TEMPE, Ariz. – Ray Horton sits far above the field in the coaches’ booth and watches his defense unfold.
In his second season as the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, Horton has his team playing at a level that has gained notice around the NFL as one of the league’s best.
Aggressive and exceedingly fast in a 3-4 scheme, the defense is a main reason the Cardinals are off to their first 3-0 start in 38 years.
You won’t see the coach with the perfectly braided hair on the sidelines. He prefers a perch high above the action, where he can see the play from afar and judge what needs to be done.
And so far, the Cardinals have done real well.
Through three games, they have allowed two touchdowns, fewest in the NFL. Their 40 points allowed are second fewest in the league behind Seattle’s 39.
Yet Horton, who played defensive back in the league for 10 seasons, gives his team a grade of “incomplete.”
“We’ve left a lot of things on the table,” he said after Friday’s final practice before Arizona is host to Miami on Sunday. “We’re striving to be as good as we can be, and we’re not there yet.”
Defense had been a trouble spot throughout Ken Whisenhunt’s time as Cardinals coach. When Horton was hired after seven seasons on the staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was Whisenhunt’s third defensive coordinator in five years.
With no offseason because of the lockout a year ago, the players struggled to get a grasp of the system Horton brought with him from Pittsburgh. Then it seemed to click, and Arizona has since won 10 of 12, largely because of its ever-stronger defense.
Let versatile lineman Nick Eason, who probably will start at tackle for the injured Darnell Dockett against the Dolphins, explain how the defense works.
“In this defensive scheme – I played in it for a number of years in Pittsburgh – I tell guys ‘Just be where you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do,’ ” Eason said. “If you’re supposed to be in the ‘B’ gap, that’s where you need to be. If you’re supposed to be in the ‘A’ gap, that’s where you need to be. We take confidence in each other.”
Eason said he loves playing for Horton.
“He’s a really smart coach. He’s a very intelligent person as well,” he said. “He doesn’t overanalyze during the game. He knows how to make adjustments during the middle of the game. You know he sits in the booth. He’s a huge asset as a defensive coordinator. He does things that make a lot of sense.”
Arizona has 12 sacks in three games – by seven players. In an example of the team’s dedication to defense, the team signed defensive end Calais Campbell and inside linebacker Daryl Washington to big contract extensions recently.