Cardinals’ defensive scheme least unique in NFL

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is entering his fourth season with the Arizona Cardinals. Throughout his tenure in the desert, his defensive unit has grown significantly each year.

Pro Football Focus charted all NFL defenses in terms of uniqueness.

Principal components for a defensive scheme are made up of box counts used, number of even and odd fronts used, coverages used, blitz and stunt rates (on neutral downs), and many other things.

Joseph’s defense was the least unique of all, finding itself dead-center at (0,0) on the chart. It is not unique in any aspect — fronts, blitzes, coverage.  They also did an offensive study, citing head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense as the second most unique scheme in the NFL.

Having a unique scheme doesn’t necessarily produce results. Some teams in the past, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, win with personnel and physicality. Those will always remain important, but having a unique scheme can benefit, particularly early in the season before teams can adjust.

In a coverage analysis, PFF classified Joseph’s defense as a heavy man-coverage scheme, mostly utilizing Cover 1 and Cover 2 concepts. Joseph has often used exotic blitz packages, leaving his corners in press man coverage. The Cardinals defense under Joseph has been at its best using this concept, as opposed to the zone-heavy three man rush package that struggled to produce last season.

Playing man-heavy defense has been successful for the Cardinals partly due to the successes of their safety duo, Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson. With both playing at a Pro-Bowl level, Joseph can be more aggressive and feel comfortable that no one will get behind the defense.

For the Cardinals defense to take another leap in 2022, they will need a jump in production from promising cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson. They’ll both be extraordinarily important in ensuring Joseph can run the man-heavy scheme he likes to.

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