Originally Published: August 27, 2018 11:43 p.m.
TEMPE — The way first-year coach Steve Wilks sees it, that deluge of turnovers by Arizona opponents — 16 in three games — this preseason is no happenstance.
It’s the result, he said, of heavy emphasis in practice.
“I think it’s really the standard that we’ve set,” Wilks said Monday. “It’s what we emphasize and what we teach and what we preach as coaches, taking the ball away.”
The Cardinals benefited from four turnovers apiece by the Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints and a whopping eight by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. The Cardinals have one turnover — a pick thrown by Mike Glennon — so are plus-15 in takeaways.
All of which means nothing in preseason as far as wins and losses (Arizona is 3-0 but picked by many to finish at the bottom of the NFC West) but it is an eye-popping number. It’s hard to lose when the opponent forks over the ball eight times.
“We create drills for that,” Wilks said. “Coach Holcomb (defensive coordinator Al Holcomb) and the staff work on that daily. The things we do in practice, picking up loose balls. When we do get interceptions, it’s the mindset of scoring, so you see guys run all the way to the end zone.”
As an example, Wilks used Patrick Peterson’s interception and return 30 yards untouched for a touchdown against the Cowboys.
“I just finished showing the team the interception that Patrick had and I backed it with the interception that he had in practice on the exact same sideline,” Wilks said. “So I always say in order to do something in the game you have to first do it in practice.”
By breakdown, Arizona has six interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
“I mean, turnovers, it might look exciting out there,” said linebacker Gerald Hodges, who had a forced fumble against Dallas. “But for us, it is normal because that is what we are preaching all throughout camp, all throughout practice — turnovers, turnovers. Run to the ball, get to the ball. When you run to the ball, when you get to the ball, you are going to create turnovers.”
Peterson had a big day, returning that interception for a score, high-stepping the last few yards with the ball palmed in one hand. He also forced a fumble, stripping the ball away with a tackle.
“This is what I envisioned,” Peterson said. “What I have been talking about the whole spring, up until this point. This defense is really opportunistic. It is really set up to make plays at any position. From the linebacker position, from the front four, to the back seven. We are out and we are flying around. We are playing fast football. We are playing together. Communicating. It is fun to see us flying around, playing the type of football that we are capable of playing.”
Of course, the Cardinals have yet to see a legitimate starting NFL quarterback. Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Dak Prescott sat out those games. The starter won’t be playing for Denver in the preseason finale Thursday night, either.
But make no mistake, forcing turnovers is designed to be a big part of the Cardinals game plan this season.
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