The Arizona Cardinals finally produced points as expected in a 38-28 win over the Rams last Sunday. They will be hard-pressed to throw up such numbers this week, though, as they face a highly ranked Jacksonville defense that is anchored by perhaps the NFL's best defensive tackle tandem in 6-foot-6, 312-pound Marcus Stroud and 6-foot-7, 328-pound John Henderson.
"They're beasts," said center Nick Leckey, who added there's not a whole lot of trickery an offensive lineman can employ to stop them "short of praying."
Stroud and Henderson are examples of draft picks that actually worked out according to plan. The Jaguars selected Stroud out of Georgia with the No. 13 overall pick in 2001, then drafted Henderson out of Tennessee with the No. 9 overall pick the following year. Neither has missed a game in his career as they have combined for 676 tackles (472 solo) and 32 sacks. Oh yeah, they've also gone to three Pro Bowls.
"Our defense starts up front with Big John and Marcus," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "They've been very dominant at times. It all starts with them. We've been able to do quite a bit defensively as a result of being able to build around those two guys."
The presence of Stroud and Henderson has enabled the Jaguars to play just seven men in the box, freeing up their safeties to defend against the pass. As a result, Jacksonville boasts the best pass defense and No. 2 scoring defense in the league.
"They're a team that will sit there with six or seven in the box and not do a lot of fancy stuff," Leckey said. "They don't need to. They're confident in those six or seven guys (and) that they'll be able to stop anybody."
There's reason for Cardinals fans to be optimistic though. Coach Dennis Green earlier this week praised his interior linemen for their play against St. Louis.
However, the Rams' Ryan Pickett and Jimmy Kennedy are not in the same league as Stroud and Henderson and this week's interior three will not resemble that which the Cardinals put on the field against the Rams. Leckey returns at center, but left guard Alex Stepanovich (shoulder) most likely will not play and right guard Jeremy Bridges (ankle) is questionable.
They would be replaced in the lineup by Fred Wakefield and Adam Haayer, respectively, both of whom are considered better playing tackle. Shawn Lynch, recently promoted from the practice squad, could fill in at center and Leckey could slide over to a guard spot if the team suffers another injury.
Arizona is carrying just seven healthy offensive linemen, down from the preferred nine. All the shuffling has left the Cardinals discombobulated, not a good thing considering Stroud and Henderson are en route to Tempe.
"Our biggest challenge of course will be adapting now," Green said. "We're extended pretty much and this is a tough week for that because (the Jaguars) are very good and very physical inside."
EXTRA POINTS: Linebacker Karlos Dansby practiced Thursday and said he was “optimistic” he would play Sunday. He was upgraded on the injury report to probable. . . .
Receiver Bryant Johnson (shoulder) also took part in some of Thursday’s practice for the first time since getting hurt a couple of weeks ago. He was upgraded from out to doubtful. . . .
Sitting out Thursday’s practice were Bridges (ankle) and Stepanovich (shoulder), along with linebacker Lance Mitchell (stomach virus).