October 27, 2016

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) So far, the Arizona Cardinals offense is nowhere near the dynamic, big-play outfit it was a year ago. The defense, though, might be better.

Arizona has not allowed a touchdown in its last two games - a 28-3 victory over the New York Jets and that strange 6-6 overtime tie with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. Actually, it is nine consecutive quarters if you count the 15-minute overtime period.

With the addition of outside linebacker Chandler Jones and the return of Tyrann Mathieu from knee surgery, this defense was supposed to surely be improved. The Cardinals sputtered in the season-opening loss to Tom Brady-less New England and were embarrassed in a 33-18 loss at Buffalo.

Things went from better in a win in San Francisco to dominant against the Jets and Seahawks.

''I think we're just starting to groove,'' defensive tackle Calais Campbell said, ''developing the confidence, developing the swagger. We have a lot of talent. We knew that going in. We're on the same page now.''

Through seven games, Arizona ranks second in the NFL in total defense - allowing an average of 289.6 yards. They are third against the pass, 13th against the run.

Now it's on to Carolina (1-4) to face a team that's an even puzzle than the Cardinals are at 3-3-1.

Arizona Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, a critical member of the defense, said he will be fine to play despite sore ribs that prevented him from practicing Wednesday. He was limited Thursday.

''For the most part I felt pretty good and I'll be ready to go Sunday,'' Peterson said. ''Probably the most challenging thing about it is trusting it will be OK in the game when I have to press.''

Arizona relies on Peterson to defend the opponent's best receiver. He said he expects to be defending wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin most of the time Sunday

Bruce Arians said Sunday's game was the best defensive performance by the Cardinals since he's been their coach. Arizona's defense stuffed the Seahawks in regulation. Seattle got past midfield once in those four quarters, and that came on a blocked punt. The Cardinals outgained Seattle 443 yards to 257.

''We came in on Monday to watch the tape and, for me, as the coordinator, it was just the passion and energy our guys played with,'' defensive coordinator James Boettcher said. ''We played extremely hard. Our guys were ready to play and prepared really well during the course of the week.''

Jones had a strip sack against Seattle and has been the disruptive force as advertised. The other outside linebacker Markus Golden has been equally successful getting pressure. Golden has six sacks, Jones five. Arizona has 20 sacks overall. Only Denver and Buffalo have more.

Arizona is tied for second in takeaways (14) and interceptions (9).j

The secondary has vastly improved from early season problems with a few personnel changes. Safety Tony Jefferson is second on the team with 20 tackles. He also has eight tackles for loss, a sack, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Safety D.J. Swearinger has two interceptions. Cornerback Marcus Cooper, acquired in a trade with Kansas City just before the season started, has three interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns in a blowout win over Tampa Bay.

Then there's Mathieu. Coming back from his second knee surgery in three seasons, he was eased into the fray at strong safety in the early games. Finally, against the Jets, he was moved into his old ''do everything'' nickel defense role when he plays all over the field. He got his first interception in that game. But he pronounces himself at 85 or 90 percent of normal and won't be fully himself until the knee brace comes off, which he hopes is soon.

''You can tell that he's a little frustrated that he's not The Honey Badger, because he still has that brace on,'' Peterson said. ''He's still kind of playing second-guess football and not truly trusting it. But I trust him enough that he'll get back in the groove. He's still making those plays, he's just not making. He's just not making those plays all game like we were accustomed to seeing him make throughout (last) season.''

Peterson is playing as well as ever but he knows the secondary is not the strength of this defense.

''Give the credit to the front four,'' Peterson said. ''Those guys are really hunting up there.''

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