Cardinals DC Vance Joseph: Golden a perfect fit; Simmons flashes
Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph spoke with reporters Wednesday at an interesting point in time.
His defense heads into the bye coming off a Sunday Night Football win that included starkly contrasting play before and after halftime. Arizona pulled it together in the second half and overtime to defeat the Russell Wilson-led Seattle Seahawks, thanks in part to an interception by rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who played just five snaps.
The Cardinals defense could come out of the bye week still in a troubling spot on the injury front, but help is on the way with Arizona trading for pass-rusher Markus Golden last week and signing veteran defensive end Josh Mauro on Wednesday.
So here are five tidbits of note, touching on the defensive storylines and the importance of the bye.
Markus Golden a ‘perfect fit’
Acquired for a sixth-round pick, Golden could be thrust ahead of backup outside linebackers Kylie Fitts and Dennis Gardeck, who both were banged up heading into the Seattle game.
The 29-year-old Golden recorded 1.5 sacks for the Giants before the trade and produced 10.0 last season.
“He fits perfectly into our plan,” Joseph said. “He’s a classic outside backer. He loves to be in a two-point stance, he loves to get one-on-one in pass-rushing and he’s a guy that plays hard. As an outside backer with his relentless personality, he’s going to make plays for us.
“Watching him over the years as an outside rusher, man, he overwhelms tackles just with effort.”
Golden, of course, spent 2015-18 with Arizona, recording 12.5 sacks in 2016.
Isaiah Simmons flashes at key moment
A week after Joseph suggested that Simmons, a first-round pick, would see more playing time against the Seahawks, he didn’t.
A lot of that was situational.
Seattle faced third downs just three times in the first half.
“It was 1st-and-10 and 2nd-and-short the entire first half,” Joseph said. “Our third-down package wasn’t alive until the second half of the football game. We had a bunch of calls from that package we couldn’t get to.”
In a third-down package used to create Wilson’s third turnover, a pick by Simmons, who dropped into coverage after showing blitz, set up the Cardinals’ game-winning overtime field goal.
“His length and his speed obviously showed there,” Joseph said of the rookie out of Clemson. “That’s what he could be. He could be a serious advantage for us with his size and length and speed that close to the ball.
“Obviously, as a safety he would be a good player but once he learns how to play NFL linebacker, because of his skillset, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Speaking of the halves
The factors that went into Arizona’s defense allowing 27 points and 377 yards in the first half compared to seven with 154 yards in the second were plenty:
— The aforementioned ability to put the Seahawks in third down helped turn the tide. Said Joseph: “That’s our strength. They were a team that was struggling on third downs and we were a pretty good third-down team.”
— “They played faster than we did. They had a great plan off their bye week with a lot of shifts and motions,” Joseph said.
— Seattle also hit early on big plays by Tyler Lockett, including a one-handed grab to begin the game with Patrick Peterson blanketing him and a touchdown that came on a post route into quarters coverage — Peterson couldn’t knock it away from a diving Lockett and safety Budda Baker seemed to lose sight of the ball before breaking off his coverage.
— Joseph said the Cardinals shrunk the call sheet and played less man coverage on jets and boots.
With defensive end Zach Allen going on injured reserve, the Cardinals signed veteran Josh Mauro to the roster on Wednesday, giving Arizona another body after rookie Leki Fotu (58% of snap) and practice squad call-up Trevon Coley ended up playing alongside Corey Peters and a banged up Jordan Phillips.
Phillips could use the rest time after foot and hamstring issues have limited him the last few weeks.
Arizona also could turn to depth additions in the secondary: Veteran corner Prince Amukamara has learned the system the past several weeks, while second-year safety Jalen Thompson, a starter heading into the season, is expected to be back from an ankle injury by the Week 9 game against the Miami Dolphins.
Meanwhile, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks “is going to be fine,” according to Joseph. He left the Seahawks game late in regulation with an unknown injury.
Rest at a much-needed time
Joseph doesn’t have the bumps and bruises of his players, but he’s all for taking the week to catch up on some sleep — especially in the mornings.
“It’s an early staff with an early head coach,” the defensive coordinator said of Kliff Kingsbury. “He’s here early in the morning at 4:30 and 5 o’clock, so we have to match that morning call with Kliff. I’m here at 5:30 — I’m late.”
Because of COVID-19 protocols, players are forced to remain in town for morning testing. Joseph said it should lead to more working out, resting or getting in extra film work.
“Obviously with the COVID protocols, we have to be here every single day,” Joseph said. “In a normal year you have guys leaving town, visiting family and obviously going to Vegas and partying … that’s what young guys do. I think this year’s different.”