NFC West: Tyrann Mathieu

TEMPE, Ariz. – Standing in front of his locker Monday, left thumb in a cast, Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said Arizona’s defense wanted to keep the Seattle Seahawks from scoring more than 14 points.

Ambitious and confident? Yes.

Realistic? Perhaps.

Seattle has scored fewer than 14 points just once this season, in a 13-9 win over Carolina in Week 8. The Seahawks have outscored opponents 79-27 in their past four games with the league’s No. 1 rushing offense but the 31st-ranked passing attack.

By comparison, the Cardinals have given up 14 or more points in 11 of their 14 games. They’re sixth against the run and 29th against the pass, but have a plus-4 turnover margin in their past two games.

The key for Arizona keeping the Seahawks to 14 points or less -- and possibly winning -- is to neutralize Russell Wilson. In three of Seattle’s four losses this year, he threw for 180 yards or less. The more the Cardinals can get to Wilson, the better chance they have of winning. When Arizona upset Seattle last season, Wilson threw for 89 yards and was sacked four times.

The last time these teams played, in Week 12, Arizona lost 19-3 and was minus-1 in turnover margin. However, the Cardinals limited the Seahawks to just one touchdown. While Seattle has scored seven touchdowns in its past four games, Arizona has allowed five touchdowns in its past five games.

In November, the Cardinals held Wilson to 169 passing yards -- at the time, their fourth straight game keeping a quarterback under 200 yards. Since then, Arizona allowed 211 or more in its past three. But the Cardinals' defense is finding its personality once again and allowed 280 total yards to St. Louis last Thursday night.

As Arizona’s defense gets better, so does Seattle’s offense but Mathieu’s goal wasn’t unrealistic.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington likely won't practice this week after suffering a "really severe" hip pointer in Atlanta, coach Bruce Arians said.

"We hope he's a game-time decision," Arians said on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday night.

Arians expects safety Tyrann Mathieu to return in two weeks from surgery to repair his fractured left thumb that the team confirmed will take place Wednesday.

"Knowing Ty, he won't be more than two weeks and playing in a cast," Arians said. "It'll be two weeks before he can probably play."

Arians said right guard Paul Fanaika's low left ankle sprain is "really bad" and the team is in wait-and-see mode.

Left tackle Jared Veldheer is expected to practice "sometime" this week, Arians said.

Arians added that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will return to practice this week.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- This Arizona Cardinals secondary is better equipped to handle losing Tyrann Mathieu this season than it was a year ago.

That, by no means, implies Mathieu’s loss for what’s likely to be at least two games won’t hurt Arizona. Neither his tangibles nor his intangibles can be replaced by Tony Jefferson, who’ll take over Mathieu’s role at safety. While Mathieu’s ball-hawking ability hasn’t been as prevalent this season because he’s still regaining his rhythm after LCL and ACL surgery kept him out of the safety rotation until Week 6, he has one interception and three pass defensed this season.

Mathieu is scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday to repair his fractured left thumb, the Cardinals confirmed. He’s “not necessarily” out three weeks, the team said, which means he could return in time for Seattle’s visit to University of Phoenix Stadium.

If there are two games the Cardinals can afford to lose Mathieu for, it’s Sunday against Kansas City and next weekend at St. Louis. The Chiefs are ranked 31st in passing offense, while the Rams are currently 26th. But the Cardinals have the personnel to make up for Mathieu’s loss this season.

In 2013, he was a three-in-one defensive back who could play free safety, nickel corner and outside corner if needed. With the addition of cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Mathieu wasn’t needed on the edge anymore. Jerraud Powers was moved to nickel while Mathieu continued to recover from his knee injury, and when he returned, Powers was playing so well that he remained at the nickel.

That left Mathieu at safety, where he’s played this season. When Mathieu missed the season opener and then began slowly working his way back into the rotation during the next three games, Jefferson filled his role and will again be called upon to replace Mathieu.

Mathieu will be missed, but Arizona has the depth to seamlessly move on from his absence, regardless of how long it is.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The scouting report on St. Louis quarterback Austin Davis is fairly easy to digest.

