GLENDALE, Ariz. — James Bettcher was out the University of Phoenix door so fast after the Cardinals’ 31-19 win over the Saints on Sunday, you’d think he’d experienced this feeling a hundred times before. Come to think of it, that’s exactly how the Cardinals want game days to feel for their first-year defensive coordinator.
Bettcher had the unenviable task of taking over this season for Todd Bowles, a highly successful and extremely popular assistant coach in his two seasons as Arizona’s defensive coordinator.
When Bowles accepted the head-coaching job with the New York Jets in January, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians moved quickly to name Bettcher, 37, his successor. Arians promised it would be a seamless transition — that the defense wouldn’t change much under Bettcher, who had coached the team’s outside linebackers.
Until the Cardinals took the field on Sunday, however, belief in that statement required a leap of faith. Now there is tangible evidence.
The Cardinals allowed New Orleans 408 yards of offense, a total that defensive tackle Frostee Rucker admitted “is not good.” That said, New Orleans’ has ranked in the NFL’s top five in total offense each of the past five seasons, and in the top 10 in scoring offense over that same span. The Cardinals kept that offense out of the end zone all but once on Sunday, allowing four field goals.
“We were super excited about holding them to field goals,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “That’s the plan.
“Last year, that’s what made us be an 11-win team. Teams got in the red zone and when they got there we were able to keep them out of the end zone. We thrive off that. We’re a bend but don’t break defense.”
Defensive end Calais Campbell said Bettcher’s demeanor on the sidelines was that of an old pro: calm and collected.
“They did a lot of different things early to try to mess us up and he made great adjustments; he made good calls,” Campbell said. “Some of those calls we messed up because we just didn’t play smart as players so they made a couple plays they shouldn’t have, but he called different plays that made it a little easier to get the job done based off what they were doing. That’s what good defensive coordinators do.”
As Campbell noted, there were some first-game hiccups on defense. The Saints’ ability to run successful screens helped quarterback Drew Brees rack up 355 yards passing. The Cardinals also got exposed a few times on the back end while blitzing.
“We’ve run that blitz a thousand times in training camp,” Arians said. “We got too anxious to go after the quarterback today and not cover the back.”
Rucker said some of the Cardinals’ errors stemmed from an inability to fully game plan for the Saints.
“When you’re watching film on last year and the third preseason game, it’s kind of hard to get a good read,” he said. “We knew that all summer long they were working on things just for us so the script changed a little bit for James.
“There are just some times where you have to feel things out as a coach or as a player, but I thought he did a great job and we won the game.”
Campbell admitted after the game that he was keeping an eye on the Jets game to see how Bowles fared in his first game as a head coach.
“We wish Todd well, and I know the Jets won today so I’m really happy for him,” Campbell said. “But when James took over, we never looked back. This is Bettcher’s team now and we know he can do the job.”