Just meeting Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and being around him for the last few days, I really get the sense that he knows what he’s doing, and he has the correct vision for this team.
One of the smartest things he’s done in his first few weeks on the job is to hire a coaching staff that he’s familiar with.
To surround himself with guys he has history with and trusts is a brilliant move on his part.
Arians has his 13 assistant coaches in place now and on Friday, he introduced two of them. Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, Tom Moore, and special teams coordinator Amos Jones.
Moore has spent 13 seasons (1998-2010) with the Colts. Twelve of them as offensive coordinator, and one as a senior offensive assistant. All of which were spent with quarterback Peyton Manning. Under Moore, Manning would set multiple team records for passing yards (54,828), touchdowns (399), and completions (4,682). Manning also won an NFL-record four MVP awards (2003-04, 2008-09).
Moore and Arians spent three seasons (1998-2000) together in Indianapolis. Arians was the quarterbacks coach at the time, so he also had close dealings with Manning.
Moore, like Arians, loves to throw the ball deep, obviously having coached Manning for all those years in Indianapolis. He says the key to a strong and deep passing game is the horses up front and how they block for their quarterback.
“What do you have to do different, who do you have to help?” Moore said. “In other words, each defense poses a different problem, so you have to get that ironed out to make sure that you protect your quarterback.”
The Cardinals were just dreadful on third down this past season, which explains a lot about why they were so bad on offense.
They had a conversion rate of just 25-percent on third down, which also explains why they were ranked dead last in the league on offense.
Moore says there’s a correlation between that conversion rate and a team’s conversion rate on first down, which is something the Cardinals weren’t good at either.
On the other hand, the special teams play was one of the clear strengths of the team, something Jones knows all about.
Jones spent the past six seasons with the Steelers. He was the special teams coach for the Steelers last season and was promoted to the position in August after serving as assistant special teams coach the years before.
In 2009, with Jones’ help Pittsburgh’s special teams unit set a team kickoff return yardage record of 1,581 yards. And in 2008, the Steelers had the league’s top kick-coverage unit.
Jones is familiar with coaching veteran special teams players over the years, and should do well for the Cardinals when he inherits Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil, and Mike Leach.
He’ll also get to work with guys like Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, and to an extent Calais Campbell.
Just because they’ve been strong over the past few years doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do what they want.
“They’ll all have parameters, absolutely,” Jones said. “You put your toes on the yard line we decide and you make decisions, but you can’t second guess them, because if you do, then you take the aggressiveness away from them.”
Peterson is one of the most dangerous players in the league on special teams, defense, or even in the Wildcat.
“The exciting thing about that guy is the ball in his hand,” Jones said. “He’s an offensive guy on defense as far as we’re concerned.”
Jones says his job is to get Peterson back to the special teams form he had in his rookie season, because he knows how dynamite he can be.
This is how important special teams is to Arians: under his rule, every practice will start off with a focus on special teams practice.
Arians and Jones both know the difference between winning and losing, more often than not, comes down to the special teams’ performance.
They know if you perfect that part of your team and your game, then you’ve got a big step up on your opponent.