NFC West: Rashad Johnson
Some of Bowles' now-former players shared their feelings toward their former coach and wished him luck in 140 characters or less:
Big Dawg. Congrats to coach Bowles. Great coach, innovator & teacher.— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) January 14, 2015
Excited for Coach Bowles making the HC jump! Those guys in @nyjets got a heck of coach, one of the smartest I've ever played for!— Rashad Johnson (@49foyamind49) January 14, 2015
Congratulations to Coach Bowles on getting the @nyjets head coaching Job. Well deserved. Proud of you coach.— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
Coach Bowles is a very smart coach. 1 of the smartest coaches I've been around. Has a very similar scheme 2 Rex so the defense won't change— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
For the guys on defense in NY. A great Hire.— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
Congrats to Coach Bowles becoming a HC. I've learned so much over the past 2 years. I expect nothing but great things!— Lorenzo Alexander (@onemangang97) January 14, 2015
Great two years with one of the best in the game. Congrats Coach Bowles jets are lucky to have him represent them.— Tony Jefferson (@tonyjefferson1) January 14, 2015
TEMPE, Ariz. – For the last two years when the Detroit Lions have come to Arizona, it’s been the Patrick and Calvin Show.
Despite a 4-inch height difference, the two put their natural athleticism and ability on display in 2012 and 2013 when Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson matched up against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Even though Johnson bested Peterson both times, Arizona won both games.
This year, however, the two might be a sideshow.
And that means Arizona’s defense can’t just devise a game plan around Johnson anymore. It has to play honest Sunday, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.
“You can lean toward Calvin, but then that puts one-on-one matchups to Tate vs. someone else, and he’s playing extremely well,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “I think it helped Calvin to miss the games that he missed to allow Golden and Matthew to get on the schedule and the way that they are right now.”
Tate has gained more than 100 yards in five of his last six games, leading him to the top of the receiver stats. His 66 receptions are second in the NFL, his 454 yards after catch are tied for second, his 909 receiving yards are fourth and his 91 targets are fifth.
Last Sunday, he finished with 109 yards and Johnson had 113. It was the first time since 1999 that the Lions had two receivers catch at least seven passes with at least 100 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
But if there’s a game for Tate’s run to end, it’s Sunday. In six career games against Arizona -- all with Seattle -- he has 15 catches for 178 yards and no touchdowns.
Tate’s blossoming will make it tough for the Cardinals to double-team Johnson as much Sunday, but Arizona is better equipped to handle both receivers with Antonio Cromartie defending the side of the field opposite Peterson. He has 21 tackles and three interceptions this year, on pace for his best season since 2008. Last week against St. Louis, Cromartie and Peterson were targeted a combined seven times and allowed just six receiving yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
“We’re very equipped,” Peterson said. “Both of us are definitely capable of getting the job done, but we have a very, very special game plan. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.”
If Arizona gives Johnson single coverage, they have a 6-foot-5 receiver on a 6-1 cornerback. If they double Johnson over the top, Tate is single-covered and can explode for another 100-yard game.
Bowles has proven this season he has the personnel to adjust the game plan to stop specific threats -- see what they did against the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray. Sunday won’t be any different, except the Lions have more options in their passing game this season.
“They’ll be matchups in different situations,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We never want them to know if we’re playing man or zone all the time. You never want to give a quarterback that opportunity. There'll be people in and out. There’ll certain matchups that we like, and we’ll have those on certain downs and distances.”
“He’s like, ‘Man, look, I don’t want to go to nothing new if I can’t get it to everybody so we gonna play what we played the last snap.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, I feel you. You the man. We following you.’”
In reality, Johnson’s story wasn’t salacious at all. It was Foote, however, being savvy.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said Foote does “absolutely not” have the freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage. But Foote wasn’t necessarily changing the play as much as making sure his teammates were on the same page.
“There might be two plays,” Bowles said. “Or he’s taught if we don’t get the play in in time and they’re breaking the huddle and coming to the line, you can play this or this. But there is no freedom in changing plays.”
With the Eagles running 92 plays Sunday -- that’s one snap every 20 seconds of possession time -- the Cardinals’ defense didn’t have much time to set up. Johnson said Foote took the liberties in this game because of Philadelphia’s tempo, but he typically follow’s Bowles’ direction.
Foote was making the decision to just play the last snap’s scheme about twice a quarter, Johnson said.
