You can see the emphasis Steve Wilks is putting on special teams early on in his tenure, devoting a good chunk of both Phase Two and Phase Three on-field work every day to let special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers do his thing. Along those lines, the Cardinals have had some pretty good special teamers over the years, and that was noted when veteran NFL reporter Rick Gosselin — who has long had a detailed system on how to rank special teams units and is an expert on that part of the game — created his all-time special teams lineup.
Three Cardinals made the list, all for their coverage work. Four-time Cardinals special teams Pro Bowler Ron Wolfley, now the Cards’ color analyst, made Gosselin’s first team, along with a quote from Patriots coach Bill Belichick — who was Wolfley’s coach when both were in Cleveland.
“Wolfley had less speed than those other guys,” Belichick said. “But he was very tough with a top motor. He was physical to run through blockers. He wasn’t always the first downfield, but he was around the ball and smart to recognize wall returns and the blocking schemes. He played next to the center on the punt team and was both strong and smart in protection.”
The other two Cardinals landed on the second-team, and are more recent vintage. The just-departed Justin Bethel never quite worked out as a cornerback, but he was excellent on special teams, making three Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Cardinals. And Sean Morey was one of the first players Ken Whisenhunt brought over from Pittsburgh. Morey made a Pro Bowl as a Cardinal as well, memorably blocking a punt in overtime in 2008 that Monty Beisel recovered for a game-winning overtime touchdown against Dallas.
Tags: Bill Belichick, Justin Bethel, Ron Wolfley, Sean Morey
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While the decision to move on from Adrian Wilson has created what will likely be only a bridge for the safety to eventually come back to the franchise in some capacity (even if it is mainly about going into the Ring of Honor), his new gig with the New England Patriots will bear watching given Wilson’s large fan base on this side of the NFL. How does Wilson — who signed a team-friendly contract with a $1 million salary in 2013 and a $1 million signing bonus — fit there? Well, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about it — a couple of times — this morning. It wasn’t particularly illuminating.
The first attempt at asking about Wilson, Belichick — who was well known to have admired Ravens safety Ed Reed, for instance — was asked if he had similar thoughts on Wilson.
“He’s been very productive in the league,” Belichick said. “Look forward to working with him. We’ll see how it goes.” Asked about Wilson’s role, Belichick said, “I don’t know.”
Later, there was another attempt at getting some words about Wilson. Again, he mentioned Wilson was productive. Again, he was asked about his potential role.
“Whatever role he creates for himself with his performance and his production, same as everybody else,” Belichick said.
The best insight came from Belichick responding to the comparison of Wilson to former Pats safety Rodney Harrison, another guy who was let go (by the Chargers) but had a rebirth in New England.
“I understand the question,” Belichick said. ” I mean, Rodney Harrison’s one of the greatest players ever to play for the New England Patriots, one of the greatest players, I think, to play his position in the National Football League. Pretty high comparison. I’m not saying (Wilson) isn’t, but you’re talking about a great player (in Harrison).”
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bill Belichick, Rodney Harrison
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Ray Horton was smiling. “To beat a team that I respect a lot, it means everything,” Horton said in a locker room that featured a lot of happy people and more of Daryn Colledge’s ‘80s music. To beat the Patriots, on the road, “it’s what we want,” Horton said. “We actually want better, but a team like this, we want the win.”
Horton had to be happy. The Cards are a team built with the knowledge the defense must perform. And that’s what they did Sunday. The blitz-happy Horton barely blitzed, by design. No way the Cards wanted Tom Brady picking them apart (one of the times the Cards did bring the house, Brady threw his lone touchdown pass). They generated enough, even without the blitz, to sack Brady four times.
Horton praised his front men. The Cards have a whole lot of high picks invested in the front seven – Dan Williams as first-rounder, Campbell and Washington as second rounders, Dockett the top pick in the third round – and when you throw in the fourth-rounder Acho and former Jacksonville second-round pick Quentin Groves, you’d think they have the pedigree. They showed up.
The Cards put it on their defense in the fourth quarter. Just like Horton wants it. Or not.
“No. No. No,” Horton said with a smile. “I want to win games sitting back and enjoying them. But we tend to win close games. The guys responded to a gameplan. They executed flawlessly.”
Maybe not flawlessly. But to hold Brady and his bunch (as Kevin Kolb called them) to one touchdown? Pretty close.
— Some perspective: The Patriots have now played 81 regular-season home games at Gillette Stadium. That was only their 14th loss, and as noted, their first in a season home opener. It was also the first time Bill Belichick lost to a team in the NFC West since it was currently aligned.
— It won’t be considered Kolb’s best game. But he’s a different guy in the pocket, which is a huge step forward for him. He missed some throws definitely. He needs to be able to hit Todd Heap down the seam early – that looked like it would have been a TD, just like two similar misses to Rob Housler last season – and even coach Ken Whisenhunt lamented his poor low throw on what should’ve been an easy swing screen to LaRod Stephens-Howling that would have gone for big yards. But he did pick and choose his running spots, and (while he can’t lose a fumble) he called his own number twice, once to run for a first down and the other to run for a five-yard touchdown.
With this team, with this defense, I think Kolb can win. “We knew what kind of game this was going to be – we’ve been stressing it all week – stay patient don’t get greedy.” That’s how this is going to go this season. Grind it out.
— No, I don’t know who starts at QB if John Skelton’s ankle is healthy enough against Philly next week (although I won’t lie, that would stink to lose Kolb-vs-Eagles two years in a row.) My guess is Whiz will play it close to the vest all week again. So tell yourself that, and don’t be frustrated when he doesn’t make an announcement.
— Larry Fitzgerald got his first catch early Sunday but was shut out after that. He made what looked like a big grab late, but it was called incomplete and wasn’t overturned on review. Anytime you’re best offensive weapon and he is limited to one reception for four yards you can’t feel good. Then again, the last time Fitz was held to one catch – Christmas, 2010 – the Cards won that game too. So maybe it doesn’t matter.
(Relax. I’m kidding.)
— My brother texted me at one point later in the game, after cornerback Patrick Peterson made a big third-down tackle to force a punt, after he made his diving interception, after he ran the wildcat a couple of times, including a 17-yard run: “Is there anything Peterson CAN’T do!?”
No, Jason, there’s not. Even in the postgame interviews, if he fumbles a word, he takes time to restate what he was saying. You even get clean soundbites if you want.
— The Cardinals have won nine of their last 11. They haven’t had that kind of stretch ever since moving to Arizona. They nine of 12 in the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2008 They won nine of 14 from the end of 2001 to the beginning of 2002.
— Wait, you said you wanted to hear the field-goal miss in Spanish? OK, here you go.
— Ryan Williams promised the fumbles will stop, and they need to. That’s two in two games, but you have to be rooting for the kid. A win wipes out a lot, and to have someone else (that’s Stephen Gostkowski, if you weren’t sure to whom I was alluding) fail at the end doesn’t hurt.
“We’ve been through a lot of these situations, good and bad, just in my year and a half here, and we finally got a break our way,” Kolb said. “That’s going to happen. The good thing is, is that it was any ugly game; it wasn’t clean for us either. It wasn’t like we played a perfect game.”
Less than two hours until we land. I’ve been writing or doing something web related for more than three hours so I think that’s enough. There’s other things we could touch on, but that’s plenty after a day that turned out pretty good for the Cards.
Tags: Bill Belichick, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Patriots, Ray Horton, Ryan Williams, Todd Heap, Tom Brady
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We’ll get to the Cardinals’ QB situation in a minute — since nothing really new was said Friday, including an announcement of a starter — but we’ll start with defensive coordinator Ray Horton talking about the task of taking on the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. Horton made it clear that, with all his years in Pittsburgh, he has a good handle on what the Patriots try to do. But understanding it and being able to stop it are two very different things, he acknowledged.
Then he had this to say about Brady: “This is to me the pinnacle of quarterbacks in the history of football. I think he’s unquestionably the best football player ever to play in this game.”
That’s some significant praise, but this week, with the way Patriots coach Bill Belichick has given lofty praise to just about everyone who plays at all for the Cardinals, it probably isn’t unexpected.
Horton feels like his defense worked well this week.
“They know us and trust me, I know them,” Horton said. “What works well is hitting Brady. If you don’t hit that guy, you have no chance.”
— On to the quarterback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt still wouldn’t officially announce Sunday’s starter. But he came right up to the edge of that in his comments about John Skelton and his ankle injury. “We’ll see who (the starter) is at 1 o’clock Sunday,” Whisenhunt said, before saying Skelton had his boot off and was getting better. “I have hope he can be available,” Whisenhunt said. “I know he’s in to the plan mentally. I would say it’s doubtful he would play, but I was encouraged with what I saw.”
— On a better note, Whisenhunt said his other injured players — specifically cornerback Patrick Peterson — all were doing well and he expected everyone else to be available Sunday in New England. That’s good news on Peterson, whom the Cards need. “You never know when you travel because you never know how their bodies will respond but I don’t anticipate we will have any issues.”
Officially, Skelton is listed as doubtful, with defensive backs Adrian Wilson, Rashad Johnson and Peterson all questionable after being limited Friday. Everyone else on the injury report practiced full and is probable for Sunday.
Now, it’s off to the airport.
Tags: Bill Belichick, John Skelton, Patriots, Ray Horton, Tom Brady
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The Cardinals had — and still have — hope their run game can generate something good this season (although the loss of tackle Levi Brown, a very good run blocker, obviously hurts). They didn’t get enough production in the opener, clearly. Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells combined for only 23 yards on 15 carries.
“It wasn’t as much the running backs as it was one or two guys breaking down and not finishing a block the right way,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
What will be interesting is the next step, seeing that the next step comes in New England. The Patriots are coming off one of their best days ever as a running defense. They held the Titans’ Chris Johnson — the former NFL rushing champ — to a mere four yards on 11 carries. Overall, the Titans gained just 20 yards rushing on 16 attempts, and that includes 11 yards from scrambling quarterback Jake Locker. Now, the Titans were playing from behind, but still.
The scary part, although not unexpected, is that Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn’t overwhelmed, noting that there were still breakdowns in certain plays that could’ve cost the Pats. They just didn’t.
“From a production standpoint, it was great but all the parts of the play didn’t necessarily always equal the final production,” Belichick said. “Like I said, eventually those things are going to show up.”
The last time the Cards faced the Patriots, in the snowy disaster of 2008, the Cards only rushed for 44 yards, but again, they got behind early and the run game was made moot. The game needs to stay close. And as Whisenhunt said, “you have to stay with it.”
Belichick kept praising the Cards’ run game Wednesday morning. “They have a lot of plays that, not that they’re rare, but you just don’t see as many scheme plays from most teams as what they run,” he said. “A lot of teams run a heavy amount of zone in the running game. These guys, Arizona, mixes that with scheme plays, gap plays, where they pull the guard, pull the tackle, pull the tight end, pull the fullback across the ball, or keep them all on the same side of the ball and run power-type schemes. The scheme part of it is hard because, again, they are very well coached. They have a good game plan. They do a good job of running plays, creating blocking angles, and they are tough for the defense.”
The Cards are hoping they can be much tougher on the Pats than what came down for both teams in Week 1.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Bill Belichick, Ken Whisenhunt, Patriots, Ryan Williams
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