The Arizona Cardinals knew they'd be without Pro Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington for the first four games of the 2013 season.
Washington was slapped with a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, and the Cardinals have missed his presence in the middle of the defense.
But more than his presence, Arizona has missed Washington's pass rushing ability and his skill in covering tight ends down the field.
In three games this season, opposing tight ends have gashed the Cardinals' defense for 23 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns. All of last season with Washington on the field, the Cards allowed 48 catches for 713 yards and six touchdowns.
"You look at the two games we've lost and what's the common denominator," Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim asked Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf Monday morning. "It's the fact that we've really struggled against elite tight ends. Obviously (New Orleans') Jimmy Graham is an elite tight and Jared Cook in St. Louis is a guy who has got potential and is doing some nice things."
But Keim wasn't willing to give all the credit to the Cardinals' 2013 opponents. He admitted that a big part of the problem is Washington's absence.
"Speed at the linebacker position and a cover linebacker who can run and carry the seam and match man-for-man movement with those big, athletic tight ends -- that's something we're probably missing right now," Keim said. "Obviously we have one more game without Daryl, but I truly believe we sorely miss his action out there."
Next up for the Cardinals is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 0-3 and have completed only four passes to tight ends this season for just 44 yards.