Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the NFL preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargersat State Farm Stadium on August 8, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated Chargers 17-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Everything is bigger in Texas. Especially football.
Monday night, the Cardinals take their place during the Big Top. They want to be part of the circus. In a colossal stadium with stars on the pitch and a star in the midfield.
The Cardinals are a 3-2 football team stuck in third place. They play a 2-3 football team that takes first place. There will be two homemade quarterbacks, including a schoolboy legend. The Big Red Vs. the Red Rifle.
And on the Arizona sideline, there will be a defensive coordinator who needs to make his own statement.
This has nothing to do with statistics where the Cardinals currently rank 1
But they have also struggled at critical times. Too many men on the field. Not enough men on the field in a goal situation. The disastrous fourth quarter against the Lions. The thrashing received from Carolina rookie offensive coordinator Joe Brady. The words of Patrick Peterson, who deflected his own struggles in a recent loss of lack of synchronicity around him. And of course the handling of Isaiah Simmons.
Simmons started in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers and was immediately exposed by Niners coach Kyle Shanahan. It’s as if the opponent knew more about Simmons’ weaknesses than his employers. He has been playing sparsely ever since. And don’t blame everything for the lack of a preseason – not when so many other defensive rookies succeed elsewhere.
Simmons has been either invisible or embarrassed during his limited snaps. He gave up two touchdowns and was penalized for a horse-collar tackle against the 49ers. You’d think Joseph might be installing a special blitz package where Simmons could fire or pressure the quarterback, just to create a rookie’s confidence. But it has not happened yet.
The loss of Chandler Jones is an even bigger concern. That means Joseph has to help put pressure on Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton. To be clear, I am not asking the current DC to turn into Todd Bowles overnight, an elite coordinator who is masterful at hiding flash and getting all his players on the same page.
But Joseph should be able to call exotic blitzes without triggering all sorts of mental flaws and communication problems in his defense. It’s called coordination, and it’s his job.
The Cardinals are facing a dangerous offense in Dallas, followed by a great quarterback in Russell Wilson. The schedule is growing some real teeth and the Cardinals have already wasted their margin of error. It will be much more accurate to judge Joseph and Arizona’s defense forward than it will look backwards, even with the season-ending loss of Jones. Because this kind of adversity is what always promotes innovation among the NFL’s great defensive minds, from Bill Belichick to Mike Zimmer, from Dick LeBeau to Wade Phillips to Buddy Ryan.
Keep your fingers crossed. Arizona has a boring history of prime-time football. The last time the Cardinals were really embarrassed by national television came under a 45-10 loss to the Broncos in 2018. Mike McCoy’s offense was so unprepared on the big stage that it required a timeout before the second game from scrimmage. And when the game resumed and they eventually snatched the ball, the Broncos immediately scored on a six pick. Head coach of that Broncos team?
Vance Joseph. Not on the hot seat in Arizona yet. But definitely in the spotlight. And it’s time for him to help with a big win, one that can lift an entire football team.
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