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Joseph Leads Productive Cardinals Defense

The Cardinals defensive unit, led by coordinator Vance Joseph, ranks high in the NFL in numerous important categories.

There’s a chance Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones will be active for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans.

Jones, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Oct. 12, was back in the team facility Friday but was not on the field during practice. He also was not officially activated from the COVID list Friday.

His conditioning will be assessed before the decision is made whether to have him play this week.

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Zach Allen and nose tackle Corey Peters also remain on the COVID list after also testing positive. A return can only happen when a player is asymptomatic and has two negative tests 24 hours apart.

Allen was placed on reserve Oct. 16 and Peters Oct. 17.

Without Jones, Allen and Peters, the defense played well in last Sunday’s win over Cleveland, limiting the Browns to 290 yards on 55 plays and 25:21 of possession time.

Cleveland converted 3-of-10 third downs and was 1-of-4 on fourth down. The Cardinals had five sacks and three takeaways.

In the last two games, San Francisco and Cleveland were successful on a combined 2-of-9 fourth-down attempts.

For the season, the Cardinals are second in the NFL with a plus-8 turnover ratio and are third with 13 takeaways. They are third in third-down efficiency (31.3%), tied for second on fourth down (28.6%) and fourth in sacks per pass play.

The offense, of course, has noticed.

Quarterback Kyler Murray said, "The defense has, I don’t know how many turnovers, but it seems like they are getting multiple turnovers each and every week. He’s been a head coach, so it’s nothing for him to step in and obviously lead this team when he has to. I think the guys know that. We’re all confident. This is a great coaching staff that we have. No drop-off there, and you got great players on defense. They’re doing well, so we gotta just keep it going."

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In the red zone, the touchdown percentage against is 55.6, which is 12th in the league, but most impressive is that opponents have scored only 11 times in 18 trips (61.1%), which is tops in the NFL. 

That has resulted in the Cardinals being ranked second in the league in points per game allowed, as opponents have scored a league-low 13 points in the fourth quarter with seven coming on a meaningless touchdown drive late in the game against the Rams.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, “I think we've learned over the years certain stats matter more than most. Obviously, the stats that keep the points to a minimum like third downs, red zone, takeaways, sacks, passing yards per play that keeps the points to a minimum. 

"Yards in this league, it's going to be always tough to keep low because everyone is moving the ball, so that's not a concern for me. It's really those areas that hold points to minimum; those things matter. 

"Teams are gonna move the ball on you; it's NFL football. But once you're in the red zone, man to be sticky down there and win third downs that's NFL football. So that's what we focus on right now. Those areas we are really good at and hoping to improve other places.”

Joseph noted the team effort on display against the Browns.

Said Joseph, “(Linebacker) Markus Golden played really well. He had a couple sacks, he played really well in the run game. He pressured the quarterback. He missed one sack. I thought DK (linebacker Devon Kennard) played really well in his role in the running game. He was very dominant. He was physical, he made some plays that only he can make in the run game. (Linebacker Dennis) Gardeck played really well in the pass game as a rusher up front.

“(Defensive tackle Jordan) Phillips played about 15 to 20 snaps (actually 21) of good football. That was good to see. He hadn't played since the Giants game last year. So watching him play and be healthy and watching him play a three-technique was fun to watch. (The) entire defense played solid football outside of two drives.”

Meanwhile, defensive end J.J. Watt has raised his play this month.

“J.J.’s played better the last three weeks,” Joseph said. “He missed camp guys, so the first couple games during the season he wasn't in form, but from the Rams game to the San Fran game last week to (Sunday), man, he's played at a high level. He's so disruptive; he's making plays. The sack numbers are not there. But as far as the plays he's made on third downs, knocking balls down, making TFLs on first, second down, he's been a dominant player in the last three weeks.”

Watt is one of eight players that have combined for the team’s 17 sacks and Golden is second on the team with four. He is one behind Jones, who had five in the season opener, but none since.