Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona Cardinals Defense: Five to Watch

After looking at five players to watch for on offense, it’s time to take a look at five Arizona Cardinals defensive players the New England Patriots will have to watch out for on Sunday.

1. LB Daryl Washington

One of the best young linebackers in this league, Daryl Washington is a huge key for the Cardinals on defense. Washington, one of the best 3-4 ILBs in the NFL, is an absolute monster against the run with his ability to shed blockers at a high rate. He is also a threat to rush the passer on the inside, and it’s Washington’s versatility that shows why he thoroughly deserved his recent five-year extension.

Washington, who led the team with 107 tackles last season, also had five sacks and is one of the team’s most productive pass rushers. That has to do with the lack of a consistent pass rusher off the edge, but it mostly has to do with Washington’s talent level. Ryan Wendell was terrific against the Titans, but he and right guard Dan Connolly (head injury vs. TEN) will have their hands full against Washington.

2+3. Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson

The Arizona Cardinals have one of the best safety duos in the NFL in Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, with both players complimenting each other well. Wilson is still going strong as one of the best safeties in the league. A leader, Wilson wreaks havoc in the box and still has incredible range. Rhodes is not nearly as good as Wilson in run support, but he makes up for that by being a great safety net in deep coverage. Wilson is also stout in coverage, and he and Rhodes make up the best pass rushing safety duo in the NFL.

4. Patrick Peterson

The former LSU standout made a huge impact as a returner as a rookie last season, and he also showed flashes of brilliance and the potential to be a shutdown corner in this league despite an uneven year in coverage. Peterson is shadowing the opponent’s top receiver these days, and he rewarded the faith that the Cardinals have put in him by shutting down Sidney Rice in Week 1. He nearly picked off a pass and did not allow Rice to catch a pass while Peterson was on him.

Now, the likely challenge for Peterson will be facing off against the Pats new star wide receiver, Brandon Lloyd. The offseason addition looked great against the Titans, and he will be downright scary once he and Tom Brady develop a strong rapport. We have already seen that the biggest benefit of having a deep threat like Lloyd is that it greatly opens things up for the other talented pass-catchers on the team. Rhodes and Wilson are clean in coverage and can help contain Wes Welker and the tight ends, but the linebackers are underwhelming in coverage and are going to get beat much more often than not.

5. Darnell Dockett

I could focus in on Calais Campbell here, as he is a better player overall. But I’m choosing to roll with the other talented 3-4 DE on the Cards in Darnell Dockett. He helps make up arguably the most talented 3-4 DE tandems in the league and absolutely ate Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini up to start the season. Granted, Giacomini is a very poor player, but Dockett’s performance was still huge. He consistently made plays against the run and had three hits on the quarterback as well as multiple hurries outside of those hits. Logan Mankins was a bit disappointing against the Titans, so he will need to get back to form (which he almost certainly will) against Dockett. The thing about Dockett is that, while he is immensely talented and can absolutely go off any given week, he is frustratingly inconsistent at times.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Adrian Wilson Arizona Cardinals Darnell Dockett Daryl Washington Kerry Rhodes New England Patriots Patrick Peterson

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