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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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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For me, the moment was a couple of plays before Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was after Palmer had delivered a couple of lasers on out routes to Smokey Brown, passes Palmer seemed to have had some issues with earlier in the season. But here the Cardinals were on the New York 33. On first down and second down Palmer threw incompletions, and Palmer was hammered to the turf both times. Not ideal, but Palmer got up both times.
And on third down, with a decent pocket but still some pressure, Palmer stood tall. He stepped into the throw. And he delivered a bullet to Jaron Brown for a first down.
That felt like the Palmer — and the Cardinals’ offense — that had been absent. Things might go awry, but the quarterback would stand tall and deliver when needed. In some ways, the second half Monday night was vintage Palmer. It wasn’t necessarily 2015 Palmer, because the Jets were not going to let the Cards beat them deep and the Cardinals are definitely running more than ever before. David Johnson makes that smart. But while Palmer’s numbers aren’t going to fetch an MVP, they were good in context. The Cards might just be where they want to be.
It gets harder. The Seahawks come to town next Sunday night. The Seahawks, who have beat the heck out of the Cardinals in each of the three games they have played the Cardinals in Arizona since Arians arrived. But the performance against the Jets, that was one to note.
— The teacher definitely bested the student. Todd Bowles has some injuries, and he definitely doesn’t have the talent on the back end. But Bowles wasn’t going to give up the deep stuff, so the Cards ran and ran and when they threw, it was in front of the defenders. Smart playcalling by Bruce Arians, and good execution.
— Floyd had a TD catch, but it’s clear that he’s not coming back up the depth chart for now (although if Jaron Brown is banged up, that could be a factor.) The guy who made some plays Monday was J.J. Nelson, including on a couple of jet sweeps. I like that wrinkle.
— Speaking of wrinkles, having six or seven defensive backs on the field at times was interesting to watch. Justin Bethel was getting his first defensive snaps of the regular season, and Tharold Simon also got some work. Now, if Tyrann Mathieu can turn flashes into what he was pre-injury …
— Robert Nkemdiche was active and played a handful of snaps. “I couldn’t even see him out there from my angle,” Arians said, deferring his analysis until he saw the tape. “I didn’t see him on the quarterback,” Arians added with a smile. “I would’ve seen that.”
To be fair, Nkemdiche did knock down one pass and was credited with a quarterback hit.
— He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but linebacker Chandler Jones had a heck of a game.
— It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals actually had D.J. Swearinger on their practice squad for about a week last season. He’s been a nice pickup that went under the radar. His quality play is magnified with no Tyvon Branch around.
— It was a good night for DJs overall — Swearinger, right tackle D.J. Humphries and David Johnson. Not so good for Williamses (All three guys named Williams on the roster were inactive.)
— What else can you say about David Johnson, other than superstar in the making? What’s funny is he missed a blitz pickup and was dwelling on it — “(Number) 25 (Calvin Pryor), that was definitely my guy,” he said.
You don’t want your QB to get whacked on the blitz. But it feels a little bit like picking at nits. Yes, the Cardinals want Johnson humble. But everything expected of him before the season? He’s that guy. And those expectations were kinda big.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, D.J. Humphries, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Jaron Brown, Jets, John Brown, Justin Bethel, Michael Floyd, Robert Nkemdiche, Tharold Simon, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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The New York Jets are finally visiting University of Phoenix Stadium, in the building’s 11th season. The last time the Jets were in Arizona was 2004, and there is only one person in the locker room — player- or coach-wise — who remembers. Larry Fitzgerald rattled off a couple of details, including the fact Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma led the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant at Sun Devil Stadium.
“We’ve got some things we have to change about the culture,” Fitzgerald said he remembered thinking.
The culture has changed. The Jets come into town for Monday’s game and their head coach is actually from the Cardinals. Todd Bowles has a team struggling at 1-4, and he won’t find a stadium quite as inviting as the Jets did back in ’04. (Such an ugly game, too. Shaun King started at QB for the Cards and was bad. Josh McCown came in in relief but couldn’t rescue a 13-3 loss. Denny Green turned to — of course! — rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre the next week in Detroit. That didn’t go well either.)
This one needs to end with a lot happier ending for the Cardinals. A chance at .500 awaits.
— When Bowles was hired by Bruce Arians in 2013, Arians said he was hoping Bowles would groom his DC successor because Bowles would hopefully be getting a head coaching job soon. It took Bowles two seasons, and in fact, the new defensive coordinator did come within the staff when James Bettcher was hired. So, Bettcher was asked, did Bowles groom you?
“As a position coach you are trying to do your job the best you can, because one thing about coaching, if you don’t do a great job with the job you’ve got, the next thing doesn’t come,” said Bettcher, who had been outside linebackers coach. “Todd was great about explaining the whys — here’s why I’m doing this, here’s why I think this way. I had the office right across from his, so I had the opportunity to walk in and ask, ‘Why do you see it this way.’ Not questioning what he is doing, but to understand what he is thinking.”
— The Cardinals remain the only team not to score in the first quarter this season. Arians has tired of the subject. “I’ll just take a win,” Arians said. “I don’t really care anymore.”
That doesn’t mean the message as disappeared. “Trust me, we’re harping on it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “And trust me, they are feeling the pressure.”
