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Arizona Cardinals would like to keep stout defense together

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, left, is tackled by Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, center, as Seahawks' James Carpenter (77) stands near, in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Karlos Dansby has had an outstanding season for the Arizona Cardinals.

"Definitely the Defensive Player of the Year, I think you're looking at him," the linebacker said Monday. "Nobody's outplayed me, man. I've got stats in every category."

Dansby's 109 solo tackles rank second in all of football, and he's also tallied 6.5 quarterback sacks, four interceptions -- two of which he's returned for touchdowns --, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and 18 passes defensed.

"The numbers just jump off the charts," he said. "I'm having fun. And it goes all to the guys around me because they're playing at a high level and makes me have to raise my play to a different level."

Dansby's rise coincides with that of the entire defense, which has emerged over the course of the season as one of the best in all of football. The Cardinals are coming off a dominant performance in a 17-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks, holding the NFC West leaders to 192 net yards, a season-low 10 first downs, a third-down conversion percentage of just 15.3 as well as an average of 3.8 yards per play.

It was the seventh time this season the Cardinals have allowed 15 points or fewer in a game, with the Cards winning each time.

Scary thing is, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians thinks his defense could be even better.

"I think we can grow a lot more," he said Monday. "They're still learning some nuances of the defense. The core of the defense is going to return."

The core, yes, but not all. Dansby, in particular, will be a free agent at the conclusion of the season, and while he says his preference is to return to Arizona, he understands there are no guarantees.

"It all depends on the situation," he said. "We'll see. It's here, it's around the corner, really, and once the season's over we'll address it then."

Dansby is not the only key member of the defense not guaranteed to return next season. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' name has started to pop up in head coaching rumors, and Arians said he'd "be shocked" if he doesn't get any interviews.

Granted, that does not mean he'll get a job, but it would be understandable if a team decided to give him a shot.

"I hope he's here next year," Dansby said. "But if opportunities present itself, you want what's best for him and his family also, so if the opportunity presents itself and he takes it, you can't do nothing but take your hat off to him because he's done an excellent job."

Bowles and Dansby may be the most visible of people who could be winding down their careers in Arizona, though neither seems anxious to leave town. However, it would be unrealistic to assume every member of what has become an outstanding defense will be back in 2014, which is a reality Arians understands.

As it is, six of the team's 11 defensive starters in Sunday's game were not with the team last season, and nine of the 15 defensive players to record a tackle in the game are in their first season in Arizona.

"Change is inevitable in the NFL now," Arians admitted. "There is no way this team will be put back together. But, we're going to keep every component that we can possibly.

"Some guys are going to test the market. Hopefully what's happened in our locker room is worth some dollars, because if you can't match dollars, we can at least match that."

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