It may not be the glamorous side of football, but special teams success is just as important to a football team as the other two units. Good special teams’ play in many cases, can be the difference between winning and losing. The Arizona Cardinals know that as well as anybody.
When the Cardinals have had success special teams has played a big factor. Whether it is Calais Campbell blocking a kick or Patrick Peterson returning a punt for a touchdown, a big special teams play can always turn a game around.
The Cardinals, on paper, would seem to possess a very strong all around special teams group, and in my opinion, that all starts with the kick block team. The Cardinals have had the most blocked kicks in the NFL since 2008, which just so happens to be Campbell’s (6’8”) first season in the league. That is not a coincidence. With guys like Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and Dan Williams pushing up the middle, and speedsters like Peterson and Justin Bethel rushing off the edge, look for the Cardinals kick block team to come up with more than a few blocks this season.
This is honestly the first time I have ever come into a season as a fan and said that I am excited to see the Cardinals punt and kick coverage teams. The reason for this is the addition of Tyrann Mathieu. Tyrann Mathieu was a special teams star at LSU not only for his kick return ability, but also for his ability to make a play on a ball carrier and force a lot of fumbles on special teams. Hopefully Mathieu can have a similar impact at this level for the Cardinals on special teams. In addition to Mathieu, the Cardinals also have veterans who have shown great ability on special teams. Guys like Bethel, Reggie Walker, Bryan McCann, and former Washington Redskins pro bowl special teamer Lorenzo Alexander the Cardinals coverage unit looks to be very strong this season.
We all know about Patrick Peterson’s 2011 season returning punts. He tied the NFL record with four punt return TDs, and broke the NFL record for punt return yards by a rookie. However Peterson did not experience the same success in 2012. Peterson was unable to return a kick for a touchdown, while also struggling with some fumble issues.
As Peterson looks to regain his 2011 form, he may not have to do it all by himself. The Cardinals brought in two players in Tyrann Mathieu and Javier Arenas who have had success returning kicks and can help take some of the return duties so Peterson can focus mainly on being a cornerback. Mathieu showed a great punt return ability and a flair for the dramatic while at LSU, and Arenas was the NCAA’s all time leader in punt return yards when he left college.
I expect him to be the Cardinals primary kickoff returner. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has mentioned using more than one returner at once to give teams different looks. One thing is for sure though, it will be an exciting time every time someone goes back to field a kick for big red.
Special teams can be just as pivotal to a team’s success as offense and defense. The Cardinals look like they have put together a very strong special teams unit, now they will have to go prove it on the field.