In 2015, the Arizona Cardinals invited an NFL Films crew into their organization for unprecedented access that allows fans a glimpse into the everyday realities of life in the NFL.
The eight part series, entitled "All or Nothing," takes viewers from the 2015 Draft up through the end of the Cardinals' quest for the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Over the next week, we'll be publishing our takeaways from each episode of the series and discuss how these takeaways can help inform us about the Cardinals' organizational philosophy.
Episode Two: "The Fog"
"We're going to find out what kind of team we are today. How will you respond?"
Episode two of "All or Nothing" begins to showcase how valuable veteran leaders are to the locker room atmosphere in Arizona. While the average fan can understand why players like Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell are labeled as leaders based on their performance and actions on the field, it takes a series like "All or Nothing" to put their leadership into perspective and understand why the organization places such a great emphasis on leadership qualities.
After the Cardinals lost at home to the St. Louis Rams, Campbell challenged his teammates and helped reiterate the messages of the coaching staff, which really come to life for a player when a peer takes ownership of those messages. Because the NFL is comprised of grown men and professionals working to make a living, it's sometimes easy to gloss over the fact leadership plays the same type of significant role it does at the college and high school level. But it's important to remember the NFL is just like any other business, and without a leader in the office, the restaurant, or the store, a business can fall apart.
Campbell's assuring words and motivation are a great example of a player taking it upon himself to recognize his value as a leader, which isn't always easy. As we see in an important sequence with cornerback Jerraud Powers, Powers tells his position coach he's not a "rah-rah type of guy" and would prefer others to do the talking. Players like Campbell, Peterson and Carson Palmer have no problem demanding more of teammates at practice, whereas Powers is unsure whether he's willing to take on a similar role.
It's no surprise that the majority of leadership comes from the core of players who the Cardinals built their franchise around, but even players on smaller contracts like Cory Redding and Tyrann Mathieu display important leadership qualities, which come across as very authentic in the series.
Peterson vs. Johnson
When the Cardinals travel to play the Detroit Lions, we gain a glimpse into the complexities of game-planning against one of the league's superstars. Though the Lions had limited talent as a whole last season, the presence of Calvin Johnson is enough to force any defensive unit to rethink its scheme and focus on taking away the Lions' best option.
While some coaching staffs would downplay the impact a player like Johnson could have, especially when speaking to the media, "All or Nothing," shows us the lengths teams go to in order to prepare for a star.
Having Peterson on the roster is a tremendous asset for the Cardinals because as we learn, it's not just his skill set that makes him such a strong cover corner. Much of the subplot focuses on the film study Peterson undertakes to learn Johnson's tendencies, and Peterson's preparation for the Lions' patented back shoulder fade route ultimately leads to an interception on game day. Film study has the potential to separate good players from great players, and in episode two, we learn how Peterson has developed into the type of cornerback who can line up against any receiver in the league.
The Peterson vs. Johnson battle was Peterson's to win in 2015, but as we also learned, that may not have been the case if the two met a year before. The scenes detailing Peterson' health issues and subsequent diagnosis of Type II diabetes are a harrowing reminder of how important personal health is, and Peterson even told NBC's Chris Collinsworth he felt relieved once he received an accurate diagnosis.
While the NFL receives plenty of attention for the health and safety issues plaguing its players, "All or Nothing," provides visuals that give viewers a much more realistic perspective of the role health issues do end up playing in the lives of professional athletes.
The importance of taking chances
In episode one, general manager Steve Keim took responsibility for the Cardinals' 2014 failures because he felt there wasn't adequate depth on the roster for Arizona to recover from key injuries. In 2015, Keim attempts to rectify this, and the signing of veteran free agents Chris Johnson and Dwight Freeney are perfect examples of Keim trying to accomplish his mission.
Johnson was shot in the offseason prior to joining the Cardinals, and many teams were unwilling to take a chance on a player many viewed as a washed up running back. Because of Johnson's medical concerns and age, few teams likely considered the former 2,000-yard rusher as a potential asset to their roster.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals were willing to add Johnson to provide backfield depth, and almost immediately after signing, he takes on the role of the featured back because of an injury to starter Andre Ellington. Johnson ultimately wound up becoming one of the top five running backs in the league last season, before an injury cut his season short in December.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals waited until a middle point in the year to add Freeney to the roster. The former Colts' defensive end played under Arians' during his tenure in Indianapolis, and the relationship the two forged earlier on in their careers helped ease the transition for Freeney.
The signing of Freeney highlights a few important concepts, but especially the idea that relationship matter within the game of football. Arians has coached with a wide array of organizations and come across so many players and coaches who clearly respect his work ethic and demeanor. Freeney is one of those players, and his addition ends up paying dividends for an Arizona team that would have encountered even more trouble pressuring the quarterback without him.
By the end of episode two, viewers see how the team is molding under Keim and Arians' vision, much of which is thanks to the leadership of key veterans. As we come to learn, the leadership will take on an even more central role in future episodes, because episode two featured two of the three losses Arizona suffered in the 2015 regular season.