Cardinals' defense off to good start in takeaways
Early in training camp, new Arizona coach Bruce Arians said he cares about only two defensive statistics: turnovers and points allowed.
''They've taken the message to heart,'' he said.
Through two preseason games, Arizona has forced eight turnovers, tied with Chicago for most in the NFL. The Cardinals have allowed a total of seven points, fewest in the league.
Dallas had six turnovers, five in the first half, in Saturday's 12-7 loss to the Cardinals.
Of course, there's no guarantee this trend will continue into the regular season.
But it won't be for lack of emphasis.
Creating turnovers has been preached by the new staff since its arrival, and honed in drills every practice.
Arians said the team is blessed to have defensive backs and linebackers who have the ability to catch the football as well as to strip it from the hands of an opposing player. Of course, Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson has that kind of talent. But he's not alone.
''Now that we have a lot more playmakers that have the ability to take the ball away from opposing offenses, it's definitely a point of emphasis,'' Peterson said.
Still, the turnover possibilities begin with Peterson, whose knack for catching the ball has led Arians to use him on offense as well as the team's shutdown corner and punt returner. Last year, his second in the NFL, Peterson had seven interceptions, fourth-most in the NFL. Four of them came in consecutive games.
Jerraud Powers came with Arians from Indianapolis and will start at the other cornerback spot. He has started all 42 of his NFL games but has been slowed at times by injuries. He missed the last half of the 2012 season with a toe injury.
Arians, the Colts' interim head coach most of last season, said Powers was the only injured player to travel with the Colts. He said he wanted Powers around because of his knowledge of the game. He also said Powers' interception in a come-from-behind victory over Green Bay was the play that turned everything around for the Colts, sending them to a surprise playoff appearance.
On Saturday against Dallas, Powers stripped the ball from Dez Bryant for one turnover and intercepted for another.
''I want to be a type of guy to go out there and force turnovers and make plays,'' Powers said, ''and we have a lot of guys on defense that can do that.''`
Safety Rashad Johnson said defensive backs like nothing more than taking the ball away.
''That's how we make a living,'' he said. ''You can go out and be a sound player, but when you go out and you make takeaways and you make big plays - like Charles Tillman did last year or Charles Woodson's been doing all his career - you get that type of status. As DBs, that's what you want.''
It's a knack that is especially noticeable in Tyrann Matthieu, the former LSU standout who sat out football last year because of drug-related problems. But the Cardinals took a chance on him in the third round of this year's draft, and he's been called the ''most dynamic player'' in training camp by Arians.
He can make the interceptions, but his most noticeable talent might be knocking the ball loose, a la Tillman.
Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby bring ball-hawking skills to the inside linebacker position.
In fact, Arians said Tuesday that given the makeup on defense, turnovers should be expected.
''You drill it every day,'' he said. ''Our DBs, our linebackers, they start every practice doing strip drills and tackling drills, taking the ball away. We're blessed with defensive backs who have really good ball skills and some linebackers who have excellent ball skills, so there's really no reason to drop an interception.''
Some defensive backs, Arians said, are players who couldn't make it as wide receivers.
''That's why they got put at DB in college, because they couldn't catch,'' he said. ''We don't have that problem. They could all play wide receiver. So every tipped ball should be ours.''
Notes: The Cardinals signed WR Mike Thomas, a day after he was released by the Detroit Lions. The former University of Arizona standout has 176 catches in 61 career NFL games. ... WR Andre Roberts missed practice for the second day with what Arians described as a ''tender ankle.''
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