He’s mobile, quick on his feet, but doesn’t handle the blitz very well. He even said so himself.

“Honestly, I see at times there’s good where I hang in and there’s color and there’s a little pressure, but I slide and move, and then there are other times when I (escape) too quick,” Davis said. “I’ve seen both, and I haven’t really seen a progression over the games. I’ve seen more of just hit or miss. I’m looking to become more consistent in that.”

That might not happen Sunday.

It’s no secret that the Arizona Cardinals’ blitz has been a disruption for opposing quarterbacks. They’re completing 59.7 percent of their passes when the Cardinals bring five or more rushers, compared to 65.1 when Arizona doesn’t blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Davis knows what it’s like to be rattled by a blitz. He’s completing 59.4 percent of his passes facing it and 66.7 percent against a normal rush. Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium won’t get much easier for the first-year starter.

The Cardinals are blitzing on 41.5 percent of quarterback drop backs, the fifth-highest rate in the league. They’ve been effective when blitzing on third down, intercepting four passes while allowing just one touchdown. This is one area where Davis has shined against blitzes, however, throwing for three touchdowns against one interception on third down.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said on SiriusXM NFL Radio this week that he’s watched Davis improve throughout the season. He’s learning how to pick up different blitzes and pick up different pointers on third down and in the two-minute drill, Arians said.

“There’s a balance between saving sacks and avoiding pressure and flooding the pocket too quick,” Davis said. “That’s all something I’m trying to get better at and trying to do a better job of. Hopefully, I can continue to do that.”

It’s unlikely to happen against the Cardinals on Sunday. On tape, they’ve seen have seen how erratic Davis can be against the blitz. And Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the Cardinals' defense is a challenge to prepare for because of its “diversity.” Arizona is known for bringing blitzes in all shapes and forms, leaving Davis to figure them out as he goes.

“I think he’s a guy that can extend plays,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think the blitz gets to him. He’ll just throw the ball up. We’ll have a chance to make a play. I think at the end of the day, though, teams are going to try to come and run the football on us, so I think that’s what the Rams are going to do.

“I don’t think they’re going to put the game in Austin Davis’ hands.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Before Tyrann Mathieu was known as "Honey Badger," he was Neo.

His high school coach, Del Lee, likened Mathieu to Keanu Reeves’ character from "The Matrix" because of how Mathieu saw the field. Instead of watching plays unfold like a typical high school cornerback, Mathieu was seeing things in a matrix, Lee said.

But Mathieu wasn’t just in the zone, or the matrix, on occasion.

“He lived there,” Lee said. “I always called him Neo because he knew how to slow everything down around him.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTyrann Mathieu's penchant for big plays became evident early on during his 2010 true freshman season at LSU.
“Those same plays he made in college, those same plays he makes in the NFL; I could find a clip of where he did that in high school.”

What the highlights show -- Mathieu’s interception in front of Dallas tight end Jason Witten last weekend, his forced fumble against St. Louis tight end Jared Cook last year -- are the product of a dangerous combination of rare football IQ and God-given ability.

“He’s got unbelievable instincts,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s got the quickest hands to punch balls out and he’s got great hands catching balls.

“He’s a risk-taker but he never gets beat. That’s the amazing thing. He’s one in a million. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

It’s tough for Arizona’s coaches to describe Mathieu without mentioning his nose for the ball and natural instincts to find the ball, which, in college, bred the Honey Badger nickname. His innate ability to make plays were one reason the Arizona Cardinals took a chance on him in the third round of the 2013 draft and was a major reason Mathieu saw the field early in his rookie season.

And this year, it’s helping him regain his confidence after ACL and LCL surgery on his left knee sidelined him for more than eight months.

Mathieu says he has a sixth sense for the football. Going back to youth football, he said he saw things before they happened. He knew when receivers or running backs would cut back. He calls it anticipation. Cardinals defensive backs coach Nick Rapone calls it instincts.

“For some reason, I was always attracted to the football,” Mathieu said.

