We won’t know for a few days at least why exactly Bruce Arians picked James Bettcher to be his new defensive coordinator. Arians is on vacation this week, so the press conference to discuss Wednesday’s news is on hold until Arians returns. We know that Arians wanted to stay in-house to keep continuity and the same verbiage. We know that Arians wanted to get a young up-and-comer. He likes how he has his offensive setup with Harold Goodwin the young up-and-comer on offense; I’m still curious to see if the Cardinals eventually come up with a Tom Moore-esque guy for Bettcher. There was an attempt at Dick LeBeau (he didn’t want to be that far from family and took a spot with Ken Whisenhunt’s Titans), there has been contact with former Falcons coach Mike Smith. We’ll see if there is anyone else.
Regardless, Arians has long thought highly of Bettcher. When Arians was in his Coach of the Year season in Indianapolis, it was Bettcher who was in the middle of the drama that played out with Chuck Pagano’s cancer. Bettcher was not only the outside linebackers coach in Indy, he was also Pagano’s right-hand man.
“It was a role I will never forget,” Bettcher told me in 2013.
Bettcher is from Indiana and Pagano was “like a second father to me in many ways,” he said. Working with the Colts was a dream job. That’s why Bettcher’s move with Arians after one season is so important; As close as Bettcher and Pagano were, you have to assume Bettcher and Arians forged an important bond too as they maneuvered through such an emotional season. Maybe Arians always knew Bettcher was on the rise. Arians always targeted Todd Bowles to be his DC when he got the Cardinals’ job but if Arians believed Bowles was going to be a head coach sooner rather than later, maybe Bettcher was long the next in line. (Kind of like Goodwin, who was immediately installed as offensive coordinator under Arians/Moore.)
Are there questions about Bettcher, at 36, getting this job, especially after what Bowles was able to accomplish? Sure. There’s no arguing that. But Arians (and Bowles) had to have seen enough of Bettcher the past two seasons to feel comfortable with this ascension. Bettcher is a good guy who, from my vantage point, has respect of the players. Just last week, safety Tyrann Mathieu said “I think I’ve heard enough and I’m confident enough to know we’ve been playing too well to have the scheme change. We look forward to one of our position coaches being DC.”
The way Mathieu was talking, he knew Bettcher was the choice already, so I read the comment through that prism.
— Bob Sanders has a long history of coaching some pretty good linebackers — Kahlil Mack had a very nice rookie season this year under Sanders with the Raiders — so that looks like it could be a promising hire. He also spent some time as defensive coordinator with the Packers, so that puts someone else on the staff who is experienced in such a role. Even without a direct “mentor,” Bettcher could use that to his advantage.
Tags: Bob Sanders, Bruce Arians, Chuck Pagano, coaching staff, Colts, Harold Goodwin, James Bettcher, Tom Moore, Tyrann Mathieu
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The last four times the Cardinals have gone to San Francisco, it didn’t go particularly well. Even the oldest of those visits, the 2009 Monday night game in a season when the Cards would win 10 and make the playoffs and Kurt Warner was the quarterback, the Cards melted into a mess of turnovers in a disappointing loss.
Yet that game was also the last time weren’t just playing out the string by the time they got to Candlestick. The Cards were in the middle of a division chase back then, and – even though we’re just five games into the season – the same holds for Sunday.
So begins the toughest two-game stretch of the season for the Cardinals, this weekend’s visit to San Fran, with the Seahawks awaiting a Thursday game in Arizona a few days after. Well, I suppose the back-to-back might not be the toughest alone, since the Cards have to play in Seattle and then home against the 49ers the final two games of the season.
(Yikes, oh ye schedule gods.)
But this week will determine the Cards’ spot in the pecking order. A split, and the Cards can still talk NFC West. Two losses, and it’s a lot tougher. (We won’t talk about sweeps yet. Let’s see what happens in Frisco first.) The NFC isn’t top-heavy this year so far. The Cards could be a third-place team and still make the playoffs. But if they can get into Candlestick and topple the opponent for the first time since 2008 – the Super Bowl-bound Cards opened the season with a 23-13 win in SF – well then, it’ll quickly get interesting.
— Andre Roberts said the offense has been simplified heading into the 49ers game, and that seems to fit what is expected to be mostly rock-em-sock-em. Bruce Arians said the Cardinals aren’t changing their offensive goals – “You find reasons why and why not and try to fix them,” Arians said of his offense – but it did sound from QB Carson Palmer that he’s going to do what it takes not to put the Cards in bad positions this weekend.
— Still, the Cards are going to need to score points. This lack of execution the Cards have had, the bugaboo that Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts and Rob Housler all mentioned in some way, shape or form this week, has to change. Quickly. That’s the only way you are beating a team like the Niners.
“We know what to do (offensively) but not why we are doing it and sometimes that lack of continuity shows up,” Arians said.
— Speaking of offense, Candlestick was the site of Michael Floyd’s best NFL game, grabbing a bunch of passes from Brian Hoyer in last year’s finale en route to eight catches for 166 yards and a score. Floyd hasn’t had more than five catches in a game yet this season, but he does have 301 yards and has played well.
— In three wins, the Cardinals’ defense has not allowed a point. The only second-half score against the Cards in those three games was a pick-6 Palmer threw against Detroit.
“I think it’s just about playing hard and guys settling down in the game,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We just need to start faster than we have been starting.”
— Cardinals tight end Jim Dray knows 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Dray was at Stanford when Harbaugh came in and resuscitated a struggling football program. “It’s just a culture shock when he came to Stanford,” Dray said. “He completely changed the culture and the attitude. It really brings the team together. That’s the biggest thing, he brings the winning culture.”
