Arizona Cardinals: How the Cardinals and the NFC West Are Changing Football

Christopher Amick@!/TheAmickCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 23:  Cornerback Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Carindals defeated the Eagles 27-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NFC West was once the laughingstock of the football world. Now the division has surprisingly become one of the most fiercely competitive quartets in the game, and all four teams are doing it with defense.

The NFL has turned into a passing league lately, but the these teams are bucking that trend with a vengeance.

All four teams sit at 2-2 or better right now, and it seems like each team has had a unique defensive renaissance.


Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have transformed from one of the most putrid franchises in NFL history into the hottest story of the football season so far.

They are 4-0 and they are doing it with a suffocating defense that is led by coordinator Ray Horton.

Horton will likely be the hottest head coaching candidate when January rolls around, and his defense came into Week 4 ranked second in points allowed.

Arizona's defensive unit hit Micheal Vick over 20 times last week and forced him into three fumbles while holding the Eagles without a touchdown.


Week 2 was an even more impressive showing by the Cardinals defense as they set the tone early for a shocking victory over Tom Brady and the Patriots


Second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson starred in the contest, but the rest of the talent on this defense is plentiful.

Peterson is joined in the secondary by a couple of crafty veteran safeties in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.

Young budding stars in the front seven round out the squad, and if you have never heard of guys like Daryl Washington, Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, you soon will.



San Francisco 49ers

This is the unit that started it all. They make no apologies for being a defensive-minded team, and they are one of the few franchises that can win without a top quarterback under center.

The San Francisco defense gives opposing offensive coordinators nightmares. They completely owned the New York Jets today en route to a 34-0 victory.

Linebacker Patrick Willis is the best inside linebacker in all of football and has led his team to wins over offensive juggernauts like Detroit and Green Bay this season.


2011 was a breakout year for San Francisco and this vaunted defense took the resurgent franchise to the brink of a Super Bowl berth. 


Just ask the New Orleans Saints how physical this 49ers team can be. In last year's divisional playoff win, the Saints got smacked in the mouth early and often by San Francisco, and New Orleans never recovered.

It looks like more of the same this year for Niners defense, and they will be a force all season long.



Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll has built a real opportunistic defensive unit in the upper northwest that leads the league in points allowed thus far in 2012.

Seattle had a coming out party last Monday night when they harassed Aaron Rodgers for eight first-half sacks and held the Packers to only one offensive touchdown during a controversial win.

Rookie Bruce Irvin has shown a real knack for getting after the quarterback and Seattle's versatile front seven have made made their rush defense top notch.


The Seahawks are leaning on a hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme that uses its flexibility to showcase a number of different looks.

Interior lineman like Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane make this possible and their athleticism in the middle of the defense is a big reason for their early-season success



St. Louis Rams

The Rams boast a middle-of-the-pack defense, but they sure stepped up in today's win over the division rival Seahawks

St Louis intercepted rookie Russell Wilson three times on their way to a 19-13 win.

They have some very young talent in their front seven that includes linebacker James Laurinaitis and Chris Long.

New coach Jeff Fischer is a sharp defensive mind, and he has a number of early draft picks that he can use to build this team into a defensive force.

The NFC West has come a long way from the days when they had a lousy 7-9 Seattle team represent them in the playoffs, and in this new passing era, it's amazing that this entire division is doing it with defense.