Mathis' spin concerns Cardinals' O-line

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
2:18
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Before his 13 previous matchups against Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, Cardinals right tackle Eric Winston spent hours upon hours studying the league's most feared spin move.

Winston would look for any tell -- a lean, a nudge, an extra breath -- anything that could give him an advantage to stopping Mathis. Winston couldn't find anything.
Winston
"There's very few of them," Winston said. "There really is. He does a good job of just being in the same stance all the time, however he's going to play it. There's a few alignment things here and there but that was back with the old defense. In the new defense, they kinda move him around so much that it's tough to get a read on him."

But Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who prepared the Colts offensive line every day last season to face Mathis, kept his instructions for the Cards' line basic: "Keep him away from the quarterback."

That's much easier said than done.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who benefitted from having Mathis on his side last season in Indianapolis, said Mathis isn't built like the prototypical linebacker. He doesn't have the perfect size nor the perfect speed, Arians said.

"But he is relentless," he added.

Goodwin called him the "Energizer bunny."

That has helped Mathis record a league-best 13.5 sacks, but it's also made Goodwin's job tougher. Goodwin knows when the Colts are in their base defense, Mathis will be on the open side. When Indy goes into nickel, he moves back and forth from right to left.
Mathis
Even when an offensive lineman knows Mathis' trademark move is coming, it's hard to stop.

"There's no one else in the league save (San Diego's Dwight) Freeney that can spin like him," Winston said. "It's violent, it's quick. He knows exactly when your weight's a little on the outside. He can spin inside. He's got all the moves, he's got the speed.

"It's hard to really sit on a move or sit on any couple moves. You have to kinda play it all. When you're trying to play it all, you're not really sitting on one move and he can get you with one."

Goodwin may have tipped his hand when he said Arizona will most likely use another offensive lineman or a running back as a second blocker on Mathis. It's not something anybody hasn't tried before. No matter what the scheme is, Mathis has seen it, and clearly not much has worked. Arians, however, was quick to point out that Arizona can't double Mathis on every play because of how Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky moves Mathis.

While most teams may have one tackle with experience against Mathis and his spin, the Cardinals have two with an extensive knowledge of how he moves. Left tackle Bradley Sowell faced Mathis in practice last season when he was Mathis' teammates in Indy.

He's seen Mathis' spin too many times to count, but Sunday has been circled on Sowell's calendar for a while. To play well against Mathis might be Sowell's best accomplishment this season.

"It's going to mean a lot," Sowell said. "Obviously, the team that cut you, you're going to want to come out and show they made a mistake. At the same time once the game starts I'll be settled down and playing the ballgame."

After facing Mathis for all eight years of his career, Winston knows what's coming -- he's known every game -- yet he's still not ready for what he sees.

"It's like a knuckleball pitcher," Winston said. "You just don't see it very often. So it's really hard to practice. It's hard to imagine if you haven't played him a lot. You get out in the game and you're kinda surprised by the stuff he can do."

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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