— In Anquan Boldin’s first game in the NFL, he had 10 catches for 217 yards and exploded on to the NFL scene. A decade later, in his first game for the 49ers to open this season, Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards, making a pair of impressive NFC West debuts.
“The biggest difference was we got the win this time,” said Boldin, whose muffed punt return helped Detroit beat the Cardinals way back when during Boldin’s first NFL game. “For me that’s all that matters. I’ve been through the whole putting-up-stats, breaking this record, doing this and that. My only goal right now is just to win and win championships.”
— Said Fitzgerald of his friend Boldin, “It’ll be weird to see him over there. This is probably only the second time in my career I’ve rooted against him … but we need this game more than they need it.”
Fitz has only played against Boldin one other time, a 2011 game when the Cards lost in Baltimore. Boldin had seven catches for 145 yards.
— And no, I don’t particularly believe Boldin when he says this is just another game. I don’t think the fire burns in him for this organization the way it once did, not now that he’s won his Super Bowl, but I’d be stunned if this didn’t mean something extra to him.
— Earlier this week, Arians said he’d talk to Colts coach Chuck Pagano, after the Colts handled the 49ers in San Francisco this season. Then again, the Niners shifted their game after that one and started running more. The Cards will have to stop the run, and we’ll see where it goes from there.
— I know Fitz said he loves Candlestick for the history — Jerry Rice played there, and Fitz has a fondest for the greatest receiver of all time, because he’d like to get there some day — but really, I’m not sure how many people are really going to miss it. I know I won’t. One more trip there.
Tags: 49ers, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Bruce Arians, Chuck Pagano, Jim Dray, Jim Harbaugh, Michael Floyd, NFC West, Seahawks, Todd Bowles
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The Indianapolis Colts released statements today from general manager Ryan Grigson — brother of Cardinals scout Dru Grigson — and head coach Chuck Pagano as their offensive coordinator Bruce Arians embarks on his new career as Cardinals head coach.
General Manager Ryan Grigson
“We congratulate Bruce on this great opportunity with the Arizona Cardinals. The exceptional job he did this past season in keeping this team focused, combined with his long record of accomplishment, made him a very attractive candidate for a head coaching position and we congratulate the Cardinals on their good judgment in selecting him. BA did a remarkable job last season, filling in for his friend and head coach in a time of need. Without BA’s selflessness, leadership, football acumen, and competitive spirit, we couldn’t have had the season we did. We surely will miss BA’s presence as a coach and a friend but we’re delighted for him and we wish Bruce, Chris, and their entire family nothing but the best as they embark on their new journey.”
Head Coach Chuck Pagano
“We are excited for Bruce, Chris, and his entire family. This is an opportunity of a life time and I know he will do a great job. Arizona hired a great coach but a better man. What he did in my absence was truly remarkable. I am forever in debt to Bruce. He is and always will be a great friend and I wish him nothing but the best as he begins this new chapter in his life.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chuck Pagano, Colts, Ryan Grigson
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With Steve Keim in place as general manager, the Cardinals now need to find a head coach. That is ongoing, and there was some spark thrown into Wednesday morning with conflicting reports about the Cardinals and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Some reported there was an interview happening, others said no. (Or absolutely no.) What we know is that the Cards have talked to Ray Horton and Mike McCoy and are going to talk to Jay Gruden Thursday. President Michael Bidwill said all those things Tuesday. The team has been pretty transparent with all their interviews once they are lined up. Then again, Haley might want this kept quiet (which doesn’t necessarily prevent leaks, not when it is fellow coaches apparently saying what is going on.)
The Cards, in the Haley case, are not commenting.
(UPDATE: Steelers president Art Rooney said Haley is interviewing. Feels like a solid source.)
Regardless, nothing has changed with the hiring time frame, which was that there was no time frame. Bidwill reiterated that notion. “The timetable is the timetable that gets us the right coach and the right decision for the team to move us forward,” team president Michael Bidwill said during Steve Keim’s introductory press conference Tuesday.
One final interesting note, which comes via Geoff Mosher from CSN Philadelphia, via tweets that make me think he too has been hit with many questions from concerned fans about no head coach yet hired, in his case with the Eagles.
“KC was first NFL team last year to hire HC, on Jan. 9. Chiefs went 2-14, fired Crennel. Colts hired Chuck Pagano on Jan. 25. Made playoffs”
Mosher makes the point of various successful coaches over the years and their hire dates: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin Jan. 22 (’07); Baltimore’s John Harbaugh Jan. 19 (’08); Denver’s John Fox Jan. 13 (’11); Atlanta’s Mike Smith Jan. 24 (’08); and Seattle’s Pete Carroll Jan. 11 (’10). Again, I’m not trying to say every coach hired is the right one, or that waiting always is a benefit. But clearly, it’s not like taking time crushes chances for success. Of the seven teams that need new coaches, only two have hired new coaches, and that doesn’t include the possibility Jacksonville could change coaches now that they have a new GM.
— One final outlier here: After the Cowboys fired DC Rob Ryan Tuesday it became popular — driven by media speculation — that Horton could be a candidate to replace him. Horton was wooed by Jason Garrett to be on staff two years ago as Horton was coming to Arizona as DC. Here’s the problem: If the Cards don’t hire Horton has head coach, I’m pretty sure they want him to stay as defensive coordinator. Now, that can always change depending on who the head coach is, but with Horton still under contract for another season, he can’t go anywhere (except as a head coach) if the Cards don’t want him to. And I just don’t see the Cards allowing a lateral move, even if Horton did (of which I’m not sure either).
Tags: Art Rooney, Chiefs, Chuck Pagano, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, John Fox, John Harbaugh, Michael Bidwill, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, Ray Horton, Steve Keim, Todd Haley
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