Lee said his instincts often lead to game-changing plays.

“Without those skills, he would’ve got [to the ball] and made a tackle, but because he’s so instinctive, with those skills he’s able to get his hands on balls and get interceptions and turnovers,” Lee said.

“His hand-eye coordination is second to none.”

Mathieu said it’s a product of play recognition and understanding route concepts. He can thank Lee for that.

Lee noticed Mathieu’s extra sense between his sophomore and junior seasons. Mathieu was taking “college reps,” Lee called them, because he was in the “best position possible to have all of the best angles and have a serious understanding of where his body was.”

Mathieu began watching film with Lee in high school, and his understanding of what offenses do began to grow. By his senior year, Mathieu was playing in a Cover 2 defense for Lee. Lee remembered Mathieu watching two receivers run their routes and he'd break away from one to intercept a pass targeted for the other because he knew where his break would be.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTyrann Mathieu has "unbelievable instincts" according to coach Bruce Arians.
“Most of the time players give away what they’re about to do,” Mathieu said. “It’s not really a big deal.”

His ball-hawking skills continued through college into the NFL, where it took Rapone all of two meetings last year to recognize Mathieu’s smarts. He looked to cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross amazed.

“I said, ‘Kevin, this kid is pretty darn smart,’” Rapone said. “His retention is excellent. You got to remember; he came in here and learned two positions.”

Mathieu had four months to learn how to play nickelback and safety after spending his college and high school careers at cornerback. Even though he sees the field differently than most other defensive backs, learning two new positions in the NFL was a challenge. Actually for Mathieu, it was “extremely hard” because not only was he handed added responsibility, but he felt he had to fight off Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson for his nickel and safety positions, respectively.

In both positions, he was required to learn how to adjust the defense. As a rookie, Mathieu was suddenly a point guard on one of the top defenses in the league. All that came after Mathieu missed his junior year at LSU.

“What he does is he understands concepts,” Rapone said. “Football’s all concepts. He understands first of all what we’re attempting to do and he understands what they’re attempting to do.”

But he does it in slow motion.

Mathieu seems to sees the field almost like Neo saw life inside The Matrix, and it sped up his transition to the NFL.

“I know when I came in the NFL, a lot of people talked about that learning curve,” Mathieu said. “I don’t think I ever hit that. Of course, I had to learn a new position and new things but I never really got stuck at trying to learn anything.

“It just all came natural to me. I’m not as smart in class like I am when it comes to football class, but when you get on that football field it’s all about making the plays.”

Rapone, who has coached for 35 years, put it into perspective.

“He’s able to see it just like you and I are able to watch a movie,” Rapone said.

The Neo and Honey Badger of old are making a comeback.

In recent weeks, Mathieu has been slowly returning to form. Against Philadelphia in Week 8, he got a major deflection. A week later in Dallas, his first interception came.

The instincts Lee saw Mathieu develop in high school may be rusty, but they haven’t gone away.

“If I stay in high school,” Lee said. “I will not come across another guy like that for 15, 20 years.”

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As soon as the Arizona Cardinals broke the huddle on fourth-and-1 from their own 34, rookie safety Deone Bucannon just knew.

He, and the 85,688 others inside AT&T Stadium, knew what was coming. But unlike the crowd, Bucannon knew the Cardinals No. 3-ranked rushing defense would be able to stop it.

This play was almost too easy to predict: Hand off to DeMarco Murray. Arizona sent Bucannon and linebacker Sam Acho off the edges. The play came “full flow” toward Bucannon. He jumped off the corner and hit Murray on the side, then the linebackers piled on and pushed Murray back.

No gain. Cardinals ball.

“We were, like, not even blinking an eye,” Bucannon said. “We knew we would stop him.”

The Cardinals took possession, and nine plays later quarterback Carson Palmer faked an inside handoff to Robert Hughes and hit Andre Ellington wide open for a 1-yard touchdown. It extended Arizona’s lead, and the Cardinals kept pulling away en route to a 28-17 win.

“I think it’s kinda when the game shifted a little bit,” nose tackle Dan Williams said.

