Limited playoff snaps for Cardinals’ Simmons, Collins part of game plan

Jan 19, 2022, 7:39 AM

Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, foreground, runs against Arizona Cardinals inside lineback...

Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, foreground, runs against Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons (9) and safety Budda Baker during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Inglewood, Calif., Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Arizona Cardinals selected young, athletic off-ball linebackers with their first pick in each of the past two drafts. However, neither Isaiah Simmons nor Zaven Collins had a major role in Monday’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Simmons, a 2020 first-rounder and regular starter this past season, played only 32% of Arizona’s defensive snaps, his season-low.

Collins, a 2021 first-rounder, played only 13%. That was more typical, as Collins did not get consistent defensive snaps for most of the season, only 20.6%.

Veteran Tanner Vallejo, a former 6th-round pick, played a season-high 63% of the team’s defensive snaps on Monday night.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that was a predetermined decision.

“It was a game plan situation,” Kingsbury said. “We do hope they’ll be able to have more of an offseason this offseason. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like yet and continue to develop (them) and step in and have more prominent roles.”

Vallejo had been entrusted in more run packages than Collins when healthy during the second half of the season. The Rams went up 21-0 in the first half and ran the ball often, which may have led to him playing more than Simmons, as well.

Vallejo had two tackles for loss and a missed tackle.

Still, the plan showed a lack of faith in the two young linebackers in Arizona’s biggest game of the year.

Veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was on the field for nearly every defensive snap this season (97%), said he believes Simmons and Collins are ready and on the team for a reason.

“They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t,” Hicks said Tuesday. “At some point, you’ve got to entrust it with them whether they’re ready or not. I mean, as an NFL player, as a professional, you have to do everything you can to get ready.”

Collins was brought in to replace Hicks as the team’s MIKE linebacker, which never transpired. Hicks said he and Collins’ relationship this year has been great, same with Simmons.

Hicks would not elaborate on his current stance with the Cardinals after last offseason. He has one more year on his contract, but he did said he was not ready to answer any questions about his future in Arizona.

Simmons played a lot more in Year 2 than his rookie campaign. Maybe the same will be true for Collins.

It may have to be if Hicks plays elsewhere.

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