TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Calais Campbell had a huge game last Sunday, and he knows it could have been better.
The same can be said of his career.
The Arizona Cardinals’ imposing 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive end can dominate a game, yet those around him know his best playing days are still ahead.
“As good as he’s playing,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said, “I think he has another level to get to.”
Coach Bruce Arians says Campbell, in his seventh NFL season, ranks among the top “eight or nine” defensive linemen in the league.
“He’s playing at an extremely high level right now, very disruptive,” Arians said. “I don’t think he ever gets the credit he really deserves.”
One reason is the position he plays. The Cardinals use a 3-4 defensive scheme. The defensive ends who rack up the big sack numbers play in 4-3 sets.
Campbell still is getting his share of sacks and more, though.
Last Sunday, he had a career-high three against Seattle, all of them in the second quarter.
“They usually come in bunches,” he said. “It’s funny how it works that way.”
Campbell agreed with the coaches’ assessment that he could have sacked Russell Wilson at least twice more.
“Very true,” he said. “I left a couple of plays out there and I’ve got to do better. It’s something I take pride in - making every play I can, and I’ll get better this week.”
The persistently modest lineman deflected credit for the sacks he did get.
“My sacks last week were cover sacks,” Campbell said. “I give all that to the DBs. You’ve got a guy holding the ball for four seconds, you should be able to get there in plenty of time.”
In all, the Cardinals sacked Wilson seven times, a season high for Arizona.
“I think most pass rush is desire,” Campbell said. “You have your technique and different moves you work, but for the most part it comes down to just want-to.”
Even though he missed two games after injuring his knee because an illegal chop block against Denver, Campbell is tied for the team lead in sacks (six), leads in tackles for loss (eight) and quarterback pressures (14) and is second in quarterback hits (nine).
Five of his sacks have come in the last three games. All of this while consistently being double-teamed.
“I think I’m starting to get into the zone,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve been playing my best ball yet, but this is the time to play my best ball. I’m starting to feel really good right now, so hopefully these next few games I can play some really good football.”
Campbell, as polite and easygoing off the field as he is fierce on it, is in the third year of a five-year, $55 million contract. This year, for the first time, he was voted a team captain by his teammates.
“I believe he’s stepping up big now that (Darnell) Dockett is down,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “His play has definitely gone to the next level. He’s been playing huge for us. With that ‘C’ on his chest, it’s a little added pressure, so he has to make sure he plays better than pretty much everybody else on the defense.”
Dockett was knocked out for the season with a knee injury in training camp.
With his three sacks last week, Campbell passed Dockett and Bertrand Berry to go to sixth on the Cardinals’ career sacks list with 42½. He is three shy of No. 5 Eric Swann.
Campbell’s performance against Seattle made him the first defensive lineman in franchise history to have at least six sacks in six seasons. Despite missing two games, he is on pace for his sixth consecutive season with at least 50 tackles and six sacks.
But the numbers that mean most to him, he said, are 9-2, the Cardinals’ record heading into Sunday’s game at Atlanta.
A good performance is imperative after the 19-3 loss at Seattle.
“When you’re on the field and you lose a game, you want to make sure you bounce back the next week and have a little more desire, a little more chip on your shoulder,” Campbell said. “For the most part, we don’t have to do anything special. Just play football, have our energy and play with good technique and discipline, and we’re a tough team to beat.”
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