“We knew they were going to try to get the ball to 29, and we just know we had to slow it down, try to get some penetration. We knocked him back, and he wasn’t able to get going. I think that kind of shifted the game, gave the team a little bit more energy.”

But Arizona had already set the tone by that point.

It held Murray, who had run for at least 100 yards in an NFL-record eight straight games heading into Sunday, to a season-low for yards in a first quarter and his second fewest yards in a first half this year. After three quarters, he had 77.

In the fourth quarter, he gained just two.

“We wanted to go out there and shut them down,” Calais Campbell said. “We did a pretty good job, [but] there are still some runs that he had too many yards.”

While all eyes were on Murray’s stat line, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson made Dallas receiver Dez Bryant all but invisible. Bryant, who came in averaging six receptions a game, was held without a catch until the final two minutes. He hauled in a 12-yard pass with 1:55 left and two plays later scored a garbage-time touchdown.

“I thought Pat, he just erased [Bryant] for most of the game,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “Up until the end, he was not a factor in the game.”

After the Cards spotted the Cowboys a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, thanks to a Palmer interception that was returned for a touchdown, Arizona’s defense held Dallas to three points for the next 42:03 while intercepting Weeden twice. Tyrann Mathieu had his first pick of the season and Antonio Cromartie had his third in two games.

“We came in to stop the run, and I felt that, obviously, we did a very good job of that, and they didn’t have 100, I don’t think, as a team,” Arians said. “Hats off to the defensive line, linebackers and safeties because we missed some tackles, but they were very, very physical, and I thought we played on their side of the line most of the day.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu wanted to make a play.

 Any play. Just get his hand on the football. It didn’t have to be a crucial moment of the game. He just felt that the next step in his return from ACL and LCL surgery would be to find his play-making rhythm again.

It came in the fourth quarter and just happened to be on one of the most important plays in Arizona’s 24-20 win. On the second to last play of the game, Mathieu skied over Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews to deflect a potential game-winning touchdown.

“Probably my best game,” Mathieu said. “Wasn’t really thinking about my knee. I was moving around pretty good. I was in coverage and finally [able to] break on the ball [and] get an incompletion, so that was encouraging.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Sunday was the most encouraging game he’s seen out of the Honey Badger, who had four tackles while playing a season-high 76 snaps against the Eagles.

“He’s gotten better and better and better and more confident,” Arians said. “I think the day that brace comes off, he’ll be back to full speed, in his mind.

“He’s already back to full speed, but in his mind he’ll back there and more comfortable.”

But Mathieu’s brace may not come off for the rest of the season.

He began wearing it during training camp, and it took him a couple months to adjust to wearing it. This week, almost two months into the season, Mathieu said he’s just starting to feel comfortable with it.

“I don’t want to have any setbacks,” Mathieu said. “So, I’ll probably just keep it on.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu was counting in his head.

Did the Arizona Cardinals allow the Philadelphia Eagles' tight ends to catch two touchdowns last season? Or three? At first he was sure of two because he allowed them in the Eagles’ 24-21 win in Week 13 last season. Then he settled on three.

[+] EnlargeBrent Celek
AP Photo/Michael PerezThe Cardinals say they are better prepared to stop Brent Celek and Philadelphia's tight ends this season.
The way Arizona defended tight ends last season, a higher guess was always the safer guess.

That’s not the case this season.

The Cardinals figured out why tight ends -- including Philadelphia’s Brent Celek and Zach Ertz -- were a prickly thorn in their side all of 2013, and they’ve worked to correct it. Allowing 17 of their 29 passing touchdowns to be caught by tight ends last season would be reason to focus on figuring out a solution. And fast. Losing to Philadelphia a season ago helped keep the Cardinals out of the postseaosn. They don't want the Eagles to bite them again.

“Obviously, that was a point of emphasis throughout the offseason of not letting tight ends kill us,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “That was how we were able to not win those early games early on in the season. Dating back to the Philly game … losing that game probably was the game that kept us out of the playoffs.

“Now, this year, I believe we have tight ends much more under control than we did last year.”

It helped that Arizona drafted 6-foot-1 safety Deone Bucannon in May. His size, speed and length has been one of the reasons the Cardinals have given up just three touchdowns and 414 yards on 35 receptions to tight ends this season, compared to six scores, and 653 yards on 42 catches last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It also helps that the Cardinals understand where to be on the field this season, Peterson said.

Mathieu, who cited poor technique for why he gave up the two touchdowns in 2013, said Arizona can match up better this season, especially in nickel packages. He added that playing with better fundamentals has been the main difference.

“I think last year guys just weren’t getting to the flat, so a tight end would catch a ball in the flat and run for 30 yards,” Mathieu said. “I think we’re playing better, disciplined football and not trying to do too much.”

Even during presnap alignments, Arizona has been deterring offenses from looking to their tight ends, with the position getting targeted 12 fewer times this season than last. Even when they're being targeted, opposing tight ends have accounted for 23 first downs this year compared to 30 in 2013.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he hasn’t noticed tight ends hurting Arizona this season. It’s because they haven’t.

But Arizona also hasn’t faced the onslaught of talent this year season came along in the first six weeks last season: St. Louis’ Jared Cook in Week 1, Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew in Week 2, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson in Week 3, Carolina’s Greg Olsen in Week 5, and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis in Week 6.

The Cardinals faced San Diego’s Antonio Gates in this season's opener, the New York Giants’ Larry Donnell in Week 2 and Denver’s Julius Thomas in Week 5. That group pales in comparison to last season's lineup. Arizona was spared another meeting against Davis, who was inactive for Arizona’s Week 3 game against San Francisco.

This week, however, the Cardinals will again face the Celek-Ertz combination, which combined for three touchdowns last season.

Arizona has spent months preparing for a challenge like this and the Cardinals understand the stakes.

“We’re in a standpoint where we just got to be more aware,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “They have a lot more weapons than the tight ends so it’s got to be a cat and mouse game.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 30-20 victory over Washington:
  • Mathieu
    Brace bothers the Honey Badger: Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he felt a “bit restricted” on Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s 64-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter because he was wearing a knee brace.
  • 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.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Tyrann Mathieu of old showed up Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals, but with a new mindset.

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.”

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTyrann Mathieu made his first start of the season and recovered a fumble.
In one play, the Mathieu of 2013 was married into the Mathieu of 2014. He was in the right place at the right time -- which became his calling card last season -- but the trauma of his injury wasn’t forgotten. The more he plays this season, the quicker that mindset will eventually disappear.

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.”

Mathieu wanted more snaps in return

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu was glad to be back on a football field Sunday, but he would have preferred to play a few more snaps.

It's been nine months and almost a week since Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL, and depending on who you ask Sunday's return was either ahead of or behind schedule. Regardless, Mathieu took the field for four snaps. That wasn't enough, he said.

"I was expecting to play a little but more," Mathieu said. "It didn't work out that way. We were playing great on defense. Gave up a few plays but, yeah, I was expecting to play more going into the game."

Mathieu said he wasn't put in a situation to make a play or test his knee. He said he covered a tight end on one play and was on the back end of a blitz on another.

On his first play, safety Rashad Johnson came on a blitz and recorded his first career sack.

Mathieu was listed as probable heading into the New York Giants game, but his status wasn't certain. He spent the defensive plays he wasn't participating in standing on the sideline with his helmet on, usually a few feet away from either defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or coach Bruce Arians.

Arians said it's nice to have Mathieu back, but he didn't watch him play much Sunday.

"The bit he played I was probably doing something else," Arians said. "We'll watch the tape. His role will increase each week now that he's back at it."

Mathieu will have another opportunity to test his knee next Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers before Arizona heads into its bye week.

"I wasn't really put in a position where I had to see if my knee was back to where it was," Mathieu said. "So, hopefully in the next couple weeks I can build some confidence by doing more things, hopefully getting put in situations here I have to use quickness and my instincts."

