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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Bruce Arians stuck with them. That’s what popped to mind Sunday. There were many calls to dump Rashard Mendenhall to the bench and Carson Palmer too. The Cardinals’ coach didn’t. Sunday that paid off.
This isn’t to reignite the Mendenhall-Ellington debate. I still think Ellington is the better back (and oh my he showed some of his shifty goodness against the Colts, especially with that 17-yard run along the sideline) but Mendenhall had a burst against Indy we hadn’t seen. And if he can play like that, he’s worth having on the field and worth being the yin to Ellington’s yang. As for Palmer, the cacophony surrounding him when he was throwing way too many interceptions was hard to ignore. Arians stood by him. Now? Palmer looks like a QB of a playoff team.
“The biggest difference really is trust,” Palmer said, before admitting, “It took a little longer than you’d like.”
There are many things going well for the Cardinals right now. But offensively, they are clicking, and those two vets are in the middle of it.
— It does feel like sometimes, the defense gets a short shrift. They just do what they do, they control the game, and the Cards are winning (or at least have a chance to win). Palmer said it best: “Identity-wise, we’re a defensive football team,” the quarterback said.
— After all the talk all week of Arians and his Colts memories, that was more or less put aside Sunday. Lots of pre-game hugs (and a few postgame) but basically it’s been the B.A. the Cards have known all year. “It’s crazy, he’s been even keel all week,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
— If there was a question about which better second-half unit would win the second half – the Colts’ offense or the Cardinals’ defense – it came out on the Cardinals’ favor. Arizona took the second half, 13-8, and honestly, I’m not sure how safety Yeremiah Bell didn’t get a hand on the lone touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener.
— Then again, if you would have said Luck would give up as many touchdowns throwing the ball as scoring, the Cards would have taken it.
— Good to see you hold on to one, Karlos Dansby.
— Good to see Darnell Dockett not get a sack on that play, too. “I don’t care,” Dockett said. “They say, ‘You had the sack.’ I don’t care, Karlos had the touchdown, and I’ll take the interception touchdown over a sack any day. I’m glad I didn’t hit his arm and knock the ball out.”
— Arians with his quote of the day, talking about his second half defense against the explosive Colts: “We didn’t want any bullets left in the gun. I know I’m not supposed to say bullets anymore. It’s not the politically correct thing. But here in Arizona it’s OK.”
— It was kind of amazing that the Cardinals, on their first two TD drives, did not face a third down. That’s one way to avoid the third-down conversion problem.
— Speaking of that, 7-for-14 on third downs works. And Dave Zastudil only punted twice. He had never had fewer than four in a game since joining the Cardinals in 2011.
— Palmer’s touchdown of 26 yards to Larry Fitzgerald was a thing of beauty. Palmer hung in the pocket a long time and absorbed a crushing hit by linebacker Kelvin Sheppard while delivering the perfect pass – with Fitz being chased by two defenders.
— According to media relations VP Mark Dalton, that makes the Cards 13-3 overall wearing the red-red uniforms and seven in a row. And here I am feeding into the frenzy. I disappoint myself.
— Fitz looked like Fitz on those touchdown catches. He now has eight this season, double his 2012 total. His other numbers don’t match up to what he’d like, but heck. All he does is catch touchdowns. The Cards could live with that.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Colts, Darnell Dockett, Dave Zastudil, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Dalton, Rashard Mendenhall, uniforms, Yeremiah Bell
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Special-teams ace Justin Bethel is active for today’s game against the Colts, a big deal after the Cards struggled on special teams following Bethel’s concussion in Jacksonville. The inactive list is actually the exact same seven guys as the last two games:
– WR Brittan Golden (hamstring)
– QB Ryan Lindley
– RB Ryan Williams
– LB Dontay Moch
–G Earl Watford
– TE Kory Sperry
– DE Ronald Talley
Tags: Colts, inactives, Justin Bethel
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The Cardinals have become stellar on defense in the second half – that’s well-chronicled and came to the forefront against last week in Jacksonville when the Cards shut out the Jaguars the final two quarters. The Colts have been a second-half kind of offense, most recently showing that off when they rallied a week ago from a 17-6 halftime deficit to beat the Titans.
So something has to give when the two teams play Sunday. Right?
