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Ice, Ice, Isaiah

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Background: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 18: Isaiah Simmons #9 of the Arizona Cardinals forces Hunter Renfrow #13 of the Las Vegas Raiders to fumble the ball in overtime at Allegiant Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Arizona Cardinals returned the fumble for a game-winning touchdown. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images.

Last week, we at ROTB discussed the argument that Vance Joseph’s decision to give the green dot to Isaiah Simmons, who has yet to find his groove in Joseph’s defense, was ill-advised, particularly considering that Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson are far more sensible choices. Baker and Thompson have been in the defense longer and both have found their niche.

During the prep week for the Raiders, we also scrutinized Vance Joseph for essentially throwing Isaiah Simmons under the bus in his weekly press conference, citing how poorly Isaiah played versus the Chiefs and how no one knows that more than Isaiah. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah.

A contention all along has been that Isaiah was overwhelmed by having to make the defensive play calls, practically half of which were blitz calls. Plus, covering All-World TE Travis Kelce is difficult for All-Pro, seasoned veterans, let alone a 3rd year player who is guarding him for the first time.

Joseph said he had a “great plan” for Kelce and within the context of his open criticisms of Simmons, Joseph basically implied that Simmons screwed that “great plan” up.

To be fair to Simmons, he wasn’t assigned to Kelce on a regular basis in that game. So, whatever plan that Vance Joseph had for Travis Kelce was not carried out effectively by the entire defense.

As you may recall, Kelce led all receivers in the game with 8 receptions for 121 yards, a 15.1 average and 1 TD (which Isaiah Simmons was a half a step from breaking up —- and it was the tightest coverage on Kelce all game).

Something about Vance Joseph’s singling out of Isaiah Simmons —- by now —- feels awfully personal.

By now, one would think (and even hope) that Vance Joseph, in retrospect, understands how damaging it was to the team’s morale when he benched Isaiah Simmons to start the playoff game versus the Rams.

These are the kinds of distractions that can make a team feel ill at ease and take their eyes off the ball. Just ask the Patriots’ defensive players when they learned on the day of the Super Bowl that Bill Belichick was benching their best cover CB, Malcolm Butler, for no specific reason. The Patriots’ pass defense that day was about as bad as a Belichick defense has ever looked.

Therefore, to watch the first set of Cardinals’ defensive snaps versus the Raiders and be frantically looking around for Isaiah Simmons, who was nowhere to be seen —- only to hear through a tweet that the green dot had be lateraled over to Zaven Collins —- was about as infuriating a feeling as I have ever felt about Cardinals’ defensive coaches. And, as many of us know with regard Cardinals’ defenses of the past, that may be saying something.

The only thing I could think of was that Isaiah must have been injured during pre-game warmups.

But, no.

Vance Joseph did it again, just as he did in the playoff game, he benched Isaiah Simmons in favor of starting Tanner Vallejo.

Now —- as much as I am a fan of Tanner Vallejo, particularly as a goal line and short yardage ILB, starting him in front of an elite athlete such as Isaiah Simmons is an insult to anyone’s football IQ.

Imagine then what it must have been like for Isaiah Simmons last week to hear his DC single him out as the scapegoat for ruining the “great plan” versus Kelce and the Chiefs’ vaunted offense (a game plan that Joseph had all off-season to prepare) and then learn that the green dot is being taken away —— along with his starting role.

It would one thing if another linebacker had outplayed Simmons by a wide margin versus the Chiefs...but take a look at the Cardinals’ ILB PFF Week 1 grades:

  • Zaven Collins —- 45.5 —- 67 snaps
  • Isaiah Simmons —- 39.3 —- 61 snaps
  • Zeke Turner —- 29.9 —- 16 snaps
  • Tanner Vallejo —- 29.4 —- 12 snaps
  • Nick Vigil —- 28.2 —- 36 snaps

How well do these grades reflect Vance Jospeh’s and Billy Davis’ ability to coach linebackers?

This is now the 4th year of Joseph’s and Davis’ tenure and in 2020, they couldn’t even get a good season out of 2021 1st Team All-Pro DeVondre Campbell. And let’s not even talk about Haason Reddick and Jordan Hicks at ILB.

Maybe Isaiah Simmons was stripped of the green dot and his starting role because he told his coaches exactly where to go?

Who could blame him, if he did?

Ice, Ice, Isaiah

Here, “check out the hook while the VJ revolves it” (thank you CardsFanWA)

So —- the coaches went ahead and started Tanner Vallejo —- and then they turned to Nick Vigil in sub packages, he too ahead of Isaiah Simmons — when both Vallejo and Vigil had worse games in Week 1 than Isaiah did.

That makes a ton of sense, doesn’t it?

Let’s not forget either that with Isaiah Simmons on the sideline in that 1st half the coaches went with Zeke Turner over Simmons on a key red zone coverage assignment of TE Darren Waller, which resulted in a fairly easy pitch and catch TD.

That was Zeke Turner’s one and only defensive snap of the game, so who can really blame him?

To reiterate, this type of treatment of Isaiah Simmons by Vance Joseph and Billy Davis feels personal —- all to the detriment of the defense and of the entire team.

You may have noticed the offensive players were keenly aware of Simmons’ situation, by virtue of the comments they made after the game.

So —- same as the playoff game versus the Rams, the Cardinals defense versus the Raiders, was as soft as Charmin for the vast majority of the first half.

The ILB snap counts in Week 2: (with PFF grades)

  • Zaven Collins 67 (100%) —- 47.8
  • Nick Vigil - 26 (39%) —- 27.6
  • Tanner Vallejo - 20 (30%) —- 58.8
  • Isaiah Simmons - 15 (22%) —- 70.7
  • Ben Niemann - 7 (10%) —- 53.7
  • Ezekiel Turner - 1 (1%) —- 44.3

During the week last week, Kliff Kingsbury said that the coaches were trying “work some things out” with Isaiah Simmons.

Yet, yesterday on Doug and Wolf, Kingsbury said that “Isaiah came out to practice and worked his butt off all week.”

So benching him was Simmons’ reward for hard work?

As time goes on, what is becoming more and more apparent is that Isaiah Simmons and his teammates deserve so much better than what they are getting from certain key members of this coaching staff.

A strong case can be made that the coaches are the weakest link in the organization.

The coaches look the most ill-prepared of anyone in the organization.

In fact, they are the ones who should be doing their homework. But, at times, they would just as soon skip school. By now it’s obvious.

Good thing the players took matters into their own hands in that second half in Las Vegas.

When Ron Wolfley asked Kliff Kingsbury why Kliff and the coaches came out to the field alone at halftime, Kliff said that his message to the team was that everyone was playing hard, but they were not executing, and so he left the players alone to figure things out.

The players went ahead and bet on themselves and came up aces.

Thank goodness.