“Sometimes they were getting to the line so fast and coach would give us a new call, and he just felt like, ‘I can’t get it to everybody so I’d rather play the defense we were just in, and if everybody is on the same page, then we’re [alright] at the end of the day,’” Johnson said. “Which is the philosophy we take.”
Safety Tony Jefferson was upgraded to limited after not practicing Wednesday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia but not diagnosed until Monday morning. During the open portion of practice, Jefferson worked on the kickoff coverage unit. He cleared the concussion protocol later Thursday.
Linebacker Kenny Demens (knee) was also upgraded from limited to full.
Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited, as was tight end Troy Niklas (ankle).
Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee) were all full.
But Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arian wasn't a fan of Dockett's antics.
"It won't happen again," Arians said Monday afternoon.
Dockett told ESPN.com he hasn't been fined by the team for the whiteboard message.
Here's a photo of the sign taken by a Cardinals fan in Oakland:
Recapping the rest of Arians' Monday news conference:
- Arians said there's no structural damage to Andre Ellington's ribs. The running back is "just sore."
- There's a possibility defensive end Calais Campbell could return to practice this week. He's been out with a strained MCL since suffering the injury against Denver in Week 5.
- Arians said safety Rashad Johnson is being evaluated for a patellar tendon but it could be severe tendinitis.
- Rookie tight end Troy Niklas is doubtful for the Eagles game, Arians said.
- Second-year running back Stepfan Taylor lost weight to get quicker but lost some power at the same time, Arians said.
- Arians explained how the Cardinals could be 31st about the pass but No. 1 against the run: "They can't run. They're going to throw." When he was asked if Arizona could win with the second-worst pass defense, Arians said "We have so far."
- Arians said he won't push Ellington to practice on Wednesdays even though it's hindering the timing in Arizona's pass game: "He can't if he can't hardly walk."
- Arians on the fake punts the St. Louis Rams pulled off against Seattle: "That was some big cojones as Good (offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin) would say."
“I was concerned until I saw him today,” Arians said. “And then now he feels great, so we should just get better and better and just get stronger.”
Arians said his 34-year-old starting quarterback will hopefully be doing everything in practice this week. Also from the coach:
- There’s a chance defensive end Calais Campbell can return from his MCL injury but Arians said it’s “very slim.”
- Right tackle Bobby Massie played “by far his best game.”
- Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker left the game after re-injuring his left calf. On Monday, Arians compared the injury to Andre Ellington’s foot. “It’s going to be there all year and [he’ll have to] play through it and gut it out,” Arians said. “It was a great performance by him coming back out and giving his presence because he’s a great leader.”
- Arians said Palmer’s 44 pass attempts was the “norm.” “When we have it that many times and they stack the box like that to stop the run, then we’re going to throw the football. When he says he’s OK, we’re going to go with it.”
- Arians said he feels the reason defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson have been playing at such a high level is because of their brains: “Two very, very smart players,” Arians said.
- The Cardinals had 40 mental errors -- 20 offensively and 20 defensively.
- Lingering injury: Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker had an ice pack on his left calf after re-injuring it in the first half Sunday. He left the game but eventually returned.
- Change of heart: While safety Rashad Johnson was returning the second of two interceptions, which he scored on, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was on the sideline yelling for Johnson to get down. Then he changed his tune. “I’m hollering, 'Get down ... nah ... go ahead and score,'" Arians said.
After Mathieu picked up a fumble by Washington’s Andre Roberts in the fourth quarter, he headed for the end zone. But after making two Redskins miss, he had a flashback to the play that ended his 2013 season.
“I seen 71 (Washington tackle Trent Williams) running," Mathieu said. "He’s fast. I knew he was coming back. I just got down. Very reminiscent of last year. Very.”
Mathieu made his first start of 2014 on Sunday and appeared to play more snaps than he has in any game this year. It translated into four tackles, a quarterback hurry and a pass deflection. On at least two occasions, he got to Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins untouched on a blitz a split-second after Cousins released his pass.
Mathieu found a rhythm Sunday, something he’s been searching for all season.
“When I did play, I just really couldn’t get in a groove, couldn’t find that comfort zone,” Mathieu said. “But I think this week I knew I was going to play more. I got more reps in practice, so I was way more comfortable going into the game.”
