Former Cardinal LaMarr Woodley: DC James Bettcher cost us NFC Championship Game
LaMarr Woodley spent one injury-plagued season with the Arizona Cardinals.
It’s probably safe to say he will not be back for a second year with the team.
Woodley, on his “Avenue 56” podcast, called out Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher. The veteran linebacker was explaining why his last two NFL seasons — 2014 in Oakland and then with the Cardinals — were sub-standard, pointing out how neither team was a good fit for him.
In Oakland, he said he was moved to defensive end, which did not work for him, and noted how even in Arizona’s 3-4 defense, the outside linebacker was not used the same way he was when he starred for the Steelers.
“In Oakland we had a dumb defensive coordinator and in Arizona we had a dumb defensive coordinator,” he said. “It was just two dumb guys that felt like — they never played football but felt like they knew more about football.
“They thought that we were like we were like Madden players. So they would draw something and on paper it would look good, but the players still have to go out there and run it, and those guys didn’t really listen to their players.”
Woodley’s defensive coordinator in Oakland was Jason Tarver, who although never made it to the NFL, did play defensive back at West Valley College in 1994 and 1995.
Arizona’s Bettcher, on the other hand, was an offensive lineman at St. Francis, where he was a three-time NAIA All-America Scholar, a three-time Mid-States Football Association Scholar, a two-time NAIA Coaches All-America choice and a two-time Don Hansen’s All-American selection. He also earned a Silver Helmet Award for leadership, coachability and performance on the field in 2002.
Following college Bettcher spent time at various stops coaching, and in the NFL was the special assistant to the head coach/outside linebackers in Indianapolis in 2012 before moving to Arizona to coach outside linebackers in 2013. Then, in 2015, he was promoted to the defensive coordinator job.
So while Bettcher never played in the NFL, he was not exactly lacking credentials.
That said, Bettcher was never afraid to admit there was a learning process in his new role, and it’s fair to reason any first-time coordinator would go through some growing pains. The Cardinals, however, finished fifth in the NFL in total defense and were tied for seventh in points allowed, and their 33 total takeaways were second in the league.
Woodley praised his coordinator in Pittsburgh, Dick LeBeau, because he felt like he was a coach who listened to his players.
“You know if something didn’t work and a player came up to him and he talked to him about it, Coach LeBeau listened to his players because he played the game of football and he understood that,” he said. “So he listened to his players and that’s why Pittsburgh was successful on defense all those years, because you had a coach that listened to his players.”
Woodley went on to say his coordinators in Oakland and Arizona wanted to do things their way and only their way, and were unwilling to make adjustments despite what the players may have said.
“And as you see, when some coaches just do it their way, things don’t turn out well,” he said.
That’s a reasonable take, in theory, but it’s not like Arizona’s defense was torched throughout the season. In fact, it was not really until the NFC Championship Game in Carolina, which the Panthers won 49-15, where the group got overwhelmed. Not surprisingly, Woodley holds Bettcher accountable for that night.
“In Arizona, we had one of the best defenses — you look at that defense, stacked up, all the way around,” he said. “You look at the results that happened in the Carolina game; it wasn’t because we had bad players.
“No, our defensive coordinator, he doesn’t have the common sense to talk to his players to make the adjustments because he just wanted to do things his way. And when he did things his way, those are the results that we got.”
Woodley appeared in 10 games for the Cardinals last season — starting seven — and finished with 15 total tackles along with one sack before being placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle.