Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Teams feeling the Arizona Cardinals' rush - Arizona Republic

by Kent Somers - Sept. 18, 2012 09:52 PM
azcentral sports

It was big news in New England last Sunday that Stephen Gostkowski, the most accurate kicker in Patriots' franchise history, missed a 42-yard field-goal try with one second left to assure the Cardinals of victory.

But for the Cardinals, watching a reliable kicker miss was business as usual. And it provided proof more that their prowess for blocking kicks and punts might be messing with the minds of opponents.

"We put so much pressure on the field-goal teams," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "They have to do nothing but respect what we do." - What the Cardinals do is block a lot of kicks: 15 since 2008. That's more than anyone else in the NFL. - They blocked five in 2011 and have two this year: a blocked field-goal against Seattle in the season opener and a blocked punt last week against the Patriots.

Success helps. Last week, linebacker Quentin Groves almost blocked a punt early in the game. He begged special teams coach Kevin Spencer for another opportunity. Spencer gave it to him, and Groves blocked a punt that the Cardinals turned into a touchdown.

"It's a little bit like blood in the water for sharks," Cardinals kicker Jay Feely said. "You get a little taste and you want more."

And the Cardinals believe that ability leads to more missed field goals, because opponents know they have to get to the ball quickly and get the ball high enough.

"You absolutely see it," Feely said. "You get in those situations and guys speed up, they change their technique. You worry about getting it blocked instead of focusing on the fundamentals that are going to help you make the kick."

It's a theory that's hard to prove, but the Cardinals have plenty of anecdotal evidence.

In 2010, Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed a 32-yard field at the end of the game.

Last year, 49ers kicker David Akers set an NFL record by making 44 field-goal attempts. He missed only eight -- and four of those came against the Cardinals.

Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey had made 26 consecutive field-goal tries when he missed a 49-yarder at the end of the fourth quarter.

And the Bengals Mike Nugent had missed only twice in the first 14 games last year. In the 15th, against Arizona, he missed twice.

"I'm not pretending I'm an expert on what they go through and their approach to making kicks or whatever," linebacker Paris Lenon said, "but I would liken it to basketball. If you've got a known shot blocker in your way, it might have an effect on your shot."

The Cardinals credit their success to a unique blend of talents, attitude and coaching.

Not many teams have a defensive end like 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell rushing from up the middle.

He had three blocks a year ago and the blocked field goal against Seattle was the sixth blocked kick of his career.

The Cardinals also have speed off the edges from defensive backs Patrick Peterson and rookie Justin Bethel. Bethel blocked nine kicks in college at Presbyterian, and he had three in the preseason.

Just as importantly, the other players on the field are willing to do some dirty work. That means guys such as defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and David Carter working hard to get a push up the middle. That might mean Lenon pushing Campbell from behind, maybe getting him a yard or so deeper than he would otherwise.

Lenon also makes the calls on the field and can adjust how the Cardinals rush, based on what the punt team is showing.

"People don't see the push or the guys inside," Campbell said. "I kind of just ride the stream and jump up and balance myself. I think everybody tries to block it; it just helps that I'm 6-8."

There is more than one field-goal rush call, too. Spencer has a handful that he uses, some more than others.

"We try to get matchups and find weaknesses, just like offensive and defensive coaches," Spencer said. "The guys have just bought in and I'm proud of it. And it hasn't just been pink frosting. We've won some games with these things."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasizes rushing kickers, not only because of the potential big play that could result, but also a means of measuring his players' efforts.

A team that's given up won't rush a point-after attempt nearly so hard as one that isn't just going through the motions.

"You can give up on that play, especially after a touchdown," Lenon said. "It's like, 'I'm just trying to get to the sideline.' A lot of guys could approach it that way, but we don't. It's a big part of what we do."

It's an attitude that Whisenhunt and Spencer brought with them from the Steelers. Former coach Bill Cowher emphasized it as a way to measure a team's mental toughness.

"Sometimes guys are tired," Spencer said. "It could be the end of a 10-play drive. They are disappointed and sometimes guys go through the motions. We don't tolerate that here. It's a football play."

The Cardinals are Feely's fifth team and this is his 12th NFL season. He's never been with a team that emphasized blocking kicks more than the Cardinals do.

"Some coaches will say, 'Well, let's not give up a fake, let's be safe,' " Feely said.

"We're a very aggressive team. I've never heard a head coach put an emphasis on field-goal block like this team. He talks about it all the time."

No one on the Cardinals sideline felt good when Gostkowski took the field for the final kick last week. But they felt hopeful, because they had witnessed good kickers fail in that situation before.

Maybe Gostkowski just mis-hit the kick, something he might not do again this season. Or maybe he hit it poorly because he was worried about a block. Who can say?

But Spencer knows one thing.

"I thought, 'If I have to be in this situation, this is a heck of a group to be in it with.' "

Coach's corner

"That's what today's NFL is. You have to have your young guys play. Patrick (Peterson) did it for us last year a lot. David Carter did it. Sam Acho did it. Young guys have got to step up and fit in. If you can get that to happen, it builds a pretty strong team, because now those guys understand how they have to do it. Jamell is under a lot of pressure from Patrick, from some of these young players, to do it the right way. And when you see it show up on the field it makes a difference for you."

--Ken Whisenhunt when asked about rookie Jamell Fleming playing 98 percent of the defensive plays.

Stat pack

2-0 - The Cardinals are 2-0 for the first time since 2008 and for the fourth time since 1988 (2012, 2008, 1991, 1989). They haven't been 3-0 since 1974 when they won their first seven.

9 of 11 - The Cardinals have won 9 of their last 11 games. Four were in overtime. The other five were decided by fewer than five points.

62.3 - In his past four games, which included an abbreviated appearance versus the 49ers in 2011, Kevin Kolb has completed 62.3 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

2 - RB Ryan Williams has fumbled in each of the two NFL games in which he's played.

1 - The Cardinals yielded one sack against the Patriots. That's fewer than in any game in 2011.

The Cardinals have blocked 15 kicks since 2008 - That's more than anyone else in the NFL.


  1. Everyone has its time and Stephen had it. It is time for new people to come and take his place. We cannot blame only a player but coaches as well.

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