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. Through the course of the week, we've been publishing our takeaways from each episode of the series and discussing how these takeaways can help inform us about the Cardinals' organizational philosophy.
Takeaways from episode seven, "A New Season"
The crew of "All or Nothing," enjoyed incredible access to the Cardinals' biggest stars throughout the season, which is one of the reasons the series is considered so ground-breaking. Fans have never been able to learn more about their favorite players on a personal level in this type of way, because even shows like "Hard Knocks" don't focus so heavily on stars.
Through the first six episodes, the series offers perspective on the lives of players like Carson Palmer, David Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu, but the one Cardinals' star who doesn't appear to have the spotlight following him so closely is Larry Fitzgerald. While Fitzgerald's work ethic, practice habits, and position change are well documented throughout the series, viewers never see much of Fitzgerald's life beyond football.
Perhaps Fitzgerald wanted it that way, or perhaps the production crew chose to focus on other players, but it's hard to argue any player has had more of a profound impact on Arizona's franchise than Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals' don't have the same type of tradition and legacy some franchises enjoy, but Fitzgerald is firmly entrenched on the organization's Mount Rushmore and his playoff performances are part of the reason.
In Arizona's improbable run to the Super Bowl in 2008, Fitzgerald willed the Cardinals toward the finish line with 30 receptions, 546 yards and seven touchdowns during the playoffs. Fitzgerald's outstanding run came also came at the height of his career, which is what makes his effort against the Packers in 2016 that much more impressive.
In the Cardinals' 26-20 victory over Green Bay, Fitzgerald's 75-yard overtime reception became the defining play of Arizona's season. In his 12th year in the NFL, Fitzgerald channeled his 2008-self while zigging and zagging his way toward the end zone in an awe-inspiring display.
The reception helped seal Arizona's fate, and it came shortly after an improbable Hail Mary touchdown from the Packers that gave Green Bay a chance to steal a victory away from the Cardinals. Quite simply, Arizona needed a player to step up, and Fitzgerald has never failed the Cardinals.
While viewers may not have received the all-access pass to Fitzgerald's life beyond football in "All or Nothing," they saw every aspect of his competitiveness and determination, which only helps his legacy grow.
Hail Mary defense
The 41-yard completion at the end of regulation from Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis only became a minor part of the episode, but it gave viewers an interesting glimpse into the preparation process for executing and defending a Hail Mary play.
As the Cardinals' prepared to line up defensively, head coach Bruce Arians was faced with a dilemma: Blitz Rodgers, or sit back and keep as many defenders available to bat away an attempted pass. After a short deliberation, Arians told defensive coordinator James Bettcher to blitz, and the rest is history.
While it's uncertain whether keeping more defenders back would have prevented Janis from coming down with the ball, the split-second decision demonstrates Arians' philosophical viewpoints about defense. The Cardinals are among the most frequent blitzers of any team in the NFL, and while defensive coordinator James Bettcher makes the play calls, Arians wouldn't hire someone whose philosophy doesn't match up with his own.
"All or Nothing" also did an excellent job at showing why Rodgers can be effective on Hail Mary plays, and why he's such a difficult quarterback to defend. Rodgers' escapability in the pocket is practically unparalleled, and in the contest against Detroit and the playoff game against Arizona, Rodgers uses his mobility to set up the pass.
Regardless of whether Arians elected to play conservatively, Rodgers still likely would have been able to move the pocket and find a throwing lane, and Janis' 6-foot-3 frame gave the receiver a bit of a height advantage over the Cardinals' defensive backs.
While completing Hail Mary plays is considerably difficult, defending Rodgers is a tougher task than defending most quarterbacks on these plays because of his skill set.
The presence of Michael Bidwill
Some NFL owners are more likely than others to stay behind the scenes, but Cardinals' owner Michael Bidwill does not fall into that category. Bidwill is practically attached to the hip of general manager Steve Keim throughout each episode of "All or Nothing," and the personal investment and interest Bidwill shows in every aspect of the team should be a positive sign for Cardinals' fans.
Having an owner so invested in the day-to-day operations of the franchise gives an owner important perspective, and Bidwill has a strong desire to remain informed on personnel moves and coaching decisions.
Bidwill and Keim spend a remarkable amount of time together, and their working relationship is one where trust appears paramount. An owner as hands-on as Bidwill has pros and cons, and one of the dangers is that Bidwill could end up influencing decisions where he doesn't have expertise.
But when it comes to the day-to-day decisions about the roster, such as de-activating Cory Redding or signing Red Bryant, Bidwill trusts Keim to make the call. Bidwill's thirst for knowledge and involvement shouldn't be confused with a desire to have the final say in areas outside his control, and it's an important distinction that "All or Nothing" helps portray.
A series like "All or Nothing," would never show Bidwill in a bad light, but it also could have made him a more neutral presence. Ultimately, viewers end up with a very favorable impression of the Cardinals' owner, and they come away with an understanding of what type of involvement Bidwill has with different aspects of the franchise on a daily basis.