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NFC West, Cards Have AFC South Attention

Posted Mar 19, 2013

Familiarity with Arians doesn't translate exactly to new situation in Arizona

Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals will face the Tennessee Titans and the rest of the AFC South this season.

Mike Munchak isn’t waiting until the NFL releases the schedule to start preparing for the NFC West.

The Tennessee Titans’ coach has already started breaking down film of the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams and Seahawks, trying to pick apart the toughest division in the league. What he’s discovered is a division full of mobile quarterbacks who are making coaches learn the zone-read offenses and defenses that send them running back to the drawing board.

When it comes to facing the Cardinals, Munchak and the rest of the AFC South just need to fall back on institutional memory. Bruce Arians spent last season as the Indianapolis Colts’ interim coach, facing every team but Jacksonville twice as a head coach. That will help, of course, but only to a point.

“I think it gives you an advantage to know what they’re going to do but you still don’t know how he’s going to use his guys,” Munchak said during Tuesday’s AFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings. “Until you see how he does it with Arizona it’s not going to be the same as it was in Indy or Pittsburgh.”

The division is only getting better with the addition of Arians to the Cardinals, wide receiver and former Cardinal Anquan Boldin to the Niners, slot receiver Percy Harvin to the Seahawks and offensive lineman Jake Long to the Rams.

“I think it’s amazing (to see) the shift in power of these divisions,” Munchak said. “It’s going to be quite a challenge for us playing that division.”

The AFC South was the lucky one this year, drawing the short straw for a series of West Coast flights to face a division that just three years ago had a champion with nine losses. How things have changed.

The San Francisco 49ers played for the NFC championship in consecutive seasons, advancing to the Super Bowl in February, where they lost to Baltimore. Seattle has seen a resurgence since winning its last NFC West crown in 2010 with a 7-9 mark, coming within two points of an all-West NFC title game last season.

“One thing about this league is there’s no place to hide,” Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Everybody’s got good players.

“If you win your division you’re going to play a tough schedule but I think that’s what gives you a chance to be a good football team. That’ll be no different this year than the past.”

Each AFC South coach is taking a different approach to handling the NFC West, and each brings a different concern. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano talked about traveling two or three time zones, and facing two zone-read quarterbacks in San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

First-year Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who owns the luxury of having the Cardinals make the cross-country flight to Jacksonville, is more focused on his own team than any of his opponents. Kubiak is concerned about winning division games before worrying about the NFC West.

“You got to win in your division,” Kubiak said. “And after that I don’t know, are we going to play Arizona in Week 2? Are we going to play them in Week 15? You never know when you’re going to run across them and what they’re going to be doing or what kind of team they’re gonna be or we’re gonna be.”

With less than six months until the season kicks off, coaches around the AFC South more or less have an idea of what they’ll be seeing from Arians. He likes his quarterbacks to be patient and he wants to air it out. That much they know. But it’s what they don’t know that’s concerning.

“He’s creative,” Munchak said. “He sets up things well with showing you certain things, certain formations and all of a sudden you’re going to see something different. He’s had lot of success with that.”

Like Arians, Bradley is a first-year head coach. And like some of his colleagues, Bradley hasn’t faced Arians more than a handful of times. But he’s seen enough of Arians for the former Seahawks defensive coordinator to know what he likes.

“When we played him when he was a Pittsburgh, just his methodical approach, very fundamental, this is who we are and this is what we do,” Bradley said.  

“I love that mindset.”


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