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Cards' defense reveals its aggressive side

/ Source: East Valley Tribune

Scott Bordow: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt finally has brought Steelers football to the Valley. No, Arizona hasn't become a grind-it-out, run-first football team. The offense still revolves around Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. But those blitzes the Cardinals kept throwing at the San Diego Chargers in their 17-6 preseason loss Saturday?

Chargers defense shuts down Arizona in 17-6 win

Too on One: Dale Hellestrae

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt finally has brought Steelers football to the Valley.

No, Arizona hasn't become a grind-it-out, run-first football team. The offense still revolves around Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

But those blitzes the Cardinals kept throwing at the San Diego Chargers in their 17-6 preseason loss Saturday? And the five quarterback sacks, including four of San Diego starter Philip Rivers in the first quarter?

Chargers defense shuts down Arizona in 17-6 win

Too on One: Dale Hellestrae

Yup, that's straight from the playbook of legendary Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"Wow, what you say about them and the way they came out and played early," said Warner, who had an off night, completing just 6 of 13 passes for 80 yards and throwing an interception in the end zone … "They were all over Philip Rivers, hitting him about every snap and (they) didn't give him a chance to get comfortable in the pocket. It's going to bode well for us through the season."

New defensive coordinator Bill Davis clearly will run a more aggressive scheme than his predecessor, Clancy Pendergast.

That makes sense on two fronts:

1. The Cardinals need to get more pressure on the quarterback than they did last year, when veteran outside linebacker Bertrand Berry led the team with five sacks.

2. It plays to the strength of Arizona's best defensive players: Safety Adrian Wilson, linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Darnell Dockett.

How aggressive will the Cardinals be? Well, on one play up in Flagstaff, Davis had both Wilson and free safety Antrel Rolle blitzing up the middle.

"What I liked is we had a number of different guys get to the quarterback," Whisenhunt said. "It wasn't just one. It was combination of technique and the schemes we were running."

Other developments from Saturday's game:

• Nose tackle Bryan Robinson likely locked up the starting job with a strong first-quarter performance that included a sack and a strong pass rush that forced Rivers to hurry a throw.

Given that backup Gabe Watson is expected to make the 53-man roster, could 2007 second-round pick Alan Branch be cut before the opener? The Cardinals have kept Branch in part because he was a high draft choice, but all he's done in two years is prove he's not good enough.

• Seventh-round pick LaRod Stephens-Howling, who has intrigued the Cardinals as a third-down back, may have won a spot on the roster with an 89-yard kickoff return to start the game and a 63-yard runback in the second quarter.

"That is one of the things that they made clear, that I had to excel on special teams in order to make the team," Stephens-Howling said.

• You can forget about that supposed battle for the backup quarterback spot between Matt Leinart and Brian St. Pierre.

The job is Leinart's after St. Pierre played miserably with the second-team offense, completing 6 of 15 passes for 79 yards and one interception, a pass he threw behind tight end Ben Patrick in the end zone.

Leinart, meanwhile, looked sharp a second straight week, connecting on 6 of 10 passes for 74 yards in his fourth-quarter stint. Leinart drilled several passes between defenders, showing a zip on the ball we haven't seen often enough before.

• Still concerned about the loss of defensive end Antonio Smith to free agency? Don't be. Second-year pro Calais Campbell looks like he'll be more than an able replacement. Campbell, who had seven tackles against Pittsburgh, sacked Rivers in the first quarter and played well again.

One final thought: The regular season can't get here soon enough. Watching the second half of these games is like sitting through the final three innings of a Cactus League game.

Check that. The NFL preseason is worse. It has instant replay.