From the day he signed his new contract, Tyrann Mathieu and everyone else knew revisiting the deal might be a possibility. No one thought it was probable, because the last time we had seen the Honey Badger on the field he was playing like an NFL defensive Player of the Year and certainly — despite an other ACL tear — he’d be back to that same player by March of 2018. While Mathieu was solid in 2017 (and played the most snaps in the NFL) even he acknowledged he wanted to play better. And the team wanted to adjust his contract with that revisiting deadline had finally arrived. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, and Mathieu is no longer a Cardinal.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the field. It’s not like the Cardinals didn’t want him — they tried to re-do the deal — so they had plans for him. There is this notion out there that his role would be diminished, and while we don’t know exactly what the defense of new coach Steve Wilks will look like, it’s hard to imagine Mathieu marginalized if he had stayed. He didn’t, however, so now Budda Baker is the focal point at safety, along with veteran Antoine Bethea. Tyvon Branch is a free agent and coming off a major injury, so the secondary — which also as of now needs a cornerback across from Patrick Peterson — needs some help.
As for the Honey Badger, it will be interesting to see what his market is, after Kent Somers reported that the pay cut Mathieu was asked to take was said to be “reasonable.” (Everyone has a different perspective on reasonable, of course.) What teams might reach out to him? Could he land in New York, where both of his former defensive coordinators (Todd Bowles as Jets head coach, James Bettcher as Giants DC) are working? Where does he fit?
On a personal level, Mathieu’s story was fantastic to cover and he was always excellent to deal with — even when you would delve into subjects not everyone would want to talk about. He was open about his past. He was interesting talking about the height of his play. He was introspective when speaking about his hometown of New Orleans, and how it’s been a difficult place for him to be. He’s a player you want to see succeed.
Tags: Giants, James Bettcher, Jets, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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Ever since he was hired, Steve Wilks has been working on hiring his staff, and Thursday night came multiple reports that he’s closed in on an offensive coordinator — former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. He was a name that has been connected to the Cardinals for a while now. McCoy was reportedly the OC choice for former Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher had Bettcher gotten the head coaching spot. McCoy was the offensive coordinator in Denver this past season before being let go in November.
UPDATE: It’s official.
There are no official announcements yet on the coaching staff beyond Wilks, although names — as they tend to do — have started to trickle out. For a few days multiple reports have Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb coming as defensive coordinator. The Cards are expected to keep Byron Leftwich (QB) and Larry Foote (ILB) from the previous staff with the possibility of other holdovers (Kevin Garver for WR and Steve Heiden at TE). Other reported names have been Ray Brown (OL), David Merritt (DB) and Don Johnson (DL).
Tags: Al Holcomb, Byron Leftwich, David Merritt, Don Johnson, James Bettcher, Kevin Garver, Larry Foote, Mike McCoy, Ray Brown, Steve Heiden, Steve Wilks
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New Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday that he wants to have his coaching staff filled out by the Super Bowl (10 days from now) and already names are leaking out. Some could be holdover assistants from Bruce Arians’ staff. One will not be James Bettcher, the defensive coordinator who was among the candidates to succeed Arians. Multiple reports have Bettcher headed to the New York Giants as their defensive coordinator under new coach Pat Shurmur.
None of Wilks’ new assistants have been officially announced, but reports have Wilks potentially bringing Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb with him from Carolina to be his defensive coordinator. And, of course, Wilks is a defensive guy himself and figures to have a large say on that side of the ball.
As for Bettcher, Cardinals GM Steve Keim called him a “strong candidate” for the Cards’ job following Wilks’ press conference Tuesday.
“James Bettcher is a fantastic coach and he had a great interview,” Keim said. “He did a great job. I thought he did a phenomenal job with our defense. He’s going to continue to grow in this league.”
(The Browns, in announcing they hired Todd Haley as their offensive coordinator, also added a pair off Arians’ staff: Freddie Kitchens, who after 10 years with the Cards will be Cleveland’s running backs/associate head coach, and Amos Jones on special teams.)
Besides Holcomb, there have been reports of Wilks bringing in Ray Brown to coach the offensive line and David Merritt to coach the secondary. If Merritt’s name rings a bell, Keim mentioned it Tuesday during the press conference — noting that Merritt, a teammate of Keim’s at North Carolina State — was the one who originally introduced Keim and Wilks. Keim, of course, said Merritt was a Giants’ assistant coach, where he has been since 2004. With Shurmur’s arrival, he apparently is moving on. Another report has Don Johnson as Wilks’ defensive line coach.
