The turnover that wasn’t is perhaps the defining moment so far for the Cardinals’ defense this season.
Linebacker James Darling returned an interception 90 or so yards in the season opener for a touchdown, only to have it called back on a penalty.
The defense made a big play, but Arizona didn’t get a score. And the way the Cardinals have stolen the ball from their opponents this season, it shouldn’t equal an 0-2 record.
“Normally, if you get turnovers and convert offensively, you can win,” coach Dennis Green said.
These aren’t normal times for the Cardinals, who this season have piled up six takeaways to tie for fourth in the NFL in the category. With two giveaways, the Cardinals are at plus-four in turnover differential.
Offensive struggles have made the turnovers somewhat meaningless. Arizona has generated six points off those six turnovers, not a big surprise given the team’s overall offensive woes.
But after two games last season, the Cardinals had generated no turnovers. And because Arizona still has a load of holes on game days on both sides of the ball, the Cards will cling to whatever positives they can find.
“We preach turnovers, we preach trying to get the ball out, we preach trying to change field position with turnovers,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “We want to be an opportunistic defense.”
This season, teams are 26-4 when they win the turnover battle in a game.
Just last week, Quentin Griffith’s fumble for Denver as the Broncos set up a game-winning field goal attempt, allowing Jacksonville (the only team behind the Cardinals in the offensive rankings) to win and go 2-0. And the struggling Giants managed to hold off Washington, 20-14, because the Redskins turned the ball over a stunning seven times.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the turnovers they have forced haven’t had game-changing dynamics. None of three takeaways have come in the second half, when the Cards needed a big play.
“We’ve been bending a bit more than we want to,” Green said.
Then again, the Cardinals do have the worst defense in the NFL after all the Rams and Patriots piled up the yards. Without the turnovers, the scores would have been much worse than 17-10 and 23-12.
“It makes you look at it like, ‘If we stop them on the run and get the turnovers, what kind of defense would we be?’ ” said safety Quentin Harris, who had a hand in each of the three first-week turnovers.
Pendergast said the whole defense should run to the ball on every play regardless of where it might be on the field.
“Get to the ball,” Harris said, “because you never know what will happen.”
The Cardinals also are benefitting from better pressure up the field by the defensive line. That’s what caused the Patriots to fumble a pitch that defensive end Bertrand Berry recovered. A hit on quarterback Tom Brady by defensive tackle Russell Davis helped force an interception by cornerback David Macklin.
“The guys in here understand it starts up front,” Davis said. “If we’re not doing our job they can’t do their job in the back. And if they do their job covering we can get some sacks. It all works together.”