Dealing Cards: In Redskins, Cardinals to face another dynamic offense
TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher talked about how his group was looking forward to matching up with one of the best offenses in the NFL last week in Atlanta, with an expectation that they would play well and show what they could do.
Then the Falcons dropped 38 points on them.
The second-year coordinator went on to talk about how the focus this week has been on “intention vs. direction.” What he means is just because someone wants something to happen — badly — it does not matter unless they go about their business the right way.
With the right mindset and proper tempo, he is confident direction and intention can be matched, and when that happens the defense will be successful. It’s about moving on from Atlanta.
“Coming out of it, the thing, if you can say this, is that’s redeeming, is you get to play another great offense,” Bettcher said.
While the Falcons are ranked first in the NFL in points, the Washington Redskins enter Week 13 second in yards. Led by fifth-year QB Kirk Cousins, they have developed an offensive assault that few teams have been able to stop.
Even in a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Washington piled up 505 total yards while averaging 7.0 yards per play.
“Our guys are excited about the opportunity to play another great offense,” Bettcher said. “With these guys, they run the ball extremely well, and they’re throwing the ball — and the thing, to me, about the passing game, is (it is) very accurate. Completion percentage, high-completion throws, will test you in the boot game, maybe push the ball down the field at times, nice mix of the screen game on first and second down. Those are the things we’re going to have to defend on the early downs and get ourselves in good third downs.”
Kind of under the radar, Washington truly has developed a dynamic offense.
Cousins is completing 68.4 percent of his passes, having thrown for 3,540 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is averaging 8.1 yards per pass, and has been intercepted just seven times.
Meanwhile, four different players, tight end Jordan Reed and receivers Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder, have been targeted at least 70 times. Crowder leads the team in yards (725) and touchdowns (6), while Jackson is averaging a team-best 15.4 yards per reception.
The Cardinals may be catching a break as it appears Reed will not play due to a dislocated shoulder, though his backup is veteran Vernon Davis, who Bettcher said they know well from his time with the San Francisco 49ers.
With a quarterback who is pushing the ball down the field and a bevvy of receiving options at his disposal, the 2016 Redskins look a lot like the 2015 Cardinals.
As everyone knows, that team was difficult to defend.
Unlike most weeks, when there is a clear-cut No. 1 receiver for cornerback Patrick Peterson to cover, the Redskins do not offer such an option. Bettcher hinted at Peterson being used all over the field on various wideouts, and is confident his Pro Bowler will be up to the task.
Peterson himself understands the number of weapons this week’s opponent has.
“They’ve got a cast of guys over there,” he said, noting the tight ends, Garcon, Crowder and “home run hitter” Jackson. “These guys have talent all over the place, and Kirk Cousins is playing probably the best football of his career.”
He is, and it’s safe to say Washington likes that.
Cousins surprised some last season when he threw for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns, and there was a belief that it may have been the high water mark for the 2012 fourth-round pick. But he has followed up that breakout campaign with an equally effective season, and because of it, the Redskins are very much in the thick of the playoff race once again.
He’s a different player than he was two seasons ago, when the Cardinals picked off three passes en route to a 30-20 home win.
“I think one, he’s getting the ball out on time,” Bettcher said of what’s changed. “The ball, he hits his — whether it’s three-step or five-step or seven, play-pass, the ball comes out when his back foot hits the ground.
“The other thing is, in the perimeter boot series, he’s doing a nice job keeping plays alive. People get up in his face and he’s made some good throws in the boot stuff on the perimeter, buying time, extending plays.”
The official injury report can be found here, and for the Cardinals’ part, everything Bruce Arians said Wednesday about who would be back on the field Thursday held true. Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson (knee) and Justin Bethel (foot) and receiver John Brown (sickle-cell trait) put in “limited” practices after being out Wednesday.
However, safety Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder), who was limited Wednesday, did not practice Thursday.
Last week in Atlanta, Ulrick John received his first game action with the Cardinals, as he started at right tackle. The early returns were good and the overall performance was promising, but the 24-year-old was unable to finish strong. In fact, neither he nor right guard John Wetzel were in good enough shape, according to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
Goodwin said they were good for the first two-and-a-half quarters or so, but “slowly but surely, they died on the vine.”
“For Ulrick, you can understand a little bit, hasn’t played a lot of football other than probably preseason when he was in Miami,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said there is no excuse for Wetzel wearing down, though he did note that being in pass protection for most of the second half did not help things.
“For John, he’s got to just continue to push himself through,” Goodwin said. “Ulrick, I’ll give him a slight 1-percent pass of kind of wearing down towards the end. He understands that, as the game went on and the more tired he got, his technique kind of went to crap.”
Goodwin pointed out how John was spending time post-practice running, and while he thinks his debut performance went well, the former 2014 seventh round pick of the Indianapolis Colts understands he wore down.
“I haven’t played a full game since the first game of preseason, and after that it was just like half of the game every other preseason after that,” he said. “But still, it’s not an excuse; you’ve got to be ready for anything. But I’ve been out here doing a little extra work to make sure I am ready for this week.”
Climbing the ladder
Larry Fitzgerald understands where he currently ranks with regards to the receiving records.
With 103 touchdown receptions, he ranks eighth all-time, his 14,168 yards place him 11th, and with 1,096 catches he is fifth — just five behind former Vikings great Cris Carter for fourth.
“I know where I’m at — I always know where I’m at,” he said. “I’m not saying that it’s super high on my priority list when I step out on the field, but obviously I care about my performance, I care about going out there and doing what I’m capable of doing every single week.
“If that amounts to climbing up the list, then that amounts to it. But I have a great deal of pride in going out there and competing at the highest level and being a leader on my team and somebody that my teammates can count on week in and week out.”
Fitzgerald, who is close friends with Carter, said the Hall of Famer got on him a couple days ago and said while he may catch him in receptions, he won’t get him in touchdowns.
With 130, Carter has a substantial lead on Fitzgerald.
Still, wherever his numbers are at the end of his career, Fitzgerald will go down as one of the league’s greatest receivers. Some would say he has done it a bit quietly, and the 33-year-old thinks he knows why.
“I play in Arizona,” he said, with a smile. “We weren’t on a nationally-televised game until three years ago. I’ve done it in obscurity.”