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Arizona Cardinals defense shining under coordinator James Bettcher

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrates a defensive stop against the Green Bay Packers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. – How the Arizona Cardinals would adjust to a new defensive coordinator was a big question mark coming into this season, just as it was two seasons prior.

Who was James Bettcher?  And could he really pick up where his predecessor left off?

There were similar questions asked of Todd Bowles, who was tabbed to replace Ray Horton in 2013.

Bowles excelled, parlaying his two-year stint into a head coaching job with the New York Jets.

Bettcher may still be years away from following in those same footsteps but he’s trending in the right direction.

Here in his first year as coordinator, Bettcher has the Cardinals ranked No.5 in both total defense (319.5 yards per game) and points allowed per game (18.5).

“Every day, just come in (and) get the job done,” he said Thursday.  “Maybe at the end of the season when this thing is over with, maybe I’ll sit back and (reflect on the season), but right now it’s job-at-hand, task-at-hand.”

That Bettcher is having so much first-year success shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

Yes, he was hired despite never having called a defensive play, college or pro; and yes, his NFL coaching experience was limited to just three seasons before his promotion, but two of those seasons were spent with the Cardinals as outside linebackers coach, learning under Bowles.

“We knew James was a smart guy,” safety Tony Jefferson said.  “We didn’t really have any doubts.  That was more coming from outside of the locker room.”

Added defensive tackle Calais Campbell, one of the few holdovers from Horton’s time in the desert, “Everybody had confidence in Betch because you could tell what kind of mind he had.”

As an example, Campbell pointed to the times Bettcher used to lead the run-game defensive meetings on Wednesdays.

“The one thing Coach Bowles did well was let other guys get a chance in front of the room and speak and give their notes and give us pointers and Bettcher always did a really good job,” Campbell said.  “There was a lot of confidence in him when he got named for the job.  For us, it was simple.  It was his show.  He changed some things a little bit, made it a little more his way, and we never looked back.”

Defensively, the Cardinals are coming off arguably their best effort of the season.

Against Green Bay, the Cardinals defense recorded nine sacks, four takeaways and two touchdowns.  They held the Packers to 178 total net yards with an average of just 2.78 yards per play, the Cardinals’ lowest single-game average allowed in 25 years.

“When we set out in the beginning in April and we went around the room, it was a very candid conversation with me and the defensive players, and we talked about what we wanted to be,” Bettcher said.  “And the one thing that was the resounding between me, any other coach, any player on this team, was to be a relentless team.  That when you turned our tape on, you knew you turned our tape on.”

Mission accomplished.

“The front office did a really good job bringing playmakers into the building and Betch did a really good job of putting us in position to make plays,” Campbell said. “Coach Betch led this defense to be a relentless, disciplined, ball-hawking defense and that’s what we are.”

At 37, Bettcher is the third-youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL and the sixth-youngest coordinator overall.

“I’m sure he has more to learn, but we’re, what, top 5 in the majority of the (defensive) categories.  He’s got to be doing something right,” linebacker Dwight Freeney said.  “If he keeps on going along this path, he’ll be one of the better d-coordinators out there in this league.”

Bettcher was described as a “shooting star” at his introductory press conference by head coach Bruce Arians.  Now, 10 months later, his star is shining brighter than ever, quieting the critics and those who may have questioned the hire

“Well, it’s obvious the job he did and I knew he would,” Arians said.  “But not, because again, I don’t listen to all the noise.  If that were the case, we would never have been able to hire Todd Bowles.”

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