“It’ll be a good matchup, two second-half teams going at it,” Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Hopefully we can have a good start though. Hopefully we don’t wait until the second half again.”
I don’t think anyone will have to wait for the second half to get a feel for Sunday’s very large game between these teams. But these teams’ respective strengths will collide eventually, and we’ll have to see which comes out on top. The Colts are up three games in the AFC South and it would take an epic collapse for them not to win the division. This game is not as crucial to Indy as the Cards. Then again, the fact Bruce Arians is on the other sideline will mean something.
— That last thought reminds me of the game the Cardinals – and first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt – played against the Steelers at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2007. The Steelers were generally regarded as the better team, as the Colts are now. The Cards won the game, and you could tell it meant a ton to Whiz and his staff. I’d expect that emotion to flow from Arians and his staff too in a win.
— What, you say you don’t fully understand the Arians-Colts connection? Click here for the whole story.
— And if you missed it, this was a sad but important lesson learned by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
— Linebacker John Abraham has been better than the Cardinals could have hoped. He’s playing nearly every snap, he’s defending the run, he’s been upgraded on the injury report so he’s been practicing full, and he’s the sack machine he’s always been. Shut out in the first six games, he’s had seven sacks in his last four games. That’s a franchise record for a four-game stretch, and it’d be tough to bet against him reaching Andrew Luck Sunday.
— Remember Patrick Peterson’s muffed punt in Jacksonville, the one where he somehow got it back and the Jaguars were angry and challenged the call? Yeah, they weren’t allowed to challenge the call. That’s been confirmed in the latest NFL officials video (which you can watch here, along with some more somehow-that-wasn’t-pass-interference call from Patriots-Panthers). At the time, it was pretty clear the muffed punt wasn’t reviewable. How an entire officials crew didn’t know that is surprising.
— Congrats to former Cardinals wide receiver Jerheme Urban, who at age 33 has been named the head football coach at his alma mater, Trinity University.
— It will be a blow if the Cardinals cannot get Justin Bethel back and healthy Sunday. You don’t want to mess with concussions, of course. But the Cards’ special teams clearly took a hit last weekend when Bethel went out of the game. Even Arians acknowledged no Bethel isn’t a good thing.
— At least the NFL recognized the problem with the play. Jaguars defensive back Will Blackmon, the player who hit Bethel with the illegal blindside block that caused the concussion, was hit with a $21,000 fine for the play.
— Don’t forget the Cardinals are going to wear red-on-red Sunday. Here are some images from past red-on-red games. And, against my better judgment, because I have zero belief in correlation of such things, note the Cards are 12-3 wearing red-on-red since 2005. That stat is courtesy of Cardinals’ VP of media relations Mark Dalton.
— If you are coming to the game Sunday, the annual holiday food drive to benefit St. Mary’s Food Bank is taking place. Please bring non-perishable food items to drop off at the gate so those less fortunate can be helped. (You can donate money if you want).
— No Reggie Wayne for the Colts. “It’s like taking out the heartbeat,” Arians said. But they do have tight end Coby Fleener, who has taken a bit to get rolling in the NFL but who is coming off his best game. And we know how the Cards have been with tight ends. Stop T.Y. Hilton first, of course, but they better watch Fleener.
Between the background between Arians and the Colts, the teams’ records, the Cards’ three-game winning streak, this is going to have a playoff feel to it Sunday.
But before that, we walk off with Carson Palmer’s Chronicles video: “My mustache is ginger, but very Tom Selleck.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Colts, Jerheme Urban, John Abraham, Justin Bethel, Patrick Peterson, Will Blackmon
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Bruce Arians knows Andrew Luck knows Jerraud Powers knows Chuck Pagano knows Harold Goodwin knows Robert Mathis.
So where does that leave Sunday, when the Cardinals play the Colts? It’s a great question. Do these teams know a little bit about each other? Sure. But with the amount of video out there for everyone to study anymore, I’m not all that sure it changes the equation much.
“I’m sure (Bruce) will try to use it to his advantage,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. “But I think in the NFL you know so much about every other team I’m sure it gets thrown out the window at some point.”
The Cardinals know, for instance, that Luck doesn’t really want to run but will if he has an opportunity. That won’t help bring him down if Luck escapes the pass rush and gets his 240-pound frame streaking forward in space. Cardinals offensive coordinator Goodwin has a pretty good idea what Mathis is going to do to get to Carson Palmer. Will that allow the Cards to slow him? It reminds me a little of all the fringe players cut around the league and then picked up by rivals or teams on the upcoming schedule of that player’s former team. I don’t know exactly how much they can really provide in the context of a particular game. The game plan changes week-to-week.
(And sometimes, another team is just picking up a player because they need a player. That’s what happened when the Titans, who the Cards play in December, signed John Skelton to be a backup QB. Skelton was cut so early in the Arians tenure he would be no help as a “spy,” although I had some fans suggest that’s what the move was for.)
“They are going to know us, we’re going to know them,” Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell, a former Colt, said. “It’s whoever prepares better.”
Tags: Andrew Luck, Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Colts
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The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.
Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).
(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.
Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.
There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.
Tags: 49ers, Colts, defense, Eagles, Rams, schedule, Seahawks, Titans, Todd Bowles
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It may have been the timeout that save the game (although the way the Cardinals were playing defense, it might not have been that dire). Still, Arians called timeout right before Carson Palmer threw his interception and wiped out the QB’s lone turnover. The official simply couldn’t find his whistle, Arians said, and that’s why the glitch in the snap still being made, and not because Arians called it late.
Arians said he made a bad play-call and instead of going with, he realized discretion was the better part of valor.
“It was a play with Andre Ellington in the backfield,” Arians said. “I was tired of being stuck down there (deep in the Cards’ own territory) and I wanted to try and take a shot and flip field position. It was a bad time. So I called timeout. … It was one of those gut feelings it was going to be the wrong play for that time.”
It was the wrong personnel, Arians said, the wrong time to call it on second-and-long (instead of first down) and just nothing was right no matter how badly Arians wanted to make something happen.
“At times it gets frustrating,” Arians said. “But you have to be careful (as a play-caller) and not lose your patience and lose the football game.”
— The availability of special teams ace Justin Bethel is up in the air after he suffered a concussion Sunday. He will go through concussion protocol and the Cards will see where he is at the end of the week. Fellow special teamer Teddy Williams, who tore his Achilles, will be placed on injured reserve.
— Arians talked about facing the Colts this week (and this won’t be the last time you hear about this storyline). “The prep will be easy,” he said. “It’s seeing them that will be emotionally involved because it was such an emotional year last year. You’ll get through that hopefully in warmups.”
“I was hoping this would never be on the schedule. Because there are too many emotional ties to what happened last year.”
— Arians said the coaching staff for two weeks has been talking about the possibility of using Tyrann Mathieu as punt returner instead of Patrick Peterson. Those discussions will continue, Arians said. One concern is the amount of snaps Mathieu is already playing as a rookie. Clearly, though, Peterson hasn’t been his rookie self when returning punts.
— There was talk of the Cardinals-Eagles game being flexed to “Sunday Night Football.” That was officially put to rest Monday when the league announced the Sunday night game that weekend will remain Giants-Redskins.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Colts, Justin Bethel, Patrick Peterson, Sunday Night Football, Teddy Williams, Tyrann Mathieu
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Bradley Sowell gets his first start at left tackle for the Cardinals against a familiar face — Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who leads Carolina in sacks with three, was Sowell’s college teammate at Mississippi for three years.
“I’ve been trying to text him,” Sowell said. “I told him, ‘(Help me) keep my job for at least one week.’ ”
That brought laughs from the surrounding media. It’s the calm before the storm with Sowell, who as the left tackle is immediately going to be under the spotlight. The expectations are probably tempered, given that Sowell came into the league undrafted and has been released once already. He played left tackle in college. That’s his natural spot (Cards teammate Bobby Massie was the right tackle for Mississippi at the time.) He knows coach Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin from his rookie season in Indianapolis, and they know him.
Arians said Sowell, playing right tackle, struggled with then-Ravens’ pass rusher Paul Kruger in last year’s playoff game. But Arians said he talked to linebacker John Abraham and other vets who have gone against Sowell in practice and “they think he’s got a great future.”
It doesn’t mean the Cards or even Sowell have a good handle on how he will perform. There’s only so much you can learn as a lineman — defensive or offensive — in practice, where hitting is limited (although the Cards have been in full pads almost every Wednesday.) Sowell admitted he’s a guy who likes to go hard in practice, and that’s a fine line that must be walked in a sport where no one wants to get hurt during the week.
“I’ve been going against our first team guys (on scout team) so I am feeling pretty confident,” Sowell said. “I’m as ready as I can be, I imagine. I won’t know until I get out there, but all I can do is try my hardest and see what I’ve got.”
Sowell is comfortable in the offense, thanks to his season with Arians in Indy. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, he’s more of an athletic tackle than power guy. He admitted he was surprised he was cut from the Colts, but acknowledged it became a numbers game. With Arians and Goodwin in Arizona, this became a natural landing spot, and, given Levi Brown’s issues, it’s probably not a shock Sowell has entered the starting lineup.
“I know Coach Goody is going to find guys to bring in that fit the system well, that fit his coaching style well,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It’s just comforting knowing that he hand-picked (Sowell).”
Tags: Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Colts, Harold Goodwin, offensive line
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So here are some quick thoughts on the Cardinals’ schedule, for what they are worth. No one knows exactly what will happen between now and when the games will be played and so much can change. Nevertheless, this is what we do, so we press on …
— What smacks me in the face first is the back-to-back games against the 49ers — in San Francisco — and the Seahawks just four days later for their NFL Network game. That’s in October (13 and 17). Those teams aren’t easy with which to deal, and to have them so close together is tough. I guess, with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson with similar games (I know Wilson doesn’t run as much as Kaepernick), the defense will be in the right frame of mind. Todd Bowles, are you ready?
— Opening in St. Louis isn’t a bad place to start. The Cards have had a ton of success there, winning seven straight before last year. These aren’t the 2009 Rams, but they aren’t the Niners and Seahawks either.
— Offenses with which the Cards must deal without suspended linebacker Daryl Washington: Rams, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers. All in all, not the worst thing.
— A bye at exactly the midway point of the season.
— The Bruce Arians-faces-his-former-Colts-team game comes Nov. 24. Will be very interesting to see where the Cards are at that point — we will be long past the storybook of the Colts season last year — and, for that matter, where the Colts stand.
— I didn’t think weather would be a big deal, but it could be chilly in Philly (Dec. 1) and Tennessee (Dec. 15). And perhaps Seattle (Dec. 22) for that matter.
— It did catch my eye that the preseason Dallas game is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I prefer that rather than night preseason games.
— A trip to Raymond James Stadium Sept. 29. Let’s see, the last time the Cards were there …
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Colin Kaepernick, Colts, Daryl Washington, Rams, Russell Wilson, schedule, Seahawks
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Until practices and the games play out, the differences between new coach Bruce Arians and former coach Ken Whisenhunt may be hard to decipher. But there is one major difference that is obvious given topics Arians has talked about — where Whisenhunt was often careful of how quickly he would play a rookie, and clearly skewed toward veteran play, Arians is the opposite. I expect the new staff to play young players early and often.
When Arians first took the job, he mentioned how many rookies and/or inexperienced players he and the Colts played last year in Indianapolis. Much of that was forced, because of injury and salary cap purges, but in the end, it worked out to an 11-win season. Arians praises the job those young players did for him. And in the shadow of the story that players can’t talk to the coaches about football until April comes the reality that, under the new rules, rookies benefit with the learning curve. Even Arians notes this.
“We found out we could play with young players,” Arians said of his time in Indianapolis. “In the past a rookie might get seven or eight reps in an OTA. Last year they got like 200 because they can go out seven days a week. The veterans can’t work but the rookies can. They got reps even going to (training) camp, when we brought them in three days early.”
Obviously, the Cardinals aren’t going to have the rookies working seven days a week. But the Colts had a pair of rookies-only minicamps last year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that repeated here. Plus I could see Arians again wanting to bring them in early to training camp. That’s a lot of extra time with the coaches the veterans won’t get — especially if the coaches are looking to find rookies that can play right away.
You also have to wonder about the underbelly of the roster, the guys that Whisenhunt always liked to populate with veterans. Arians and general manager Steve Keim may be looking in a different direction.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Colts, rookies, Steve Keim
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