Interviews for offensive coordinator are ongoing, Wilks said Tuesday.
Tags: Al Holcomb, Amos Jones, David Merritt, Don Johnson, Freddie Kitchens, James Bettcher, Ray Brown, Steve Wilks
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The wait is over, and even with all the talk/speculation about potential assistant coaches hung up working in the playoffs, the Cardinals, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim went with a man whose team was sent home a couple of weeks ago — Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
This comes with all the caveats, the same ones that show up with every head coach. We won’t know what this means on the field until September at the earliest. Even in the case of Bruce Arians, when the Cards stumbled around for half a season, it took a minute for things to settle in. And as we all know, Wilks’ first year will be dictated in part by a quarterback that we not yet know. Well, we might know of him, we just don’t know if which one will be the Cardinals’ guy.
All that said, in my brief interaction with Wilks today, you can see why he can command a room. Michael Bidwill said recently that in the second round of interviews, usually someone stands out, and I can see why that would have been Wilks. We will see how his staff builds out. But now, the offseason feels like it can officially get started.
— No official word yet on assistants, but there has been some speculation. Jason LaCanfora reported that the Cards will have former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in for an interview. Bevell interviewed for the Cardinals’ vacant head coaching job in 2013 that went to Arians and is a product of Scottsdale Chaparral High School. Meanwhile, LaCanfora said Panthers offensive line coach Ray Brown (who began a long NFL playing career with three years as a Cardinal) could be coming to Arizona, with Joe Person saying Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb could be as well.
One thing to remember about all the assistant coach talk and speculation is that while some names will accurately land on staff, others won’t, for various reasons. It always plays out like that.
— There are some Cardinals assistants still under contract that Wilks will undoubtedly sort through over the next couple of days. I know many are asking, but there is nothing yet about what might happen with defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
— Speaking of defense, yes, Wilks ran a 4-3 in Carolina. The personnel he has inherited is for a 3-4 base. Something is going to have to change, although do not forget that the vast majority of defensive snaps these days are spent in packages that usually include extra defensive backs. And when the Cards rush in obvious passing situations, they line up with four up front anyway.
— I’m thinking it’s too early to know what the impact of Wilks is on Larry Fitzgerald’s decision. I’d think he’d want to know who the offensive staff will be first.
— The Wilks press conference is Tuesday at noon, and it’ll be streamed live on azcardinals.com. (Thanks to the Panthers for the pic.)
Tags: Al Holcomb, Darrell Bevell, James Bettcher, Michael Bidwill, Ray Brown, Steve Keim, Steve Wilks
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Bruce Arians was doing the media tour Tuesday, talking with both Rich Eisen and Colin Cowherd a week after retiring and mentioning he’d like to get into the media business. I can’t imagine someone won’t be willing to give him a chance. During his appearance on the “Rich Eisen Show,” Arians talked again about retirement, touching on familiar subjects with some more detail.
— He admitted his 2016 health scares “were eye opening.” He didn’t want cancer to drive him out of the game, and he was able to return. But there was concern for both himself and his wife, Chris.
“The stress of being a coach’s wife, of watching my health go up and down with wins and losses,” Arians said. “I knew I was done too, I was, ‘Yeah, you’re right, there’s too much to live for to die on the sideline.”
— He reiterated he knew he was done in the last game in Seattle when Phil Dawson made his field goal and then Blair Walsh missed. But he acknowledged the family had talked about it as far back as the weekend after the Thursday night home loss to Seattle. “My wife, she was done,” Arians said. “God bless her, 47 years in this business is enough.” (Arians had previously written he was considering staying one more year and renting an apartment if his wife went back to their “forever home” in Georgia.)
— He remains bullish on the Cardinals being a contender, and that GM Steve Keim will find the right coach and make the right roster moves. “I think the Cardinals can win a championship,” he said. “The talent is here.”
— That said, he admitted he was hoping defensive coordinator James Bettcher (who interviewed last week for the head coach opening) was the one who ends up with the job. Calling himself “selfish,” Arians said “I want to be able to go back and be a small part of it” and apparently he feels that would be the case if Bettcher was his replacement.
— As for Larry Fitzgerald, Arians said he thinks he will come back “with the right situation.” It isn’t a surprise that it would include the right coach and system, and the right quarterback.
Tags: Bruce Arians, James Bettcher
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The Cardinals are analyzing their free-agents-to-be and with some of them, the team has/will be formulating extension offers, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during an appearance on 98.7, Arizona’s Sports Station. The players Keim wants back are, not surprisingly, not only competitors on the field but good in the locker room. That was a focus last year as well.