Mathieu hopeful to 'squeeze in' Sunday

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
TEMPE, Ariz. – This might be the week Tyrann Mathieu returns to the field, more than nine months after tearing his ACL and LCL.

With the game plan installed, Mathieu said he might be part of it.

“Hopefully, I can squeeze in there, possibly,” he said.

During his Wednesday appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Mathieu has looked better in coverage this week and has improved his body control. Mathieu’s snaps with the first team have also increased, Arians added.

A decision was going to be made Thursday if Mathieu would play this week, Arians said on the radio, but he doesn’t meet with the media until Friday. Arians has said in the past that a realistic goal for Mathieu’s return was the first week of October, which comes after Arizona’s bye week.

Whenever Mathieu returns, he wants it to be in the same role he had as a rookie.

“I don’t want to just be a certain package guy,” he said. “If I’m out there, obviously I want to be out there every down.”

The decision to play Mathieu at free safety and nickel corner would mean he’d take the places of Rashad Johnson (free safety) and Jerraud Powers (nickel corner). Both had good camps and preseasons, and Powers had Arizona’s lone interception on Monday night, but Mathieu’s value comes in his ability to play three positions. He doesn’t have to come off the field when Arizona switches to its base, nickel or dime packages, decisions that would force Johnson and Powers to shift positions or even sub out.

Mathieu doesn’t think it'll be tough to crack the starting lineup, but getting healthy might be the first step toward returning to his old position. He’s seen himself make the same strides Arians has noticed.

“I’m not thinking about cutting and thinking about my knee anymore,” Mathieu said. “Not any concerns tackling. Not really worried about that.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – A day after getting an MRI on his left foot, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington did not practice Friday, according to the team’s official injury report.

He was limited Thursday.

Also missing practice, for the second straight day, was linebacker Alex Okafor (thigh).

Guard Jonathan Cooper (toe), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), linebacker Kevin Minter (chest) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (back) were all listed as fully practicing.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Following safety Tyrann Mathieu's first day tackling since December, neither he nor his head coach seemed optimistic about Mathieu playing Monday night.

“We’ll just continue where we’re at,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

The numbers weren’t clear, but what can be devised from Arizona's closed practice Thursday was that Mathieu didn’t make many tackles. Arians said Mathieu missed three and made three or four. Mathieu said he made two, missed one and didn’t completely bring down another.

Whatever the final tally, Mathieu said he just needs more practice. But with the CBA rules allowing just one padded practice per week, Mathieu will be limited in how often he can tackle.

As Arians said, tackling is new to Mathieu, who was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 19. He hasn’t done it since before he was injured Week 14 against the St. Louis.

“I think it’s just doing it, just repping it and doing it every day, getting comfortable with it,” Mathieu said. “I think the angles and all that kind of stuff, it’ll come to me but for right now I have to rep it, have to get my steps down and just get eyes in the right spot.”

Mathieu said his mental game didn’t wane as much as his physical one while he recovered from the injury. Now it’s just a matter of getting both on the same page.

“More reps I get, the more comfortable I get,” Mathieu said. “Obviously I see things. I see things before it happens but it’s just all about getting back comfortable.”

Throughout his recovery, Mathieu’s goal was to play on “Monday Night Football” in Week 1 against San Diego, but Thursday he said he stopped looking at Sept. 8 as the end-all, be-all of his return and started approaching his return to game action a day at a time.

It’s a change of heart from the last nine months, but Mathieu said he’s leaving his return date up to his coaches and trainers.

“It’s kinda what to handle today,” Mathieu said. “Get through the day and then focus on the next day.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Second-year running back Andre Ellington highlighted the Arizona Cardinals' first injury report of the season.

He was listed as limited because of his foot in Thursday's report.

Linebacker Alex Okafor did not practice because of a thigh injury. He was on the stationary bike Thursday during the open portion of practice. He missed the final 13 weeks of last season because of a torn biceps.

Also on the injury report were G Jonathan Cooper (toe), WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), S Tyrann Mathieu (knee), LB Kevin Minter (chest) and DT Frostee Rucker (back). All were listed as full practice participants.