Cardinals Defense Shows Importance of Playing Think-Free Football

Howard Balzer

In the rough and tumble world of pro football, it is often overlooked how much of a mental game it is. There’s also the perception that it’s only on offense and not so much on defense that knowing your assignment is paramount. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

NFL history is filled with players having exceptional physical skills, but weren’t able to achieve because of an inability to grasp their particular job or being unwilling to put in the time.

Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick has become an important contributor this season and after having two sacks against the Cowboys Monday night. He is currently the team leader with 4.0. A move from the inside to the outside has been the elixir that has Reddick beginning to show the ability that led to the Cardinals selecting him in the first round of the 2017 draft.

Acknowledging how more comfortable he is at outside linebacker, Reddick said this week, “Everyone knows that playing outside linebacker is similar to what I did in college as far as playing d-end. It just allows me to go out there and play think-free football. I can go out there and just run around the field and let my talents take over. And I think that's when I'm at the best, when I'm able to use all my tools and all my talents without having to think about what I have to do or what I got on this play. Just going out there, playing ball and reacting.”

Think-free football. That allows the door to open to success.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson echoed those words this week while discussing the progress being made in the second season of coordinator Vance Joseph’s system. Always remember this is the third scheme in as many years for the team’s defense.

Peterson said, “You want to take the thinking out of the game. You want to be able to line up and have it be almost like second nature to you. You don't want to be (thinking), ‘I got to do this, I'm thinking about that.’ You almost want to fall into it. Knowing that you’re knowing what position that you have to be in.”

He continued, “Guys now know where they need to be, there is no guessing. Now our guys are just lining up, playing and having fun. That's what it's all about when you just go out on that football field and take the thinking out of it. When you actually line up and know what you're doing. That's when the swag comes out, the energy, the passion as you guys saw on Monday Night Football. We were just flying around having fun.”

Which brings us to the almost weekly analysis of rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons’ lack of playing time. During his weekly get-together with the media, Joseph was asked the importance of being able to play think-free football and if that is what is holding Simmons back.

“Absolutely,” Joseph said. “That's the key to playing great defense. As I watch our games from last year versus similar opponents, it's tough to watch. It's the first year in a system, we had a bunch of young guys playing. And you can try to keep it simple enough to play fast, but we just couldn't because the experience in the package wasn't there.

“When you watch guys play this year, you can see guys playing faster, they know what to do, the calls are coming out faster from our safeties and ‘backers, so it definitely makes a difference when they can play fast and play without thinking and that's just time on task.”

OK, VJ, what about Simmons?

Joseph said, “When it comes to Isaiah, he has to get more time on task and it's happening. He played about 20-plus snaps (21) on Monday night and he'll play more this week. And with more time on the job, he will play faster for us.”

And then, the questions will cease.

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