Reaching a point where he’s comfortable post-injury has been a process that started when he first put on his knee brace last summer. It continued into the season, as he’s been learning how to adjust to it.
“I’m not really comfortable with it,” Mathieu said. “But I have to be comfortable with it, just play these mind games with myself, tell myself I’m comfortable with it.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians made clear that there’s “nothing wrong with [Mathieu].”
“He’s getting more used to the brace,” Arians said.
“He’s just getting [used] to [learning] how to play with a brace on. When you play the position that he plays, any lack of mobility frustrates you, especially him, because he is cat quick. He doesn’t like being immobilized at times, and that’s what the brace does.”
It limited Mathieu on Sunday during DeSean Jackson’s 64-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Jackson got behind cornerback Patrick Peterson and headed toward Mathieu, who was at free safety. Mathieu said he took a bad angle to defend Jackson but he added he thought he “was a little bit restricted," aside from taking a bad angle.
While one play might have exposed Mathieu’s restrictions with the brace, it didn’t define his game. The fumble recovery did, and his teammates are looking for more of that out of him.
“Tyrann is a ball guy,” said safety Rashad Johnson, who had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. “The play that the ball came out, it seems like it just pops in his hands. He’s a guy that’s always around the ball.
“We are looking forward to him coming back and getting more snaps as the season goes on and making big plays for us as well. He is a big emphasis on defense and you’re going to see him do a lot more things for us.”
Without a true strong safety on the team, the Cardinals will be looking to fill the position in May's NFL draft. If Arizona is forced to, though, it can turn to the two free safeties currently on the team -- Rashad Johnson or Tony Jefferson -- to move to strong safety. That's not an ideal situation, said ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson.
Arizona's safety corps is in flux until Tyrann Mathieu returns from his ACL and LCL injuries and until a strong safety is signed. Last season with Bell, currently a free agent, on the field, Mathieu became the starter in Week 4 after Johnson lost the tip of his left middle finger. Mathieu played well enough to supplant Johnson until Mathieu got hurt in Week 13.
But when Arizona' safeties are restocked, Johnson and Jefferson would give the Cardinals “great” depth, Williamson added.
Until then, however, Johnson would be the presumed starter at free safety while Jefferson would fill in at strong safety. Both are 5-11, not the ideal size for a tandem of safeties. Last season, it was often Bell's responsibility to defend opponents' tight ends. That didn't work in the Cardinals' favor because of a combination of Bell's declining speed at 35 and lack of size. Of the 29 touchdowns thrown by opposing quarterbacks, 17 went to tight ends.
Ideally, the Cardinals would like a safety taller than 6-foot who can run with tight ends such as St. Louis' Jared Cook and San Francisco's Vernon Davis, but it's not necessary, Williamson said.
“I don't think they need that guy,” he said. “He would be great to have, but they also don't grow on trees.”
They do, however, grow in the draft.
Two prospects who Williamson identified as good fits in Arizona are Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Washington State's Deone Bucannon. They're the second- and third-ranked safeties, respectively, in this year's draft class according to ESPN.com. Pryor is listed at 5-11 1/8 while Bucannon is 6-1.
Williamson doesn't think Pryor gets past the first round, in which Arizona picks 20th, and he doesn't think Bucannon falls out of the second.
The Cardinals' needs are minimal, Williamson added, but safety is one position that can be upgraded. However, to Williamson, filling the void left by Bell may not be vital to Arizona's success in 2014.
“I think the rest of the defense is strong enough and will get stronger through the draft that if they open the season with Jefferson and/or Johnson in that role, this team is still a strong contender and should have a top-10 defense either way,” Williamson said.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said “basically” everybody practiced Friday leading up to Sunday’s game against San Francisco. Linebacker John Abraham (groin), guard Daryn Colledge (back) and safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) were all limited Friday and are listed as questionable.
Everyone else practiced in full and is probable, including quarterback Carson Palmer (ankle and elbow), linebacker Daryl Washington (ankle), defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (finger).
“It looks like we’ll be full-go and ready to play,” Arians said. “It’s a big game. It’s fun to have the last one count. That’s what we wanted all year, for this game to matter and it matters.”
Arizona Cardinals linebacker John Abraham will be a game-time decision because of a groin injury that has sidelined him from practice this week, coach Bruce Arians said.
While Abraham may be out, Arizona could get back safety Rashad Johnson from a high-ankle sprain he suffered against Tennessee. Johnson practiced Thursday for the first time in two weeks and “did very well,” Arians said.
Backup quarterback Drew Stanton practiced in full but was added to the injury list because of a knee issue. Linebacker Daryl Washington was also added to the injury report with an ankle injury.
Guard Daryn Colledge (back), Johnson and Washington were limited.
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder), tight end Rob Housler (groin), running back Rashard Mendenhall (finger), quarterback Carson Palmer (right elbow/ankle), tackle/guard Nate Potter (ribs) and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (groin) were upgraded from limited to full.
He’s been waiting for another chance to rewind the clock to the first half of the season when Jefferson, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma, was the rookie safety du jour for the Cardinals. He played 47 snaps in Week 2, and saw 58 and 31 in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus.
He’s played a total of seven snaps since.
“Personally, I feel like I’m going to be ready,” Jefferson said. “I’m made for this type of stuff. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity. I haven’t been on defense as much as I was earlier in the season. I’m back at it.”
He’s spent the past three months working twice as hard in the classroom as his teammates who play on a regular basis. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles made sure of that.
“We make sure our guys who aren’t starting and playing know twice as much because they don’t get the reps,” Bowles said. “They get mental reps. You can test them and you quiz them and you make sure they’re sharp because you’re gonna need them at some point in the year.
“You never really leave them out in the cold.”
It might’ve been chilly for Jefferson standing on the sideline for the past 11 games but the coaching staff didn't forgot about him, especially after he replaced Johnson last weekend. Jefferson's pressure on Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick forced an interception in overtime, which led to Arizona’s game-winning field goal.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians praised Jefferson’s ability to make plays when he’s given the chance but was quick to point out that Jefferson still doesn’t have enough experience to play an entire game at safety.
“But he’s going to,” Arians said with a chuckle. “That’s how you get experience, you play. He’s fine. He’ll do his job.”
In case he doesn’t, Curtis Taylor is waiting in the wings.
Taylor, who was cut by the Cardinals after training camp and was re-signed to the practice squad a couple days later, earned a spot on the 53-man roster on Dec. 10 when Arizona placed Mathieu on injured reserve. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2010 with San Francisco, but, like Jefferson, whom he’ll back up, Taylor has been waiting for a chance.
“It’s not like it’s my first rodeo dealing with it or whatever,” he said. “It’s the NFL -- somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up.
Even after not seeing the field for so long, Taylor isn’t nervous or anxious or worried about playing.
“When you’ve been playing this game for so long, nerves is not an issue,” he said. “It’s more excitement than anything. I’m looking forward to it. Great opportunity. Great opportunity to get in the playoffs. I have nothing to be nervous about.”
Neither Jefferson nor Taylor have time to be nervous.
They won’t have a chance to ease their way back onto the field. The playoffs are on the line. Sunday is the type of game players strap on their pads for.
Sunday likely won’t go as smoothly as it would’ve had Mathieu or Johnson been healthy, but cornerback Patrick Peterson isn’t concerned that Jefferson won’t come to play.
“He’s a fast, ferocious safety,” Peterson said. “He scans the field, the back end pretty well. As a young guy the most important thing is communication, being a guy that pretty much doesn’t have that feel of the secondary now making the different checks. That’s going to be the hardest part for him.
“It’s not a doubt in my mind he’s going to come out and play a 110 percent.”
“Got a lot of treatment on it and [I will] be ready to roll,” Palmer said.
Palmer isn’t a stranger to not practicing. Heading into the St. Louis game in Week 14, Palmer didn’t take a single snap all week because of a sore elbow. The mental reps, alone, prepared him for the Rams’ defense. A sprained ankle, however, is different because it impacts Palmer’s mobility, which he’ll need against Seattle’s top-ranked defense.
The first-quarter hit on Palmer that sprained his ankle looked worse than it actually was. He stood up holding his legs and limping but after Arizona scored a touchdown on the next play, Palmer went to the sideline and got his ankle wrapped.
“I knew that he got a good shot on me and it probably tweaked my ankle a little bit,” Palmer said. “I didn’t think anything more than that or less than that.”
Besides Palmer, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, tight end Rob Housler and safety Rashad Johnson did not practice Wednesday.
Fitzgerald is still following protocol, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. The next step is for Fitzgerald to begin exercising.
“He’s fine so far with what he’s been doing,” Arians said.
Fitzgerald saw the doctor assigned to the Cardinals on Monday and then went for a second, independent opinion on Tuesday. He has to pass the NFL’s mandatory concussion protocol before he’ll be allowed to play.
Housler and Johnson were on the stationary bike for the open portion of practice.
Unlike the secondary that was running like a well-oiled machine until the third quarter last weekend, the Cardinals’ back-end didn’t play like itself in Sunday’s 37-34 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans. Three days of practice with a new rotation, implemented to replace rookie free safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose season ended last Sunday because of a knee injury, wasn’t enough.
Mathieu’s loss meant the Cardinals had to insert a new starter at free safety (Rashad Johnson), a new nickel slot back (Jerraud Powers) and a new nickel corner (Antone Cason). Johnson and Powers had experience playing together all season, even after Mathieu took over as the starting free safety in Week 4, but Cason was the wild card. He only saw sporadic action this year until he replaced Mathieu in nickel against the Rams.
The cohesion, however, wasn’t automatic. Coverages were busted all afternoon against the Titans, and receivers roamed free. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a career-high 402 yards against a defense that had not allowed more than 319 yards in a game this season -- and that was to Drew Brees.
But cornerback Patrick Peterson believes all the kinks got worked out Sunday.
“I think it takes a game,” he said. “I thought we did OK. I thought the quarterback made some good throws today, putting them in some tight spots. Just got to communicate better and overall, I thought we did play well just the communication part wasn’t there.
“Now that we got a feel for one another, it’s just time to go play.”
This week will be spent learning how to play with each other in new roles. Cason felt like the unit embraced him this week and that support helped him get two interceptions.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said there was no question the Cardinals would have liked to have Mathieu, but there’s no looking back. All eyes are on the players who can help the Cards.
And to do that, the communication must improve.
Peterson said the nickel corners need to improve their communication with the nickel backs. The safeties need to do a better job of relaying the audibles. The secondary, as a whole, needs to work on making sure the linebackers know where to be when receivers go under.
“I don’t want to say the game was moving fast,” Peterson said, “it’s just everybody wasn’t on the same page.”
What it means: It hasn't happened often this season, but the Cardinals' defense had an off day and it nearly cost them. The late collapse can't be blamed on the offense this week. Despite the poor coverage and stupid penalties, the offense made the plays when it needed to. It was the defense that let Arizona down, but it was also the defense that saved the Cards. Antoine Cason stepped into a more prominent role and had two interceptions Sunday, the second of which led to Jay Feely's winning, 41-yard field goal in overtime. The pass rush wasn't up to its usual snuff but, unlike last season when the defense had a bad game and eliminated any chance of the Cards winning, this season, the offense put together some nice drives that resulted in touchdowns.
Stock watch: Andre Ellington had been quiet for a few weeks but he returned with a bang. His 71 rushing yards were his second most of the season and his 87 receiving yards set a new career high. He showed again how formidable the one-two punch of himself and Rashard Mendenhall could be. Ellington's athleticism was on display from the onset in both facets, receiving and rushing. He caught two passes threaded through the secondary from Carson Palmer, showing his value in the passing game, and he made a couple Chris Johnson-esque runs in front of the star back's home crowd.
Missing Mathieu: One of the primary concerns when rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury was how the secondary was going to be reshuffled. Mathieu played three positions: free safety, cornerback and nickel back. His versatility allowed the Cardinals to not substitute; however, on Sunday, the secondary looked confused and out of sorts throughout the game. Coverages were mishandled, allowing Titans receivers to be left open in the middle of the field, and linebackers, at times, were matched up on running backs and receivers. The first week will most likely be the hardest, but now the Cards can re-evaluate their substitution patterns and coverages and make the necessary changes.
Penalties add up: Although the Cardinals had just nine penalties for 69 yards, it was the stupidity of the penalties that will irk Bruce Arians. On one drive in the third quarter, Marcus Benard was called for roughing the passer on a senseless hit. Then on the next play, Rashad Johnson was flagged for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver. In the fourth, linebacker Daryl Washington was flagged for taunting and Dan Williams received a late unnecessary roughness. All penalties that could've -- and should've -- been avoided.
What's next: The Cardinals head to Seattle for their second-to-last game of the season against the Seahawks at 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday at CenturyLink Field.