Cardinals Safeties Playing With ‘Swagger,’ Making Strong Case for NFL’s Best Duo

Getty Cardinals safeties Jalen Thompson (34) and Budda Baker (3) chase down Bears RB David Montgomery on December 5.

The Arizona Cardinals continued their ball-hawking ways in Week 13, collecting four interceptions on their way to a 33-22 road win over the Chicago Bears.

Cardinals safeties Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker got the pick party started with interceptions on the Bears’ first two possessions and made another strong argument for being the NFL’s best safety duo.

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“Those boys are fun to watch,” said Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard, noting how the safeties stand out in film sessions.

“[Thompson] is a heck of player. He makes a lot of great open-field tackles. He’s a fun player to watch,” Kennard said. “And Budda is Budda. That dude flies around.”

Baker and Thompson are now in their third season together, though Thompson missed 11 games last year with an ankle injury. They seem to be hitting their stride this season and are being talked about — in Arizona, at least — as being among the league’s best.

Following back-to-back interceptions by Arizona’s starting safeties in Chicago, former Cardinals staff writer Kyle Odegard, now the sports and gambling editor at Compare.bet, tweeted:

John Gambadoro, host of Arizona Sports’ “Burns & Gambo,” had a similar take Tuesday, December 7, and asked Thompson about whether he and Budda view themselves as “the best safety duo in the NFL.”

Thompson’s response: “Oh, heck yeah!”

“I feel like we’ve been playing at a high level so far this year,” he said. “And I feel like we’ve probably been up there labeled as some of the best safeties in the league. We just need to keep going out there and doing our same thing.”


Baker: ‘We’re Just Trying to Get to the Ball’

Baker, 25, has gotten better each season since the Cardinals selected the former University of Washington star in the second round (No. 36 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft.

He’s a three-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro last season and has gained respect as one of the best strong safeties in the league. As of December 2, Baker was the NFC’s top vote-getter in Pro Bowl voting for the position.

Baker leads the Cardinals with four takeaways (three interceptions and a fumble recovery) this season, including a first-quarter pick that bounced off the hands of Bears tight end Cole Kmet. Baker returned the interception 78 yards before QB Andy Dalton was able to trip him up at the Bears’ 15-yard line:

Baker took some heat on social media for not scoring on the play. After the game, he told NFL Network’s Stacey Dales: “I should have scored, but it’s OK.”

Baker said the Cardinals expected the cold, windy and wet weather in Chicago to create some opportunities for takeaways.

“It was pretty slippery out there,” he told reporters after the game. “We knew some guys might not catch the ball all the way because of the rain. As DBs, as a defense, we’re just trying to get to the ball.”

Arizona has been getting to the ball a lot this season. The Cardinals have forced 23 turnovers — 12 INTs and 11 recovered fumbles — this season, tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Arizona also boasts the fourth-fewest giveaways this season with 11.

In addition, the Cardinals’ +12 turnover differential ranks second behind the Indianapolis Colts (+13), who have played one more game than Arizona.

“We just try to get the ball back to the offense,” Baker said. “We know how potent they are.”

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Thompson: ‘We Played With Our Swagger’

Thompson, 23, grabbed his second INT this season on the third play of the game in Chicago. It was another tipped ball, this time off the hands of Bears WR Jakeem Grant:

The Cardinals later got interceptions from cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and defensive lineman Zach Allen, each time setting up Arizona’s offense with good field position inside the Bears’ 30-yard line.

The Cardinals started at the 12-, 15- and twice at the 28-yard line following the picks, and they converted the turnovers into 23 points.

“We came out there and we played with our swagger like we usually do, and you saw what happened,” Thompson told “Burns & Gambo.”

It’s been a breakthrough season for Thompson, a fifth-round pick in the NFL’s supplemental draft in 2019. Earlier this season, Cardinals safety Chris Banjo called him the “most underrated defensive player in the NFL.”

Thompson is the Cardinals’ second-leading tackler (behind linebacker Jordan Hicks with 95) and is tied for fifth among safeties this season with 85. He’s also one of just five NFL defensive backs with at least 80 tackles and two interceptions, according to Mark Dalton, the team’s senior vice president of media relations.

Thompson said the Cardinals’ takeaway success this season is a reflection of the way they practice.

“Our coaches always preach going after the ball and getting takeaways,” he said. “That’s just been our main focus all year, and I think that we’ve been doing a pretty good job at it.”

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