Cardinals Retooling Special Teams

  • Alex Mann
BethelSpecialTeamsMAIN

Justin Bethel blocks a kick against the Detroit Lions.

During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Arizona Cardinals fielded one of the better special team units in the league. However, they fell substantially statistically in 2013, leaving fans scratching there heads in wonder.

In 2011, Footballoutisders.com, rated the Cardinals as the 11th best special teams unit with a special teams DVOA of 1.2%. (for a definition of DVOA click here). That grade was helped out tremendously by Patrick Peterson’s 4 touchdown returns.

The following season, the Cardinals remained at 11th, (1.1% DVOA) primarily because of their ability to block kicks, and Dave Zastudils record breaking season.

We now come to last seasons unit. They dropped 16 places as a team, boasting a paltry -4.1% DVOA.  Their lone bright spot, was a 3.9 punt rating, best for 13th in the league.

What has been cause for such a massive drop off in production from a once top unit? There are multiple factors that, the most obvious being Patrick Peterson’s lack of production in the return game. In 2011 Peterson averaged nearly 16 yards per return, for a total of 699 yards. In 2012, that dropped by eight yards on seven more returns than 2011. His 2013 stats looked worse, as he only managed 198 yards on 33 returns.

Similarly, Javier Arenas, who was acquired in a trade last season with the Chiefs, was equally as horrid in 2013. He returned 23 kicks, most, if not all, were questionable, for only 493 yards. A 21 yard per attempt average.

Another factor in the drop off is Jay Feely’s increasing age. He never had the most powerful of legs to begin with, and it is only regressing as he ages. In 2013, Feely kicked off 86 times, only 33 of those found the endzone. That means kicking from the 35 yard line, he only managed 33 touchbacks, putting Feely 24th out of 36 total players who took a kickoff.

These factors don’t account for the lack of performance in punt return coverage, which is also easily explained. Outside of Justin Bethel, the Cardinals had a weak coverage unit following the loss of Teddy Williams. They managed to find his replacement in defensive back Bryan McCann, but it was far too late to save the sinking unit.

Bruce Arians brought in two extra coaches to help his team in all facets in legendary strength coach Buddy Morris, and former star Olympic track runner, Roger Kingdom. Both will help the team, but could very well have a dramatic impact on the special teams.

Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals

Tony Jefferson lines up, as the Lions prepare for a kickoff

Some people will think the idea of special teams needing an overhaul is a ridiculous assessment, and you could have a solid argument for that, but it would be in vain. The fact of the matter is that Peterson and Arenas provided poor field position nearly every time they touched the ball. Jay Feely missed three field goals that wound up being crucial to the outcome of the Cardinals season, and our punt coverage unit allowed too many big yards.

Bruce Arians and Steve Keim have already began the retooling phase for special teams. They added Ted Ginn, drafted John Brown, and retained Bryan McCann. McCann is an excellent gunner, Brown and Ginn possess speed, vision, and change of direction that you like in a return man. Antonio Cromartie, albeit a long shot, also has some return experience, but it is far from likely that Arians will send him in to return punts.

On kickoffs, they have the aforementioned players to toy around with, as well as players like Andre Ellington (unlikely), Teddy Williams (barring health), and Brittan Golden.

The last key to a successful change will be the battle at kicker.  There are currently three players vying for the role. Danny Hrapmann, who has a monster leg, Chandler Catanzaro, a UDFA out of Clemson, and incumbent Jay Feely. Initial belief is that Catanzaro has a chance to surpass Feely as the Cardinals kicker. If this is the case, Arians will have had to see an ability to remain constant in his field goal abilities, and boot the ball out of the back of the endzone on kickoffs.

Training Camp is coming faster than most fans think. Battles are won or lost than. We will see how the additions of these players and how the additions of Buddy Morris and Roger Kingdom as coaches, affect the look of the special teams unit heading into the 2014 season.

 

Follow Alex Mann on Twitter: @mannROTB
Follow Phoenix Sports-Kings on Twitter: @PHXSportsKings

 

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