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Breaking down the Cardinals defense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It's not just that the Cardinals love to blitz. It's that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles designs packages that disguise the origin of pressure better than almost anyone in the league.

Zone blitzes, delayed blitzes, stunts, twists and defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, then dropping back. Bowles has plenty of tools in his chest, and is willing to use them all to generate pressure.

According to, the Cardinals blitzed on a league-high 49.2 percent of dropbacks they faced during the 2013 season. The loss of Dockett to a torn anterior cruciate ligament did nothing to douse this tendency; the Cardinals have blitzed more in the three games they've played without him.

Arizona will involve its defensive backs in the blitz: look for safety Tony Jefferson and No. 3 cornerback Jerraud Powers to attack; each has forced multiple hurries, and Jefferson has two quarterback hits and a sack this year.

The blitzes and the ability to coax opposing quarterbacks to throw into crowded areas of their zone coverages explains why the Cardinals have contained opponents not through sacks, but through getting to the quarterback fast enough to prevent explosive plays. Arizona is one of five teams that has not allowed a completion of at least 40 yards this season, and neither Patrick Peterson nor Antonio Cromartie has allowed a 20-yard gain through three games.

"They're definitely very talented," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "They have a lot of speed back there, especially at the corner position, very athletic guys. And you have to be on top of your routes, making sure you're running good routes and understanding what they're trying to do coverage-wise and different things like that."

But the Cardinals do allow short to intermediate gains underneath, and this could be the Broncos' best chance to help their offense back to near its 2013 efficiency. Those could also help the Broncos keep themselves in manageable situations on third down, rather than providing the third-and-eight-or-more scenarios that set Bowles' players loose.

"They throw a lot of different things at you, just about going out and converting," said broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "Being in third down and short, first-and-10, most of the time and I think our main thing is trying to stop them from what they do."

But even when the Cardinals don't blitz, they generate pressure, particularly from South High School alumnus Calais Campbell, who returns to his hometown for the first time in the regular season.

Campbell is a five-technique defensive end in the Cardinals' 3-4 alignment. But the frequency with which he moves around the line and stunts means the responsibility for controlling him rests upon the Broncos' entire offensive line. Each member of the quintet could be tasked with blocking Campbell at some point on Sunday.

The attention to Campbell could open some opportunities for veteran Tommy Kelly, who joined Arizona after Dockett's preseason injury. It also allows for blitzes up the A-gap, and the Cardinals could try to blitz two players up the middle in an attempt to catch the Broncos' interior offensive linemen off guard.

But as teams over the years have learned, you blitz Peyton Manning at your peril. If the safeties attack, a tight end such as Julius Thomas or Virgil Green could be open. If Larry Foote abandons his post to blitz Manning, Welker could have open territory on his drag routes.

As was the case in Seattle, this is another strength-vs.-strength matchup, and the Broncos' offensive success, particularly at the end of regulation, provides hope that they can capitalize off the areas exposed by the Cardinals' predilection for pressure.

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