Arizona Cardinals position grades: Special teams came through in most of 2023

The Arizona Cardinals special teams had a few mishaps, but mostly, they came through in 2024 and were a big part of why the Redbirds kept things interesting.
Nov 12, 2023; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals place kicker Matt Prater (5) is lifted up after
Nov 12, 2023; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals place kicker Matt Prater (5) is lifted up after / Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY

The Arizona Cardinals were just one field goal away from finishing the 2023 season at 5-12, and far better than anyone expected them to fare. Unfortunately, kicker Matt Prater uncharacteristically missed two straight field goals, and it sent the Redbirds going into the offseason with a 4-13 record, putting them at 12-32 (not counting playoffs) since their 7-0 start in 2021. 

But that doesn’t mean Prater tanked the Cardinals special teams grade. Ditto for punter Nolan Cooney, whose underwhelming efforts punting the football saw the team get rid of him in favor of Blake Gillikin, who instantly improved the punting unit. 

Greg Dortch was more than respectable returning kicks and punts this season, averaging 21.2 and 9.5 yards per return, respectively. Further, the Cardinals kick and punt coverage teams played well enough to prevent any touchdowns, but they did average more return yards at 22.2 yards per kick return, and 10.2 per punt return. 

Arizona Cardinals special teams passed the test in 2023

The Cardinals weren’t consistent on offense or defense in 2023, giving their special teams the win in terms of overall performances. Therefore, you should see the likes of Prater, Gillikin, and Dortch return for 2024 and remain in their respective roles. One reason for their success has to come from head coach Jonathan Gannon retaining special teams coach Jeff Rodgers, maintaining stability for at least one unit. 

Overall, the Arizona Cardinals special teams earned a B-plus, with consistency on their side for most of the year. However, they gave up the occasional long return, the last game hurt Matt Prater’s stock, and there was some instability at punter. 

But looking ahead to 2024, the Cards seem to have sorted out their special teams, and assuming they will bring their main components back, it’s also a unit they won’t make changes to. This will allow general manager Monti Ossenfort to address other areas of concern for 2024, and focus on putting a better product onto the field on offense and defense. 


(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference)