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Embarrassed Cardinals defense calls players-only meeting

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The leaders of the Arizona Cardinals' embattled defense called a players-only meeting to address the unit's lousy performance.

Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said the session, called by outside linebacker Joey Porter, among others, was held before practice Wednesday.

"They basically told us we've got to pick it up, we've got to step it up," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "We have to step it up, that 'when somebody punches us in the mouth, we need to be ready to punch back.'"

The Cardinals, who surrendered 444 yards in last Sunday's 41-7 rout at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, play their home opener Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

"The veteran guys took it to heart," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "They basically got everybody together and said we can't do that no more."

Even though they were without their top two running backs because of injury, the Falcons rushed for 221 yards. After two games, the Cardinals are 31st out of the 32 NFL teams in rushing defense.

Rodgers-Cromartie blamed "missed tackles and miscommunication."

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said everyone had a hand in the Cardinals' misery. That includes a front line that is supposed to be one of the team's strengths.

"I did not see that coming, I'll be honest with you," Davis said. "If we respond to it the right way, maybe it's just what we needed, a wake-up call."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has had only one loss that was more one-sided than this in his three-plus seasons with the Cardinals -- a 47-7 debacle in the snow of New England in 2008.

Davis said the Cardinals' defensive schemes have been adjusted to help cover up weaknesses and to greater utilize the strengths of players.

"The players are embarrassed and hurt and ready to get after Oakland and get that bad game out of our system," he said. "But we own it. It snuck up on us. It happened, and now we have to respond to it."

Whisenhunt said there was failure across the board by the defense.

"There are a lot of things and we've got to correct it, whether it's alignment errors, we didn't tackle great, we didn't set the edge in the run game," he said. "Those are all things that we've corrected on tape. We've made a few adjustments, and hopefully that will pay off for us on Sunday."

The Raiders bring the No. 2 rusher in the NFL after two games in Darren McFadden, who has 240 rushing yards and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Defensive end Calais Campbell said it's important for Arizona to get off to a fast start in front of what is bound to a raucous home crowd.

"Our defense and our team, when we get down early, it's possible that starts to crumble, almost like quicksand," he said. "I don't know if you've ever seen the movie 'The Replacements,' quicksand -- one thing goes wrong and then something else goes wrong. You try to fight out of it, but it keeps going wrong."

Porter is one of five new starters on the Arizona defense. Safety Kerry Rhodes is another.

"We'll be able to bounce back," Rhodes said. "We've got the players in the locker room that will get it done. We've got good veteran leadership, good guys that have been through this before, and we'll be fine."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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