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Blogs

The future of the Cardinals’ blitz

Posted by Darren Urban on July 1, 2015 – 11:58 am

Anyone who has watched much of the Cardinals the past two seasons knows the defense liked to blitz. So this recent tweet carries with it little surprise in the context of the NFL:

It was the hallmark of then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Bring the heat, let it all sort itself out in the end. It’s why the Cardinals went for Antonio Cromartie last offseason — they wanted those press man-to-man corners to be able to survive on an island. It’s a byproduct too of not having that dynamic edge pass rusher to cause problems with a “normal” four-man rush. Now you can argue in this day and age that even bringing five rushers isn’t exactly a blitz, but there were plenty of times the Cards brought at least six guys too.

What happens now? The feeling is that the defense, even under James Bettcher, won’t change a lot. That would include the blitzing. I mean, the Cardinals still don’t have that 14-sack guy coming from the outside (although maybe Alex Okafor can raise his production from his somewhat surprising eight-sack total last season.) The pressure will still have to be manufactured through scheme, it would seem. How Bettcher calls a game won’t be known for real until the Cards open against the Saints Sept. 13 (and what a passing offense to open against.)

Certainly, I’d think Bowles will take his blitzing to New York. But it’s hard to imagine that aggressiveness — which has served the Cardinals well — is going away under Bettcher.


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Players return, and time to talk football

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2015 – 9:17 am

One of the things that frustrates Bruce Arians is the inability to talk football with players during certain parts of the offseason. It’s reality, though, under the current collective bargaining agreement. Today, those shackles come off.

The players have returned to begin Phase I of the offseason work. (It’s voluntary, don’t forget, although one player here was Patrick Peterson, as you can see below.) The big part of that is the strength and conditioning program, but it also includes meetings. Players can be around for four hours total (90 minutes on the field) so Arians and his coaches can finally start discussing the playbook. The new free agents can start getting the information about their duties. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher can start explaining his system and its tweaks from what Todd Bowles did.

The 2015 is here.

— The full NFL schedule will be released at 5 p.m. Arizona time on Tuesday.

— Meanwhile, the return of the players isn’t the biggest news of the day here at the team facility. There is a 1 p.m. press conference with Adrian Wilson, team president Michael Bidwill and GM Steve Keim. No official word on what it’s about.

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Dan Williams a Raider, and Cro’s likely departure

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2015 – 10:30 am

The Cardinals now have some official free agent additions, with Mike Iupati, Sean Weatherspoon and Corey Peters. (#asexpected). But they will also have some departures from that defense that played so very well in 2014.

Nose tackle Dan Williams played very well last season, and it was becoming clear his future might not be in Arizona because he’d find free agent riches elsewhere. Turns out those riches were in Oakland. Williams will get, according to Kent Somers, about $15 million guaranteed and an average of $6 million a season, which is a lot more than the Cardinals were ever going to give him. Once the Cards turned to Peters, it was pretty clear that was going to be the sign Williams would exit.

Meanwhile, all signs out of New York continue to point to cornerback Antonio Cromartie getting something done with the Jets, where he can be reunited all at once with fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis and new coach and former Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. If he gets Cro, Bowles will go from Patrick Peterson and Cro as his cornerbacks to Revis and Cro. That’s the way to run a defense.

As for the Cardinals, their own defensive overhaul continues. Peters and Weatherspoon are here, the Cardinals are trying to get deals done with Colts defensive end Cory Redding and perhaps Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and Broncos linebacker Nate Irving. The front seven could look a lot different this season (especially if Daryl Washington is reinstated) and these are all the moving pieces with which new coordinator James Bettcher must work.

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Bowles: Bettcher the “right choice”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2015 – 1:34 pm

For the first time at the Scouting combine, Todd Bowles spoke as a head coach when he got on the podium Wednesday. The Jets’ new boss hasn’t forgotten about his old place of business yet. After his spin in front of the cameras, there was a chance to ask him about his replacement as Cardinals defensive coordinator, James Bettcher. Bettcher was the outside linebackers coach under Bowles.

“It could have been any one of those guys (on staff),” Bowles said. “But I have all the trust in the world in Bruce (Arians) as he had in me. So I’m confident he made the right choice.”

Bowles chuckled at the idea Bettcher had a big job ahead of him, saying he was worried about his own big job in New York.

“Bettch is a good football coach, and you’ve got to remember he’s got about four guys he had on the staff last year that are good coaches,” Bowles said. “They’ll work together and they understand what has to be done. I have confidence they’ll get it done.”

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Bettcher plays the two-minute game

Posted by Darren Urban on February 11, 2015 – 3:23 pm

The last three years, James Bettcher — now the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator — has watched every two-minute situation across the NFL. On Thursdays, Bettcher then took some time to sit down with Bruce Arians to go over those times. The idea was for Arians to talk to the team he was coaching about it, what teams did in those spots and how to respond. It was all about Arians’ quest for his teams to be well-versed in specific situations, something that has always been important to him.

But it gave Bettcher, whose dream has always been to move up the ranks as an NFL coach, to play a little what-if himself.

“I’ve had a chance to look at a lot of two-minute situations and call what I would be calling in those scenarios,” Bettcher said. “To look at how those games are managed, why people are successful in two-minute and why they are not. Just putting yourself in those situations as it’s gone along.”

The playcalling will be the one thing everyone watches with Bettcher. It’s not something anyone can get a handle on for a while. Bettcher echoed Arians’ belief in respecting the process, and the process says there is an entire offseason to get through before any playcalls are made in a game environment.