“That’s an ongoing process and we have made some of those players extension offers,” Keim said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, as I said last week.
“We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year with the injuries and with some of the losses, so we have to make sure we use this season and, in particular, our issues that we have dealt with, as learning things, where we can look back and grow from it instead of having the attitude of ‘woe is me.’ That is something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only on the scouting side of it but as an organization in general.”
— The many injuries have made it more difficult to evaluate some key players here and there, Keim acknowledged, but “at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles these guys have to win.”
— Does having a chance to knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs mean a lot for Sunday? “Anytime you are playing a division rival it’s big regardless of what is at stake,” Keim said. “We are all competitors. We want to win every game. In my opinion, you can’t look at where your draft slot could potentially be. Let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to compete every week and to try and put the best product on the field. We will deal with draft and free agency when it comes. This week our mindset is to go up to Seattle and get a win.”
— The Cardinals’ first shutout since 1992 “says a lot of things about players on the field and the character in our locker room.” Keim credited the game planning of defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He also said he though $LB Deone Bucannon not only played his best game of the season, he had arguably his best game in the NFL, period. Chandler Jones provided pressure and drew a couple of holding calls, Frostee Rucker and Karlos Dansby are invaluable leaders, and safety Antoine Bethea was “exceptional” in getting a pair of interceptions.
— Keim added his thoughts to the huge game of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who Keim said took over the game offensively. “There’s no doubt he willed us to win on offense.”
— Keim added that it was nice to see John Brown contribute with a touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his two catches.
Tags: Chandler Jones, Deone Bucannon, James Bettcher, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Keim
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So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.
It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.
“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.
“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”
The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.
“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”
This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.
— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.
“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”
— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.
— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.
— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.
— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.
— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.
“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”
— Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.
— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.
— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.
“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’
“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”
See you in Indy.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Andrew Luck, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Chad Williams, Chris Johnson, Colts, Ifeanyi Momah, J.J. Nelson, Jacoby Brissett, James Bettcher, Kerwynn Williams, Markus Golden, Patrick Peterson, Robert Nkemdiche, Roy Green, Tyrann Mathieu
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Bruce Arians kept his promise. The Cardinals acquired Chandler Jones last offseason (and were counting on Markus Golden taking another step forward as a pass rusher) and yet before the season he said he still wouldn’t be happy unless the Cards were blitzing.
“If we’ve got four good ones, why not send five or six?” Arians said then.
The Cards got what they wanted out of Jones (11 sacks) and Golden (12.5 sacks). But they also kept blitzing. Pro Football Focus has the numbers (and a couple of gifs for examples). NFL teams blitz an average of 30 percent of the time, PFF says, and about 38 percent in obvious passing situations. The Cardinals in 2016? Blitzing nearly 41 percent of the time (and 41.4 percent on first downs.) PFF makes the point that, in blitzing, it gives teams less chance to double-team when blocking. But in the end, Arians just likes to bring the pressure. It’s the defensive equivalent of the deep shots B.A. likes to take on offense. What, you thought because B.A. is an offensive guy that “No risk-it, no biscuit” was restricted to offense?
It’s also followed the change in DC from Todd Bowles — who blitzed a lot — to James Bettcher. With the addition of rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick (who played a pass-rushing defensive end at Temple) and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu, there seem to be more blitzing options heading into 2017.
Tags: blitz, Bruce Arians, Chandler Jones, Haason Reddick, James Bettcher, Markus Golden, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals haven’t had two players with at least 10 sacks in a season since 1984, when Al “Bubba” Baker and Curtis Greer did it. If Chandler Jones can notch at least a half-sack Sunday in Los Angeles, he and Markus Golden (who has 10 sacks already) will end that drought. The two will be linked forever in that regard — even as they are already linked now, by their own choice.
“They’re like stepbrothers walking around since day one,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “They have a great camaraderie, they’ve become close friends on and off the field. … You can see it.”
Jones said Golden reached out to him as soon as the Cards traded for Jones last March and “we’ve been tight ever since.”
“We are just two guys, we’re good friends,” Golden said. “We like the same things, we like to do the same stuff, we play the same position. We’ve got a lot in common. And Chandler is just an all-around cool dude.”
Does that relationship help on the field? “You play for your brother, for sure,” Jones said. Golden said it does help with communication, but in the end, the sacks are coming because that is what he and Jones are paid to do.
