Of all the positions that took a beating in 2013 for the Arizona Cardinals it was most certainly the Safeties who limped away worse off. Not only did they carry the brunt of physical abuse for the team but they also played with more fire and determination than Cardinals have seen out of their backfield in some time. From Tyrann Mathieu’s splashy explosive moves to Rashad Johnson giving it all and then some (a finger tip to be exact) the Cardinals Safeties performed above and beyond for the Bird Gang.
The Safety position is a squirrelly sort of designation for a player. Yes, they are often a defenses last hope when it comes to stopping a deep pass, tracking down a lengthy run or laying some heat with a big hit after a catch, but what exactly makes a player a good Safety? Size doesn’t hurt. Though some would say a Safety should not be too big. Speed is essential. Though some think a speedy defender is best used in the Corner position. Perhaps what makes a good Safety so hard to define is the intangibles. Does said player have a “nose for the ball?” Does he possess a “football brain?” In short, a good Safety needs to rely on his instincts. Live in the now. Feel don’t think. And when you start putting it that way they start to sound less like football players and more like Jedi Knights.
Tyrann Mathieu - The Force is great with this one. Seriously, if I was ever going to make a Star Wars analogy this kid would have to be the first name I’d pull out of my hat. So bare with me. Tyrann Mathieu is the Arizona Cardinals “New Hope”. I can not tell you how privileged I felt watching this kid play every Sunday. From his very first game he hit the NFL landscape hard and just kept running. Like as in, running down Jared Cook on a sure scoring play, diving into the air, punching at the ball form behind and popping it out of his target’s grasp and back into Arizona’s hands.
Then week after week he continued to shine.The following Sunday he saved the game with a huge hit against the Lions. Then he nabbed his first NFL interception against New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees back in his home state of Louisiana. He even sacked the unsackable Cam Newton, handing the Carolina Panthers one of their only losses in a stellar season. Week after week it seemed things could only get better for him.
Then the Cardinals played divisional rivals The St. Louis Rams again. It was one of those moments you could almost see coming in slow motion. Tyrann and Patrick Peterson (his Obi Wan Kenobi, if you will) were lined up ready to return a punt. Smartly St. Louis Punter John Hekker booted the ball away from Patrick and into Tyrann’s hands. For a brief moment it seemed like we might see another dose of Honey Badger magic. He juked, he cut, he rolled out, but it didn’t last long. He was swallowed by the Rams Special Teams, snapping his ACL and LCL and ending his break out Rookie season.
He’ll be back. And according to him he’ll be better than ever. But we’ll never forget what he gave this team in 2013.
Rashad Johnson - This is a man. After losing the tip of his finger during a Special Teams play during the Cardinal’s second loss of the season to the New Orleans Saints, he still tried to play. Word is, he was practicing with one of those club casts over his hand. People, he had the tip of his finger BROKEN OFF. And he still was like, “S’all good. Wrap it up. Let’s do this.” I don’t know about you, but I stub my toe and I’m inconsolable for the rest of the day. Not Rashad.
It took a little while longer for him to get back out there, but once he did he slotted seamlessly right into the backfield like he’d never left. Rashad recorded 58 Tackles, 52 of which were solo efforts, 5 Passes Defended and 3 Interceptions on the season. He’s a veteran leader on the field, having played 5 seasons for the Cardinals and is thankfully not one of the many Unrestricted Free Agents going into next year. Look for this man to continue to shine in Red and White in 2014.
Yeremiah Bell - I may have yelled this man’s name in anger more times than anyone’s on the team this year. Yes, including Carson Palmer. I know Safeties are traditionally supposed to cover Tight Ends, but this man simply did not match up against some of todays bigger, badder, handsier TEs. He was routinely beat over the middle for big plays and for the life of me I could not figure out why he was getting those match ups. A question not for him, but for DC Todd Bowles.
That said, Bell had some great impact on the field and off. He’s a players player. A good locker room guy. He can offer the kind of insight that only someone who has been succeeding in the league for 10 Seasons can. Oh, and between the white lines he was indeed a force to be reckoned with. in 2013 he collected 76 Tackles, 61 of which were Solo efforts. He brought himself down a QB for a sack and has 10 notches in his belts for Passes Defended. Not to mention he brought down 2 Interceptions for his team. Yeremiah was here for one year. he may be gone next as he’s a UFA, but there’s no doubt he’ll leave a lasting impression.
Tony Jefferson - He’s a rookie and unlike Tyrann he is playing like one. I have no doubt he’ll compete in 2014 but his showing this season was far from elite. That said, I think there’s huge upside in his game.
This has been fun and we’re nearing the end of the 2013 Defensive Review. Up next we’ll look at the big boys up front who were responsible for some of the greatest moments of this season. A group of men I affectionately refer to as “The Great Wall of Glendale”. That’s it for now. Go Cards.