Taking a look at the opposing team, you have to admire the job that the Panthers are doing in getting their rookies heavily involved in their game plan. Their top three draft picks in Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, and Yetur Gross-Matos had arguably their best performances of the season against the Cardinals.
Brown constantly shed Mason Cole’s blocks throughout the game. Chinn had a role similar to that of Simmons of his Clemson days where he was used all over the field as a swiss-army knife type of player. Gross-Matos made Kyler Murray feel uncomfortable all game as well as being a force at clogging up the Cardinals’ running lanes.
Other 2020 first-round picks such as Chargers’ LB Kenneth Murray and Ravens’ LB Patrick Queen are starters on their respective teams. They have had their share of struggles but have also had plenty of bright moments as they learn on the go.
As rookies on other teams are continuously growing with significant playing time, Vance Joseph is taking the methodical approach of slowly working in No. 8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons onto the field.
The main reason why Joseph is willing to do this because of having a quality veteran in De’Vondre Campbell on the roster. Though Campbell understands his assignments, there were many times in this two-game losing streak where he could have done more and where Simmons could have possibly thrived in his place.
On 3rd and 8 at the Cardinals 18-yard line with 1:38 remaining the first quarter, Panthers’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambles for an 18-yard touchdown run. In this play, Bridgewater was able to show off his elusiveness as he juked and evaded De’Vondre Campbell’s attempt at a tackle.
Bridgewater saw a huge opening on the right side of the field. He successfully baited Campbell into coming back to the left side as he juked to the right on his way for a score. This is one example of Campbell’s overall struggles against the run.
As of now, it looks like Vance Joseph is very hesitant to play Simmons after he was beat by Raheem Mostert for a 76-yard touchdown in Week 1 against the 49ers. The Cardinals cannot let one play be the deciding factor for his overall playing time. Both Simmons and Campbell are in their first year with the Cardinals which means that had equal time to learn the defense.
On 2nd and 7 at the Cardinals 36-yard line with 4:12 remaining in the second quarter, Patrick Peterson was beat by Robby Anderson in a slant route that resulted in a 17-yard gain. It looked as though Peterson was expecting underneath help from De’Vondre Campbell but he was not quick enough to react.
This is where Simmons would have excelled. His speed along with his length and safety instincts is what made him the best linebacker in college football in 2019. Though Campbell had a couple pass breakups and shut down Logan Thomas in the win against Washington, he has been a bit inconsistent in the other three games.
Pro Football Focus gave Campbell an 81.5 coverage grade against the Washington Football team. Since then, he has earned a 58.0 grade against the Lions and a season-low 51.3 grade against the Panthers. His struggles in coverage when he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons is beginning to unravel here in Arizona.
On 2nd and 8 in the final drive of the game, Panthers’ running back Mike Davis carried the ball for nine yards that resulted in a first down. There were a few times this game where we watched some Panthers players plow through Campbell while dragging him along literally for additional positive yardage. When it comes to power running backs, players like Davis and Adrian Peterson really took advantage of him.
Among starters, his run defense grade is third-worst on the team as he is only ahead of Jordan Phillips (29.8) and Patrick Peterson (45.5) with a 46.0 grade.
In terms of communication and understanding his assignments, De’Vondre Campbell is in a good spot with the Cardinals. However, his performance against the run still leaves a lot to be desired and people are putting too much stock in how he performed against the Washington Football Team when he has been inconsistent in pass coverage.
The Cardinals are currently in a slump as they are currently riding a two-game losing streak. At this point, this team does not have much to lose but so much more to gain if they put more trust in their rookie linebacker.
I am not saying to remove De’Vondre Campbell from their game plan but there should be a more fair distribution of snaps between the two linebackers.
Here are Isaiah Simmons’ snap counts on the defense through the first four weeks of the season according to Pro Football Reference:
Week 1: 18 snaps (29%)
Week 2: 7 snaps (11%)
Week 3: 10 snaps (10%)
Week 4: 10 snaps (13%)
For a 2019 Butkus award winner and arguably the best defensive player to enter the 2020 draft, he has been severely underused.
The Cardinals are possibly too focused on winning now, thinking that starting a veteran over a rookie this season due to a shortened offseason is the formula for success. With more experience and playing time, Simmons will only get better in the long run.
Curtis Riley was released, possibly opening the door for Simmons to start until there is an update regarding the health of Budda Baker, Chris Banjo, and Jalen Thompson. With the possibility that two of the Cardinals’ top three safeties will return from injury this week, the team might not have to use Simmons at safety but should at the very least play him there if they must.
With the team traveling to face the winless Jets (0-4) this weekend, there is no better time to start Simmons than now.
This is an opportunity for the team to grow Simmons’ confidence by playing him against a struggling opponent to get the NFL experience that he needs. If Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph truly want to put him in a position to be successful, this is it.