Cardinals’ Isaiah Simmons admits he has a ways to go after Week 1

Sep 12, 2022, 7:26 AM | Updated: 7:44 am
Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons (9) tackles Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKi...

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons (9) tackles Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona Cardinals have put a lot on the plate of defender Isaiah Simmons for the 2022 season.

He dons the green dot on his helmet to relay plays– something he had never done in a game heading into the season — and plays basically everywhere on Arizona’s defense. Their coverage is reliant on his abilities dropping back from inside linebacker and setting up in the nickel.

The third-year player even has a position name made for him that highlights Arizona’s expectations: “star backer,” which didn’t exist in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense until this season.

On Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Simmons drew the assignment of guarding seven-time Pro Bowler Travis Kelce on many occasions, and he admitted that it was not his best work.

Kelce cooked the Cardinals’ defense to the tune of eight catches on nine targets for 121 yards. Simmons, meanwhile, was lost in coverage on multiple occasions.

“Week 1, I’ve got a long way to go,” Simmons said after the 44-21 loss. “I’m a lot better than what I’ve put out there. Like I said, it’s Week 1, you don’t win the Super Bowl based off Week 1. You don’t make your career based off one game.

“I felt like there were some plays that I left out there, for sure.”

It started with the first series in which he allowed an 18-yard reception to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and then a nine-yard touchdown to Kelce in coverage:

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury noted that Kelce had wins on Simmons but he gets those on everyone. But Simmons’ outing was a reminder that he still has room to grow in terms of becoming who the Cardinals are banking on, even with the added responsibilities and trust he’s been given.

It’s a process.

Simmons has unique physical traits that teams dream of when drafting players. His role has grown exponentially since his rookie season in 2020, in which it took time for him to see the field consistently.

Last year was a step forward, although the Cardinals did not see much use for him in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But they doubled down all offseason on him becoming a critical piece.

He said during the offseason he can become one of the league’s top linebackers while getting a lot of practice time in with the safeties.

Joseph said before Sunday’s game that a standout trait of Simmons is that he doesn’t think on the field and is clear-minded, which will help as his football IQ and skills continue to develop.

It’s why he gave Simmons the green dot, which the star backer said went smoothly.

Sunday was as tough an assignment as there comes in the NFL, and Simmons is aware improvements are needed to reach that level. On top of his tough coverage assignments, when used as a pass-rusher, the linebacker was part of a unit that recorded no sacks (although Arizona did have six quarterback hits).

“We just got to look ourselves in the mirror and just take it for what it is and learn from what we did wrong,” Simmons said. “Work on it for the next week.”

Simmons will continue to get opportunities to prove himself in various facets, including against stellar tight ends.

Next week, the Cardinals face Pro Bowler Darren Waller and the Las Vegas Raiders.

“I’m just looking forward to the opportunity against some other great tight ends,” Simmons said.

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