“The biggest thing everyone is talking about is experience, being able to call a game, making adjustments,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “Week to week, practice to practice, the way the schedule is set up, he’ll be great at that. We have to wait and see, through preseason and first couple of games in the regular season, just how good he will be.”

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Foote, as player, or as coach

Posted by Darren Urban on February 9, 2015 – 10:13 am

When the news first trickled out last week that the Cardinals could be interested in Larry Foote as Bruce Arians’ “ex-player-to-add-to-the-coaching-staff” candidate, I immediately thought of something Foote said back in October. It struck me a bit odd at the time, but in the current context, maybe Foote’s coaching possibility has been long in the queue.

Foote was talking about what the Cardinals wanted him as initially, because that was before Daryl Washington was going to be lost for the season by suspension — but the Cards were assuming Washington would be sitting a few games as a suspension because of his assault guilty plea.

“Daryl was supposed to be suspended four to six games and I was, ‘OK, I can come play and coach’ and he ended up gone for the year,” Foote said.

Again, Foote brought it up in the context that he was drastically underpaid given what role he ended up having. But the line about coaching seems relevant now. Foote said after the season he hadn’t decided if he still wanted to play in 2015. I’d be stunned if the Cardinals wouldn’t want him back as a player if that’s what he decided to do, as a leader and mentor. You wouldn’t want him playing as much as he did in 2014 — Foote wore down as the season went on, understandably — but he could still be a valuable piece and certainly a guy you want influencing players like Kevin Minter and Washington.

(A quick side note: I found it interesting O’Brien Schofield admitted he was following the wrong guys in the locker room when he was with the Cards. The team doesn’t have to worry about that if Foote is around.)

If Foote decides playing isn’t what he wants, he can still be that leader as a coach. The players know he’s done it before. Foote can help with that bridge between the departed Todd Bowles and new defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Either way, Foote “gets it” and is someone you want around. As he intimated a few months ago, coaching might have always been part of the plan.

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In little time, Bettcher has left big impression

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2015 – 3:55 pm

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.

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A DC announcement and Super odds and ends

Posted by Darren Urban on February 2, 2015 – 12:15 pm

That’s it. The NFL season is over.

It’s a weird feeling here at the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, because the Cards have been done for a while — yet with the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in town (not to mention the many appearance opportunities for various players, Bruce Arians and Michael Bidwill) it ramped up quickly around here. And then, quiet. The Scouting combine starts two weeks from Wednesday, and free agency will start a couple weeks after that. Roster moves will begin to happen. The 2015 season will be on us quickly.

— Bruce Arians told me Friday he expects to make an announcement on the new defensive coordinator this week. But that’s all it will be, an announcement, because Arians is out of town this week so he wouldn’t be at any press conference. Arians also said all the changes to the coaching staff aren’t quite done, so maybe he’ll just wait to talk about it once that all is settled. As I’ve mentioned, all signs point to the promotion of outside linebackers coach James Bettcher to DC.

— The decision to not run Marshawn Lynch was not smart. (I do get trying to beat a goal-line defense, but again, you have the best battering ram in the league.) That said, how does a defense that is that good allow two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter? Can’t happen, and is as big of an issue in my mind as the offensive failure at the end.

— The Cardinals’ facility is now 3-for-3 in Super Bowl winners. The Cowboys (for Super Bowl XXX), the Giants (Super Bowl XLII) and now the Patriots all practiced at the Cards’ Tempe home the week of their games in Arizona.

— Speaking of the facility, more makeovers are underway. The new weight room and cafeteria are closer to being finished, and now that the Patriots don’t need it anymore, the locker room is being torn down for renovations.

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“Same defense” for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 30, 2015 – 6:16 pm

Bruce Arians said Friday he will announce all his defensive hires next week save for one, which he wants to “hold for a while.” One of the coaches he will hire will “hopefully be a former player,” as Arians continues to try and refresh the up-and-coming coaches on his staff. As of now, the Cardinals have three vacancies from last season to fill: Defensive coordinator (Todd Bowles), inside linebackers (Mike Caldwell, who joined Bowles with the Jets) and defensive assistant (Ryan Slowik, whose contract was not renewed.)

Arians has said the hiring plan is set although it’s still “top secret” he added with a smile Friday. He did clarify why he wanted to stay in-house with his new coordinator, and it answers definitively the question of if the Cardinals will change defensively.

“I did not want our players to walk in and not know what they were doing the first day,” Arians said. “No new language. It’s the same defense, the same philosophy.”

With Arians already saying the hire will also be a young coach, current outside linebackers coach James Bettcher continues to be the logical choice.

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Mathieu has confidence in new DC, same scheme

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2015 – 5:29 pm

Tyrann Mathieu chose his words carefully — no reason to want to undercut the announcement sometime next week of the new defensive coordinator — but the Cardinals safety seemed comfortable in the plan for the Cardinals’ defense going forward and who will be leading it.

“I think I’ve heard enough and I’m confident enough to know we’ve been playing too well to have the scheme change,” Mathieu said during a trip around the Super Bowl’s Radio Row. “We look forward to one of our position coaches being DC.”

Coach Bruce Arians has already said the DC position will be filled in-house by a young coach. All signs point to outside linebackers coach James Bettcher. It won’t be the only coaching hire, not with inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell leaving to join outgoing defensive coordinator Todd Bowles with the New York Jets. Putting an experienced coach with the linebackers makes sense, and Arians has promised he will get the new DC “help.” I will not be surprised to see at least one defensive hire to have NFL defensive coordinator experience.

There will be an understandable wait-and-see approach with a new defensive coordinator, but that was there with Bowles too.

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