Cardinals' blitz-heavy strategy could backfire against Cam Newton

Cardinals defense facing a tough test against Panthers (1:26)

Josh Weinfuss breaks down the challenges the Cardinals' defense will be facing in trying to stop Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart in the NFC Championship Game. (1:26)

The standard in the NFL is to send four pass-rushers. But every team mixes blitzes into their defensive scheme in order to put extra pressure on the quarterback. And no team in the league loves to blitz quite like the Arizona Cardinals.

The average NFL team sends five or more pass-rushers on roughly 30 percent of opponents' dropbacks. Not Arizona, though. The Cardinals sent five or more pass-rushers on a league-leading 45.1 percent of opponents' dropbacks this season. That's not even the highest rate they've had in recent years; in 2013, the Cardinals blitzed 49.6 percent of the time.

Arizona will blitz in any down-and-distance situation, and from any location on the field. The Cardinals don't just wait for obvious passing situations like third down. This season they blitzed more often on first down (46.3 percent of pass plays) than on third down (43.7 percent). Arizona was one of only two teams (Denver was the other) to send at least five pass-rushers on at least half the pass plays it faced in the red zone. Last week against Green Bay, the Cardinals blitzed on a Hail Mary, which is unheard of.

In general, blitzing works. Quarterbacks will hit longer passes against the blitz, but that is more than offset by the rise in sacks. If we include both sacks and scrambles, the average play with three or four pass-rushers gained 6.7 yards this season. That number dropped to 6.4 yards with five pass-rushers, 5.8 yards with six and 5.4 yards with seven or more.

And yet, here's the remarkable thing about Arizona's defense: Opposing quarterbacks don't actually perform any worse against the Arizona blitz. Completion rates go down, but overall efficiency does not. When you add in yardage gained from scrambles or lost on sacks, the Cardinals allow roughly the same average of yards per dropback whether they send a regular pass rush, a blitz of five pass-rushers or a big blitz of six or seven.