Finally, after 14 games of watching the worst defense in the NFL and, in my opinion, the most poorly coached defense though 12 games in the history of the Arizona Cardinals, in Week 15, for the first time all year, the defense held the opponent under 20 points.
The defense’s inspired effort was a significant reason why the 4-9-1 Cardinals beat the 11-3 Seahawks (then the #1 seed in the NFC) at Century Link Field by the stunning score of 27-13.
But this week during Vance Joseph’s press conference he said several eye-opening things.
The most alarming thing that Jospeh said was that Chandler Jones would likely have accumulated more than 20 sacks right now if Joseph had been able to play him exclusively at the “WILL” (primary pass rusher) linebacker position—-
Because Jones is a better athlete than Terrell Suggs it relegated Jospeh to strictly using Suggs at the “WILL”—-with Jones at the “MIKE” (OLB who is asked to rush the QB, set the edge on running plays, and drop into pass coverage, depending on the cover scheme).
Thus, Joseph concluded, if he had been able to play Jones at the “WILL”, which thereby would have reduced Jones’ coverage drops by “40” passing snaps, then the odds of Jones having more than 20 sacks by now would have been high.
So let’s reflect at length on this disclosure from Joseph.
First of all, one has to wonder why Joseph was calling Jones and Suggs the MIKE and WILL, when those terms are typically used to identify the two ILBs in the 34. The MIKE is the ILB who typically plays to the strong side if the formation with the WILL lining up in tandem with him to the weak side. See the diagram.
The OLBers are typically called the “SAM” and the “BANDIT”—-the SAM is the strong side edge setter, pass rusher and drop cover OLB, while the BANDIT is the primary pass rusher who pretty much rushed the edge every play.
It’s just curious to hear Vance Joseph use typical 34 ILB terms for his 34 OLBs.
Notice in this diagram, the “B” (BANDIT) OLB lines up on the outside eye of the LT to the weak side of the formation, while the “S” (SAM) OLB lines up to the strong side on the outside eye of the TE.
The “W” (WILL) ILB lines up on the weak side A gap and the “M” (MIKE) ILB lines up shaded toward the B gap on the strong side of the formation, the same side as SAM.
The reason why coaches want their best pass rusher (BANDIT) on the weak side is because without the TE there, the BANDIT, your leading sack artist, has a shorter and quicker path to the QB.
So, let’s go through the timeline here to try to understand what Keim’s and Joseph’s thinking was with regard to the 34 personnel.
- Jan. 8th—-Kliff Kingsbury is hired
- Jan. 11th—-Vance Joseph is hired
Keim wanted the Cardinals to return to the 34 defense and thus Vance Joseph made sense because he’s a 34 defensive coach—-plus he came with head coaching expreience.
Now—-in their interview one would imagine that Keim would have asked Joseph what his plans would be for the key players on the defense such as OLB Chandler Jones, LB Haason Reddick, CB Patrick Peterson and S Budda Baker.
If Vance Joseph were to say that he envisioned the NFL’s leader in sacks over the past 4 years playing the “SAM” OLB position, it would have seemed utterly crazy.
At that time, it was largely speculated that the Cardinals would draft OLB Nick Bosa—-heck, Keim even hired former Cardinals’ DC , Billy Davis as LB coach, who was Bosa’s coach at Ohio St.
Would Bosa, with his athleticism, have been a good fit at the SAM OLB spot? With Jones at the BANDIT OLB?
But—-let’s keep examining the timeline.
- Feb. 8th—-Cardinals sign OLB Brooks Reed (ATL) to one year $2M deal.
- March 11th (2 days into free agency)—-Cardinals sign OLB Terrell Suggs (BAL) to a 2 year $10M deal with $7M guaranteed.
Reed made sense as a depth player and possible 1st and 2nd down SAM opposite Jones at BANDIT.
Suggs made no sense as a SAM—-and thus the plan right then was to move Jones to SAM and Suggs to BANDIT.
This made such little sense because Suggs is not nearly the edge rusher he used to be, and at this point, Suggs cannot hold a candle to Jones—-and yet the Cardinals took their best defensive player and moved him—-all because of Suggs.
All because Vance Joseph felt he had no choice.
Go watch Suggs’ pass rush efforts his last 6 games with the Cardinals——even with some of the games on the line with the team ahead and needing one sack or one stop to win the game, which is a pass rusher’s dream scenario, Suggs’s effort was sometimes so bad it was non-existent.
Boy, credit Chandler Jones for accepting his role anyway and making the absolute best of it. This speaks volumes to Jones’ character and eagerness to win for the team.
It also doesn’t make sense that OLBs like Shaq Barrett and Markus Golden were still available at more reasonable salaries than Suggs.
Why Vance Joseph, who coached Barrett the last two years in Denver, would have passed on signing him over Suggs is mind-boggling. Barrett signed 4 days later with the Bucs on a one year $4M deal.
Before we move on—-when Suggs was signed, I, and others, knew right then on March 11th that there was no way the Cardinals were going to take Nick Bosa. Some fans were saying oh, this doesn’t mean no to Bosa, this means Bosa can learn from Suggs.
Well, this just in——you don’t invest $23.8M of your cap space on Jones, Suggs and Reed’s salaries alone and then turn around with the #1 pick and draft another OLB/DE.
The problem is—-what coach is going to have the cajones to bench a player like Terrell Suggs? The dude didn't attend OTAs. nor did he participate in the vast majority of the weekday practices—-yet, it basically took cutting him to get him off the field on game days.
