Cardinals preparing for biggest TE test

TEMPE, Ariz. – When it comes to the Arizona Cardinals’ problems defending tight ends, cornerback Patrick Peterson may have summed it up best.

“Tight ends been giving us hell lately,” the two-time Pro Bowler said.

Hell might be cooler than the pressure on the Cardinals to slow down Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez this week. For a defense that rebranded itself with one of the best lines in the NFL, tight ends have been its Achilles’ heel.

Of the four receivers who have caught more than 100 yards against the Cardinals, three were tight ends. There was Jared Cook from St. Louis, who had 141 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. Then New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham got 134 yards and two touchdowns. And San Francisco’s Vernon Davis torched Arizona for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Even the tight ends who didn’t hit 100 had productive outings. Carolina’s Greg Olsen had 79 yards and Seattle’s Zach Miller had 40 and a score.

“It’s like that every week. We’ll try to wear them down slowly but surely, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll shut them out,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said with a laugh. “There’s been some coverages, one or two busts here or there, and then schematically there’s been a miscommunication. We’re trying to figure all that out this week and come out and try to hold them down this week.”

Coming up this week isn’t just another tight end. He might be the greatest of all time.

For 17 years, Gonzalez has perplexed defenses. Teams have thrown every defense imaginable at him, and he’s worked his way through them all. Standard. Gimmick. Double-teams. Triple-teams. Two high. One high. All of it.

The latest strategy to slow Gonzalez down, Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers saw on tape, is to place two defenders in front of him at the line of scrimmage it’s a punt. But how might the Cardinals slow Gonzalez, who’ll retire after this season second on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.

“We just have to get our hands on them,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “A couple of games that you saw, we weren’t getting our hands on the tight end. They’re not getting touched off the line of scrimmage. As great as he is and great as he has been, you have to be able to get your hands on those guys to mess the timing up for the quarterback.”

If Gonzalez gets past the Cards’ initial jam at the line of scrimmage, then it’s about communicating, Peterson said, and making sure people are in the right positions.

Still, once Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan targets Gonzalez, the Cardinals have only a few options left. One being breaking up his hands when the pass arrives, said linebacker Karlos Dansby.

“He’s going to catch the ball,” Dansby said. “If it’s anywhere close to him, he’s going to catch it. You’ll see him make one-hand catches. The guy’s a Hall of Famer. So you just got to study as much film as you can to try to eliminate some of his passes.”

Everyone seems to have a word to describe Gonzalez. Brinkley used "crafty." Dansby used "savvy." Even Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had one: "best."

“Probably the best of all time,” Arians said. “It’s fun to go against the best when you coached or played and say, ‘I played against this guy or coached against this guy.’ Tony Gonzalez is that guy. He’s as good as it gets. He has all the tricks to the trade. He’s still athletic but he knows how to get himself open, especially down in the red zone.”

If the Cardinals trust one another, Peterson said, or play with better technique, according to Dansby, they could slow down the best tight end better than they’ve stopped other tight ends this season.

Well, that and one more thing.

“Now that we have the best covering linebacker in the game in Daryl [Washington],” Peterson said, “I believe we’ll have a fair opportunity to match up pretty well.”