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 four, "The Wheel"
"I think he's (Arians) the best coach in the game, because he's always educating everybody."
Heading into the Cardinals' pivotal showdown with the 8-1 Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Carson Palmer stops to reflect about what a victory over the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall would mean. Palmer's career with the Bengals came to a tumultuous ending, as the signal-caller retired before eventually accepting a trade to the Oakland Raiders.
Palmer acknowledges the contest against the Bengals was more than just a game, much like those close to head coach Bruce Arians admitted playing the Pittsburgh Steelers would bring back emotions for him. But as Palmer reflects, he discusses the maturation process he's undergone throughout his career and gives credit to Arians for helping build him into a better quarterback than he was with the Bengals and with the Raiders.
Palmer enjoyed the best regular season of his career in 2015, and for viewers wondering about the story behind Palmer's push, we received a definitive answer.
While Arians is lauded for his entire body of work as a head coach, the time and focus he dedicates to quarterbacks is one of the many factors that separate him from other head coaches. In "All or Nothing," we see clips of Arians working with greats like Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, as well as shots from the early days of the career of Andrew Luck.
The success the quarterbacks Arians has worked with is no secret, but it takes the scenes from "All or Nothing," to really bring Arians' body of work to life and show how and why he's considered a quarterback whisperer.
Arians always has quarterbacks prepared for different looks and coverages defenses showcase, and he's consistently trying to think one step ahead of his opponents. Once his quarterbacks can do the same, as Palmer did in 2015, the offense rarely slows down.
End of game scenarios
Another factor in Arians' success as a coach is undoubtedly the attention to detail he gives "end of game" situations. Over the past three seasons, the Cardinals have dominated games late in the fourth quarter and have done an excellent job putting teams away when they have the lead and the ball.
Much of this is thanks to the style of preparation Arians uses to keep players disciplined in situations when chaos ensues. As Arians points out, albeit with more colorful language, often times the end of the game is less about who makes a play and more about who messes up.
In "All or Nothing," we gain a glimpse into the type of preparation Arians uses in the film room with the Cardinals as he plays recent regular season contests between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. The visual learning aids of watching other teams and players serve as a reminder of how frequently teams botch end of game situations (almost on a weekly basis), and how the Cardinals can prepare against avoidable mistakes.
When the Cardinals need to nurse the clock late against the Bengals, we see Arians' mastery on display as the team whittles the time down to as low as it can possibly go before Arizona prepares to send out the kicking unit for a game-winning field goal.
While many coaches would stop and kick on third down or be content with 10 seconds on the clock, Arians wants to make sure the Cardinals, not the Bengals, have the final say and last opportunity to score. The micromanagement nearly comes back to haunt Arizona, as Ted Larsen moves at the line of scrimmage and could have produced a 10-second runoff, but the referees correctly determined a Bengals' player was simulating Arizona's snap count and Cincinnati was penalized.
Ultimately, Chandler Catanzaro knocks a 32-yard field goal home to send the Cardinals to victory, and in the span of about 20 minutes on the show, Arians comes across as a football mastermind.
"The Ready List"
Our final takeaway from episode four of "All or Nothing" is the presence of the Cardinals' "Ready List," which is probably similar to the method most teams use to add depth during the regular season when players suffer injuries. Regardless, a "Ready List" is something viewers probably rarely hear and talk about, so to see it broken down in such detail feels quite organic.
The Cardinals' scouting team and video department spends hours in the offseason and preseason compiling film of every player in the NFL and ranking them so that when the time comes for Arizona to replace an injured piece, it has a list of potential assets to bring in immediately. During the season, scouts have to devote time to preparing for upcoming opponents and charting tendencies, so having a "Ready List" makes sense because it saves the organization valuable time and energy at a point in the season when it's best to conserve both.
In episode four, the Cardinals use their "Ready List," to add defensive tackle Red Bryant following an injury to Frostee Rucker, and Bryant makes his way to Arizona via the woods in Texas. Arizona was familiar with Bryant because of the torment he caused the Cardinals during the six seasons he spent in Seattle, and Bryant seemed genuinely excited to suit up for a contender.
The "Ready List," is something media members and fans will likely pay more attention to in the future, and if the Cardinals are willing to open up and share more about their process, it could go a long way toward increasing the type of access fans crave.
As the team prepares for the 2016 season, it's easy to speculate the Cardinals used their "Ready List," to help them sign veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins on Tuesday, as the team may believe it would benefit from adding a proven player at a position where it needs more depth.