Now the irony that “smacks with the force of a cartoon anvil” (to quote J.K. Rowling)—-there was already a more suitable SAM on the roster in Haason Reddick, whom Joseph was praising in yesterday’s press conference for the athleticism he gives the Cardinals at that key OLB position—-citing how he was a big factor in containing Russell Wilson—-and how great it was to now be able to move Chandler Jones to BANDIT.
Come to think of it—-have any of you ever felt like Steve Keim has manifested a keen understanding of 34 LB prototypes?
If you don't have good fits at LB in a 34—-there is NO point in running it.
34 guru, Dick LeBeau, at his clinics, often provided the coaches with his guidelines for finding 34 LB prototypes. The very good ones are not easy to find—-but you have to know the traits you are looking for. The Steelers over the years have gotten it right more than any other team.
The SAM OLB has to be a good enough athlete to keep contain (which Keim’s Cardinals NEVER seem to do—-until last week when both Reddick and Jones tackled Russell Wilson when he was trying to break contain).
The MIKE ILB needs to be a high volume tackler like the MLB in the 43. Kudos for Keim for acquiring MIKE ILB Jordan Hicks.
The WILL ILB needs to be instinctive and quick enough to be a good, downhill tackler and run stride for stride with TEs and RBs in pass coverage. Plus, the WILL needs to be strong enough to shed blocks and sift through heavy traffic on the 2nd level.
The BANDIT needs to rush the passer every chance he gets.
Vance Joseph said yesterday that trying to convert an OLB in college to 34 ILB in the NFL is a near impossible task—-he said that “playing ILB is like playing QB”—-you have to grow up doing it and doing it all the time. In essence, Jospeh exonerated Haason Reddick for being used out of position.
When asked whether Reddick could be the long term answer at the OLB (SAM) position, Jospeh said something to the effect that “we’d like to think so.” Then, when asked whether Reddick fits the SAM physical prototype, Joseph implied that Reddick’s length and size are not ideal.
While Von Miller is 6-3 and Reddick is 6-1, their Combine numbers were nearly identical:
Miller: 6-3, 246, 33” arms, 9 1⁄4 hands, 4.53 40, 21 reps @ 225, 37” VJ, 126” BJ, 6.7 3C
Reddick: 6-1, 235, 33’ arms, 10 1/8” hands, 4.52 40, 24 reps, 36.5” VJ, 133” BJ, 7.01 3C
Shaq Barrett is 6-1, 249 and ran a 4.73 with a 29” VJ at his pro day.
Markus Golden is 6-3, 260 and ran 4.74 with a “28.5” VJ and 7.38 3C at his pro day.
Barrett and Golden are going to be two of the most high sought UFAs this off-season—-and quite frankly neither one of them is nearly the athlete that Haason Reddick is. But Barrett and Golden came into the NFL as OLBers—-
At least now Reddick gets his chance.
Vance Joseph said that “simplifying the defense” the last three weeks has led to the recent success. Curiously he added that the “1st and 2nd down calls are visually the same every week, but that it’s the 3rd down schemes that change the most.”
While the defense has now improved at stopping 3rd down conversions—-the simplifying that Jospeh is talking about has much to do with man to man assignments—-which Patrick Peterson has embraced the last two weeks by getting back to taking the other team’s top WR.
How that decision is “simplifying” things in Week 16 is almost laughable at this point.
Both Kingsbury and Joseph have claimed that Peterson was still trying to get accustomed to the defense as one of the reasons why he struggled up until 2 weeks ago. Hmm. Again, laughable.
The secondary has been struggling big time all season until recently, partly because of the most poorous soft zones in the NFL and partly because of a key switch Jospeh made in training camp by bringing D.J. Swearinger up to the box at SS in favor of starting Budda Baker at FS.
Those of us who have watched Swearinger and Baker play, found this move curious because Swearinger has always played his best football at FS where he is an enforcer over the middle, whereas Baker has always thrived as a playmaker in the box and being closer to the football.
In the long run, now that Baker is thriving at both FS and when they move him around the box, this switch has been paying dividends. However, at the beginning of the year, the switch seemed to demoralize Swearinger (to the point of getting cut after 4 games). As for Baker, he was learning the ropes at FS the first few games—-but the superb news is that he learned the position so quickly and well that he is ow the starting FS for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
But, as much as Baker’s emergence has been spectacular, Kingsbury and Joseph recently conceded that they drafted CB Byron Murphy to play slot CB.
Going back, again, to the timeline—-by Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft the Cardinals knew about Patrick Peterson’s suspension and, of course, they knew about his tirade on social media—-thus—-with the only other logical sub for Peterson at LCB on the roster being Tramaine Brock—-could it then be even remotely possible that the Cardinals would draft a CB at #33 whom they only saw as a slot CB?
Again—-it makes no sense.
Keim and Kingsbury were adamant that Byron Murphy was the 5th rated player on their draft board—-but—-Keim, Kingsbury and Joseph didn't view the #5 player on their board as a full-time starter?
But hey—-Swearinger and Suggs are gone—-Patrick Peterson is suddenly playing like he actually cares again—-Corey Peters is holding down the middle per usual—-unsung guys like Jalen Thompson, Joe Walker, Zach Kerr, Cassius Marsh and Chris Jones are running around making plays—- Budda Baker and Jordan Hicks are balling it up big-time—-Chandler Jones is finally playing his most natural position—-and so, finally, is Haason Reddick!
And hey—-I don't think I have ever seen a Cardinals’ defense lay the wood on a team the way they did this past week to the Seahawks.
Furthermore, did you notice one of Vance Joseph’s wrinkles versus Russell Wilson where he employed a 4 man standing (2 point stances) pass rush with faster and quicker players—-which against mobile QBs is a superb idea.
It took 15 games—-but hopefully Steve Keim and Vance Joseph are now on the same page—-where once they might not have even reading the same book.