consider the defensive line a work in progress. Arizona received inconsistent play from the nose tackle position, while ends Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith slumped during the team's playoff push.

Ken Whisenhunt hired a former colleague last off-season to fill in the gaps on the defensive line. Ron Aiken's first line of business was to work in a 3-4 scheme. In both coaches' first year with the Cardinals, they failed to make the pass rush as effective as the run defense.

The Cardinals' issue with defending the pass had a lot to do with the secondary's inability to outmatch receivers, but not all the blame can fall on the defensive backs. The Cardinals' opponents were often given a lot of breathing room up front to make those passes.

Arizona allowed 232.3 passing yards per game, the fifth most in the league.

Injuries played a big part in the line collapse. DE Bertrand Berry was expected to carry his team into the 3-4 transition, but the 32-year-old suffered a torn triceps tendon in week 10.

Even before the injury, Berry was on pace for only five sacks, which would have been his lowest total since 2001.

Joe Tafoya stepped up in Berry's absence, but his production was similar to Berry's. In the seven games Tafoya started, he compiled two sacks and 17 tackles.

Even when Berry is rehabilitated and Tafoya goes back into a backup role, the Cardinals need depth on an aging line.

The one young building block o the defensive line is 26-year-old Darnell Dockett. He had a huge impact on the line and has steadily improved each year. Darnell earned a career-high nine sacks and 58 tackles this season, but lacked consistency. Dockett earned eight sacks in the first eight games, but failed to record a sack in the next seven. He tacked on one more in the season final game against the St. Louis Rams to bump his season total to a career-high nine.

NT Gabe Watson, a 2006 fourth-round pick, is outplaying his draft status. He more than doubled his tackles from his rookie year (16) to his sophomore season (34).

The Cardinals rated poorly in pass defense, but earned positive notoriety in stopping the run. They finished ninth in the league and kept their opponents' run game to less than 100 yards per game (97.9).

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for Scout.com. She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications.


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