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GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ever hear of Sam Acho? How about O’Brien Schofield and Daryl Washington?
They’re three linebackers who cause havoc and disruption up front and they play for arguably the NFL’s best defense.
We’re talking about the Arizona Cardinals, of course. They improved to 3-0 by suffocating the Eagles 27-6 on Sunday at home.
Maybe you haven’t noticed how hard they hit or how much pressure they put on quarterbacks. They already know you haven’t.
“No one respects our defense. No one respects our team, and that’s OK,” Schofield said. “You have to earn respect. We have worked so hard, in practice and even in our walkthroughs, to be a really good team.”
The Cardinals are quickly becoming one of the top stories of the season, and not because All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald is making frequent visits to the end zone.
It’s because of a defense that suffocated the Eagles on Sunday just seven days after it put the clamps on the New England juggernaut offense.
And they don’t even think they’ve reached their peak.
“I think it’s evolving,” safety Kerry Rhodes said. “We’re not letting guys run free. We didn’t play lights out. We played good but we didn’t play perfect. That just fuels us every week to get better. If we play a perfect game, we are going to be hard to beat.”
Arizona’s swarming defense is the talk of the desert now, especially after it knocked around and battered Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and held the league’s top-rated offense to 308 yards -- more than 100 yards fewer than the Eagles’ season average.
Vick was held without a touchdown pass or 300-yard effort for the first time this season. Arizona attacked Vick relentlessly, piling up 13 hits on the elusive quarterback and sacking him five times.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (13 carries, 70 yards) had nowhere to run and DeSean Jackson caught just three passes for 43 yards. The Eagles were held without a touchdown for the first time since their season finale of the 2009 year.
“This was a very good defense,” Eagles left tackle Demetress Bell said. "They had a lot of talent and a very good scheme.”
Down lineman Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett lead the charge up front, but the pressure comes from Arizona’s ball-hawking linebackers.
Washington sacked Vick twice. Acho forced a fumble. Schofield registered a sack and a hurry.
“It’s definitely a fun defense,” Washington said. “We have a lot of guys moving around, and we definitely are aggressive. When you have speed like we do and guys that can make plays, it makes it much easier.”
Kevin Kolb is starting to find his rhythm as the Cardinals’ quarterback and Fitzgerald finally broke out, with 114 yards and his first touchdown this year.
But the back-breaking plays came from Arizona’s defense.
Just before halftime, backed up against their goal line, Rhodes blitzed off the edge and pummeled Vick, who lost handle of the ball. James Sanders scooped the loose ball and returned it 93 yards for the touchdown and 24-0 lead.
And that’s all they needed, with Vick getting hit time and time again and unable to find DeSean Jackson downfield even on those snaps where he had some time to scan the field.
“It’s just something that separates a good defense from a great defense -- those types of plays where you have an opportunity when a team can get back in the game or you can put them away,” safety Rashad Johnson said.
The NFL should have seen this coming. The Cards haven’t come from nowhere. They won five of their last six games last year to finish 8-8 after starting off 3-7.
Sunday’s win over the Eagles was their seventh straight win at home and they haven’t allowed more than 18 points in any of those games. They have 28 sacks during that streak.
They don’t get the same credit as their defensive-minded division counterparts, the San Francisco 49ers. But that score will be settled when they meet for the first time next month.
For now, they’re just gaining confidence with each game and starting to make people know their names.
“You can definitely say that. We have swagger and we have a lot of confidence,” Washington said. “We believe in one another, and as the year progresses, we’ll continue to get better.”