“No matter what, you’re going to go out and hunt, man,” Golden said.
Tags: Chandler Jones, James Bettcher, Markus Golden
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The Cardinals actually won the first game played (that counted) at what is now CenturyLink Field.
It was 2002, and Thomas Jones had his best game as a Card and even though Jake Plummer couldn’t do much, the Cards knocked off the Seahawks, 24-13, the second week of the regular season. The building was simply a new building back then, certainly not the intimidating factor it has grown to be (although, as with most places, the stadium is intimidating when the team playing there is good. If the team playing there isn’t as good, not so much.)
The Cards with Carson Palmer have been good there. Two Palmer starts, two Cardinals wins. When the Cardinals lost in 2014, Palmer was injured and Drew Stanton was behind center. Palmer will be there Saturday, but the team around him is beat up and broken down. It’s not how the Cardinals wanted this matchup to be, especially with the Seahawks in mostly better shape than the first time these teams met this season. But the NFC West has been determined, the Cards are out of the playoffs and all there is for the Cardinals to spoil Seattle’s hopes for that No. 2 seed. Which isn’t nothing, but this game was supposed to be about so much more.
— Well, offensive line of John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford, welcome to Seattle. They held up OK against the Saints, but, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, this is a different animal, no?
“This is a very different animal,” Goodwin said. “It’s from outer space. It’s not necessarily an animal, it’s an alien.”
Goodwin said he hasn’t really said much to the group along those lines, however.
“To be honest, I leave them alone,” Goodwin said. “You don’t want to do too much talking. The film speaks for itself. The place we are going this weekend, the crowd noise … we know what we are up against.”
— That’s why the Cardinals need to be able to run the ball — it’s nice having David Johnson for that, although Johnson had to grind out his yardage in the first meeting, the infamous 6-6 tie. There can’t be penalties or sacks. Get at least a little something on each down. “This is not the place you want to go, this is not the team you want to see, in third-and-long,” Goodwin said.
— I don’t know how far Robert Nkemdiche has come yet. But I think it’s been proven that Bruce Arians wouldn’t give him praise unless something has gotten better. Doubtful we’ll see much the last two games, although he will play. It’s about 2017 for the first-round pick.
— Injuries always play a factor, but not having money linebacker Deone Bucannon against the mobile Russell Wilson tends to give one pause. Bucannon’s ability to run is unmatched by the guys filling in for him, and Wilson is clearly running better than how he did in the first meeting when he was hobbled with injuries.
— The secondary is also hurting. Arians acknowledged cornerback Marcus Cooper probably wouldn’t be able to play Saturday — if he doesn’t play, rookie Brandon Williams (who missed practice Thursday with a tight back) would get the start. Justin Bethel, who did say his foot is finally feeling better after the stress fracture that has hampered him for two seasons, remains behind Williams on the depth chart.
— There doesn’t seem to be any indication Tyrann Mathieu won’t play — the Cards need the bodies right now — but Mathieu playing and Mathieu being Honey Badger are two separate things. Arians on Mathieu’s play against the Saints: “He gave it everything he had. It ain’t Ty.” UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. Mathieu went to IR on Friday.
— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on whether the defense took last weekend’s meltdown against the Saints personally. “Absolutely we took it personally,” Bettcher said. “There wasn’t a guy on our defensive staff and there wasn’t a guy in the locker room that wasn’t extremely disappointed in our performance. It wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t up to our standard, that’s me included. It wasn’t up to my standard. We all own that.”
— Michael Floyd finally met with the New England media and talked about his DUI.
— Larry Fitzgerald said he has talked to David Johnson a lot about how to handle his burgeoning stardom off the field, like Emmitt Smith did with Fitz when Fitz first came into the league. For instance, Fitzgerald told Johnson to be fully dressed and “buttoned-up” when he talks after the game in front of the camera — you never know when a decision-maker at a company might see you and want you to be a spokesman.
“He doesn’t need a lot of advice,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s like a Christmas toy under the tree that doesn’t need any assembly. He’s out-of-the-box-ready.”
— Johnson, by the way, would tie Barry Sanders’ record for consecutive games with 100 scrimmage yards in 15 straight games in a season if he can reach that milestone Saturday.
— Bring on Seattle. Bring on 39 degrees and chilly rain. Bring on what always promises to be an interesting road trip.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Barry Sanders, Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Harold Goodwin, James Bettcher, John Wetzel, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Robert Nkemdiche, Seahawks, Taylor Boggs, Tyrann Mathieu
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