Cardinals special teams must be addressed — from top to bottom
TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians had no trouble throwing Justin Bethel under the bus when asked if the fifth-year special teams whiz was still a work in progress at cornerback.
“It’s a failure in progress,” Arians said.
Somehow, Arians still has a cool, comfortable seat on his bus for special teams coordinator Amos Jones. The Cardinals coach headed off any talk of a change at that coordinator position by reaffirming his confidence in Jones at Monday’s press conference. The affirmation comes despite a season-long failure by Jones’ units.
“There won’t be any coaching changes,” Arians said. “Alright? I’ll make that perfectly clear today. They don’t snap, hold and kick. Players do those jobs.”
Arians and Jones go way back to their days as assistant coaches for Alabama in 1981 and ’82. When you have that kind of history, it can both inform and cloud your judgment. In that respect, this situation is similar to the one Arizona State coach Todd Graham is facing with good friend and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson after a record-setting debacle of a season for the Sun Devils defense.
“He’s a hell of a coach,” Arians said, when asked what still gives him faith in Jones. “I watch him prepare; I watch him coach. It has nothing to do with faith. I know the guy can coach. His players aren’t playing very well but they’re my players so if I’m going to fire him I’ll fire myself.”
If you look inside each Cardinals loss (and tie) this season, you would find myriad reasons they didn’t get the job done, from poor receiver play (outside of Larry Fitzgerald) to spotty offensive line play to inconsistent quarterback play to poor tackling, blown assignments and a lack of consistent pressure by the defense.
That said, the difference between winning and losing in the salary-cap era is minuscule, and Jones’ units have played a starring role in putting the Cardinals on the losing end too often this season.
The special teams have been awful since from Week 1 and you can make an easy argument that if they’d been better, the Cardinals would have three more wins. Chandler Catanzaro has missed game-winning fields against the Patriots (Week 1) and Seahawks (Week 7) and he took five points off the board on Sunday in Miami with a missed field goal and two missed PATs, one of which was blocked and returned for two points. That’s a seven-point swing in a three-point loss.
“The poor snap on the extra point gets (the Dolphins) two points, and the ball hits the upright,” Arians said after the game. “That’s five big points, and in this game, that’s the winner. That’s the winner. In road games, they always are going to be the winners.”
Arians is right when he notes that Jones didn’t miss two game-winning field goals or botch three kicks in Miami. He didn’t miss blocking or coverage assignments, he didn’t make fans miss longtime Arizona long snapper Mike Leach and he didn’t engineer punter Drew Butler’s meager 35.6-yard net, which ranks dead last among NFL punters.
He’s also right in noting the Cardinals’ specials teams have been hit by injuries.
“I’d like to see Jaron Brown back out there, Ifeanyi Momah back out there, Alani Fua back out there covering that right side where [Minnesota’s Cordarrelle] Patterson ran that [104-yard] touchdown back,” Arians said. “That doesn’t have a damn thing to do with coaching.”
Here’s what does. Jones brought in long snappers Kameron Canaday and Danny Dillon at the start of the season and that proved disastrous. He brought Butler back and that has impacted field position nearly every week.
“Guys that we counted on are not getting it done,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Doug & Wolf on Monday morning. “Chandler has to make kicks and he has to show more consistency. Same with Drew Butler. Those positions will obviously be evaluated and if we need to make changes we’ll do it.”
It makes sense to consider changes at those positions, but it is baffling that Jones faces no scrutiny when his special teams have turned in consistently poor efforts. If your players make occasional mistakes you chalk it up to the realities of the game. When they make them on a weekly basis, you wonder why they aren’t better prepared, better schooled or better focused.
You wonder why a coaching change isn’t at least on the table.
Arians preaches accountability at every step of the process. It appears to be lacking for one of his friends and colleagues.