When last we saw Isaiah Simmons, he was celebrating what turned out to be the game-winning interception in a win over the Seahawks, one of only five defensive snaps he played the entire game.
To have the biggest play of Simmons' short NFL career come in the game where he played the fewest snaps seemed on-brand for the pre-bye journey of the rookie inside linebacker. But now the Cardinals are missing a couple of defensive bodies going into their first post-bye game against the Dolphins Sunday – albeit not at the position Simmons plays – and it's fair to wonder if his work might see an uptick in the back half of the season.
"After the bye, he came back a different guy," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "He's definitely more comfortable. He's more confident in what he's doing. He wants more playing time. That's a good thing. He has to earn it, but he wants it."
Joseph isn't necessarily committing to that time. Not yet. And again, barring injury, I don't know if there is going to be some incredible sea change for Simmons' time as a rookie (although I do think it'll be more than five snaps a game, and Joseph emphasized his packages are always in the game plan, it's just a question of whether they are called in the flow of the game.)
But if Simmons really is different (and he's already smart) then maybe it can happen in 2020. Either way, Joseph loves Simmons' long-term possibilities – like the kind of play we saw to close out Russell Wilson.
-- Budda Baker is playing without a cast now. That's a good thing, just a few weeks after his surgery to repair his damaged right thumb. He'll wear a splint to prevent it from bending backward, but "I can grip now, which is definitely something a DB would like to do."
-- Baker's interception-return-caught-from-behind-by-DK-Metcalf has had a long shelf life on the internet as it has turned into a popular meme, especially in a week where it has been used multiple times on the Presidential election alone. But people have found dozens of funny ways to use either a screen shot of Baker/Metcalf or the video, and Baker has noticed.
"People send them to me," Baker said. "Glad we got the 'W' so it's a cool meme. … On the weekends after a football game after a 'W,' I might sip on a glass of tequila. There was one that said 'I'm not going to get drunk tonight' which was (representing) me, and then 'tequila' was DK Metcalf. So that was pretty funny. That's probably my favorite one."
-- Losing cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. does not help this weekend (nor will also being without cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who will sit with a thigh injury.) But the Cardinals are getting starting safety Jalen Thompson back, and he is a guy who can play a potentially significant role. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thompson has the athletic ability to play in the slot – as does fellow safety Budda Baker – and given how much safeties Deionte Thompson and Chris Banjo have played in Jalen Thompson's absence, that could be a clue into what the Cards might do without slot corner Murphy.
"(Jalen) is a special player," Joseph said.
-- I know so many were hoping that, with Kenyan Drake down, Eno Benjamin would get a chance to play in a regular-season game, but it doesn't sound all that promising. Kliff Kingsbury talked a lot about D.J. Foster – who is on the practice squad and would have to be added to the roster – and even mentioned Jonathan Ward. It sounds like Benjamin will continue to wait.
-- Happy birthday today to Pat Tillman, who would have been 44. The Cardinals' annual Salute to Service game is Sunday.
"We replaced Zach with an older Zach," Joseph said.
-- If tight end Maxx Williams plays, and he still needs to be activated from IR, I think it'll be a huge boost for the offense. There is a reason he was TE1, and the Cards have needed him.
-- Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa crossed paths a couple of times in college, once in Murray's final college game when Alabama beat Oklahoma in a playoff game at the Orange Bowl, and then at the Heisman Trophy ceremony, when Murray won the award.
"The times that I've been around him, I can't say anything bad about Tua – great dude, down to earth, great player," Murray said. "I don't know him too well, but the times that we were around each other was nothing but good times."
-- When they played the first time, it was Tua that had the better team and the majority of the experience. Now, in the NFL, Tagovailoa is trying to figure out the pro game and Murray is the guy who has seen a lot more and accomplished a lot more. The QBs, ultimately, figure to determine this one. If Murray plays like he has, against a good defense that has forced a lot of turnovers, it's hard to imagine Tagovailoa in just his second start being able to match that.
-- The Dolphins have the top scoring defense in the NFL, allowing 18.6 points a game. The Cardinals have scored at least 21 points in 10 straight games (and are No. 1 in the NFL in total offense at 419 yards a game.) Yes, this will be interesting.
See you Sunday.