Originally Published: September 13, 2018 6:51 p.m.
TEMPE — The Washington Redskins shredded the Arizona Cardinals for 182 yards on the ground in their season opener, most of any team in the NFL last week.
Missed gap assignments, missed tackles, insufficient physical play, poor hand work at the line of scrimmage. There were plenty of reasons listed for the downfall by defensive coordinator Al Holcomb.
Now the Cardinals have to face Todd Gurley and the Rams Sunday in Los Angeles, and that doesn’t bode well for an Arizona team looking to find itself in a new defensive scheme with a new coaching staff.
“It’s a big-time challenge this week again,” Holcomb said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve got to address the mistakes, take the things that we didn’t do so well last week and correct those things. We’ve got to accentuate the positives, the good things that we did and we’ve got to continue to grow and build on that as a defense.”
Gurley carried 20 times for 108 yards and caught three for 39 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown reception in Sunday’s 33-13 win at Oakland.
And the Cardinals know Gurley all too well.
Last season Arizona had the sixth-ranked defense overall in the NFL and was sixth against the run, yet Gurley was outstanding as the Rams swept the two-game series with the Cardinals for the first time since 2012.
“We got our behinds kicked twice by this team,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
The first meeting was in Twickenham Stadium in London, where the Rams routed the Cardinals 33-0. In that game, Gurley carried 22 times for 106 yards and caught four for 48. The Rams rushed for 197 yards that day. Six weeks later in Arizona, Los Angeles won 32-15 as Gurley rushed for 74 yards in 19 attempts and caught six for 84 yards.
Combine those experiences with the team’s poor play in last week’s 24-6 loss to the Redskins and the Arizona defense is in an ornery mood.
“We’re a little salty right now so we have to come out prepared to play,” Holcomb said. “It’s a tremendous challenge in front of us but a great opportunity at the same time. We have to come out and play our brand of football like we’re capable of playing.”
First-year coach Steve Wilks wants to build a team centered on tough, physical play, especially up front. That aspect of the opener was what bothered Holcomb most.
“Just not play, as Steve talks about, according to our DNA, the physicality,” Holcomb said. “The effort was there. The physicality, playing with our hands and then obviously minimizing the run game and also the tackling aspect of it. It’s early in the season but we have to do a better job of tackling.”
The Cardinals know they have to avoid one-on-one situations with Gurley.
“Todd Gurley is a great back, one of the best backs in the league,” said nickel cornerback/safety Budda Baker. “So we know we’re all going to have to swarm to the ball to get him down.”
Peterson, a Pro Bowl player in all seven of his NFL seasons has seen a lot of Gurley throughout his career, agrees.
“The biggest point of emphasis for us on defense to contain Todd is just be like flying missiles,” Peterson said, “always hitting him and getting 11 hats on the ball.”
Of course they also have to contend with the potent passing game of Jared Goff and his group of talented wide receivers.
“We know with this team everything’ starts with the run,” Peterson said. ‘ ‘You’ve got thee play-action boot game and they try to take the top off of the defense. We have to make sure we’re gap sound this week and don’t give up the deep ball.’
It would be a great help to have defensive end Markus Golden, but he could be a week away from returning from major knee surgery. Golden practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.
“It’s definitely going to give us a boost,” Holcomb said. “He brings a lot of energy, a lot of juice. He has the ability to hold up and set the edge and also rush the passer, so I can’t wait to get him back.”
Golden led the Cardinals in sacks two seasons ago with 12 1-2. The other defense end, All-Pro Chandler Jones, led the NFL in sacks last year with a franchise-record 17 and had one in the season opener.
Johnson was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday with a sore back. TE Jermaine Gresham also was limited as he returns from surgery to repair an Achilles tendon. Gresham, like Golden, has yet to play this season.