— Along those lines, Arians continues to script his top 30 plays, the best the Cardinals have each week. Red-zone and short-yardage also get scripted. “You could do it, bro,” Arians said to a reporter, noting that they are already picked. In fact, Fitzgerald mentioned that the scripted plays are good — the players need to execute them.
— Fitzgerald weighed in on the issues teammate and fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd is having. “Mike’s fine. Mike’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “We saw what he was able to do last year. It just takes one big plas to spark him. As a teammate, you just remind him how important he is to the offense.”
Arians has been doing the same thing, while trying to get Floyd to take too much thinking out of his game. The Cardinals will keep throwing Floyd’s way, Arians has repeatedly said.
“It’s just like lining up for a four-foot putt after missing five of them,” Arians said. “You don’t really feel good about the next one but you’ve got to make it.”
— Fitzgerald is rated as the top wide receiver in the NFL at this point by Pro Football Focus. His numbers are good — 31 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns — but they are great in a passing offense that isn’t what it was a season ago (at least, not yet.) Fitz, however, shrugged off his personal start.
“I don’t care how we win,” Fitzgerald said. “At this stage in my career, if David Johnson runs for 160 yards every week and we win, I’m good. I’m good, man. And I think everybody else feels the same way.”
— Speaking of running, Goodwin doesn’t call the plays. But make no mistake, he’ll let Arians know what he thinks. And he’s also made no secret he’s of a more conservative bent when it comes to play selection.
“I’m always going to say run it, run it, run it, run it, run it,” Goodwin said. “But we pay guys to catch balls too, so we have to be nice to them.”
Goodwin said with a smile he was definitely in Arians’ ear in San Francisco, urging the ground game. “One of these times, he’s probably going to tell me shut the hell up.”
— In case you missed it, red-hot Markus Golden (six sacks) is all about setting an example for his family.
— Terrible news Saturday that former Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, who played with the team in 2012, died in his sleep at the age of 32. Groves was a good guy. Had a giant chain with a huge lock in his locker, meant to represent his family sticking together. He was a key figure in that crazy 2012 upset of the Patriots in New England, blocking a punt and sacking Tom Brady. Rest in peace.
— Bowles, on the difference between Arians now and Arians as 30-year-old head coach at Temple back in the day: “At Temple, he probably was fiery every second,” Bowles said. “Now, he probably can go every five minutes.”
Might be a little more often than that Monday night. This is a big one for B.A.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin, James Bettcher, Jets, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Quentin Groves, Todd Bowles
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Bruce Arians mentioned early in training camp he would have liked to have a joint practice with another team in training camp, to break up the monotony and to raise the level of practice that inevitably comes with going against another team rather than teammates. Given how averse Arians is to training camp fights, however, maybe it’s good that the Cardinals never did work that out.
The Rams-Cowboys joint practice donnybrook Tuesday was just the latest in joint practice battles. The Redskins and Texans got into it earlier this month and last training camp, it was the Cowboys and Raiders. The two this month were bad enough that the joint practices were called off and the teams went to practice on separate fields.
It would be interesting to see what Arians would do if his players got into a training camp tussle with another team. He’s made no bones about it happening with his own team — last summer’s Darnell Dockett/Bradley Sowell laps and then a separate abrupt end to practice underscored the head coach’s feelings on the subject. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the coaching tree either. Todd Bowles made the Jets run because of a practice fight recently.)
And while there are plenty that feel there is good that can come out of a camp scrap — ask Ron Wolfley — there is tangible evidence the downside is too great. The Cardinals know about injuries. Back in 2003, guard Leonard Davis broke his hand punching defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. (Amazingly, my story at the time is still floating around on the internet.) That’s never good.
Tags: Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Cowboys, Darnell Dockett, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Leonard Davis, Rams, Redskins, Texans, Todd Bowles, training camp
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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:
Over the past 2 seasons the Cardinals have blitzed (brought 5 or more rushers) 97 more times than any other team. pic.twitter.com/lGiUmkHaJY
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 24, 2015
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.
Tags: Alex Okafor, James Bettcher, Saints, Todd Bowles
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Head coach Bruce Arians calls the plays and that isn’t about to change. But it’s also a goal to eventually get offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin — who is also the offensive line coach — hired as a head coach somewhere like defensive coordinator Todd Bowles did with the Jets. Last preseason, Arians allowed Goodwin to call the plays in the Cards’ fourth preseason game in San Diego. There will be more of that this year, Arians said.
“This year I think I’m going to let him do at least two (preseason games),” Arians said. “So he can continue to develop as a coordinator. He’s doing a great job with what he’s doing. He has really good command of his room also. I think that’s what set James (Bettcher, the new defensive coordinator) apart from a lot of young coaches I have been around, he has really good command of the room when he is in front of it.”
Goodwin does a lot of the gameplanning during the week for the Cardinals. It’s unlikely Arians will ever completely give up his role of playcalling — he said when he first hired he would call the plays “until I find someone who can call them better.” Who knows, maybe Goodwin will eventually be that guy. For now, two or three preseason games will have to suffice.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin, Todd Bowles
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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.”
Tags: coaching staff, James Bettcher, Todd Bowles
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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.
Tags: Bruce Arians, James Bettcher, Mike Caldwell, Ryan Slowik, Todd Bowles
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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.
Tags: coaching staff, James Bettcher, Mike Caldwell, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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