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Cards Stabilizing Special Teams

Team juggling multiple moving parts in the "transition game" early in the season

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Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro has looked good early in his Cardinals' tenure.


Monday moved in slow motion for Chandler Catanzaro as he sat at the team hotel, waiting to make his NFL debut.

There were butterflies in his stomach, and maybe there were some inside the Cardinals coaches, too, who were depending on a rookie kicker in their nationally-televised opener.

Catanzaro stepped up like he'd done throughout the preseason, nailing a pair of field goals (from 44 and 22 yards) and booming kickoffs into the end zone.

"Once I got out there and hit my first ball, I was fine," Catanzaro said.

Catanzaro is only one game into his NFL career, but surprisingly, he is the most stable part of the special teams unit heading into Week 2

against the Giants.

Dave Zastudil couldn't punt in the opener because of a left groin injury, which forced the Cardinals to sign Drew Butler. He did a nice job filling in and his average length of 54.5 yards per punt was tops in the NFL, but Butler had a punt blocked when safety Deone Bucannon missed his protection assignment on Chargers linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu.

Special teams coach Amos Jones pinned blame upon himself for the gaffe but said Bucannon must worry about blocking first before heading downfield to make a tackle.

"You look at it: Was it technique? Was it scheme? It was neither," Jones said. "It was just a young player learning a valuable lesson, unfortunately at the wrong time. I wish it would have happened like it did last year in preseason, and we would have learned our lesson then."

The punt block irked coach Bruce Arians, as did the kickoff return game, which he called "the two poorest things, I thought, in the game." Wide receiver Ted Ginn averaged 16.3 yards per kick return, putting the offense inside the 20 each time, which included one starting drive at the 8.

"We did a horse (expletive) job of blocking and returning," Arians said. "We have to get the ball out over the 20, 25."

Jones was breaking down tape in his office Thursday, but he said the culprit was not the designs as much as the lack of will-power.

"First off, it's on me, because I coach them," Jones said. "I'll take all that responsibility, because I coach them. I don't think we played

physical. I think San Diego came in with an attitude that they were going to attack Teddy Ginn, which a lot of people are going to do. I don't think we competed. I don't think we played what the matchups dictated we could do. I look at it like, hey, I didn't get the job done, they didn't get the job done, and we've got to get better."

The Chargers punted six times in the game but there were no returns, as Ginn either called a fair catch or let the ball roll. Ginn preached patience before the season started, noting that a punt returner can call for a fair catch three or four straight times before suddenly taking one to the house.

Even so, Jones wants to see the blocking hold up on every punt because Ginn doesn't need much daylight.

 "It doesn't take a Mack truck lane," Jones said. "It might just be a Fiat."

Arians puts a lot of focus on special teams – sometimes keeping players on the back end of the roster because of their ability to excel in that area – and undoubtedly wants to turn it around quickly.

Zastudil has been limited in practice the past two days and it's unknown if he will be ready for the Giants game. It affects other areas, too, since Zastudil was active against San Diego to be the holder on field goals, and carrying two punters took away an extra body from either the offense or defense.

Ginn could have his chances in this one, as Giants kicker Josh Brown registered 35 touchbacks and allowed 32 returns in his 67 kickoffs in 2013. The Cardinals were 31st in both kickoff and punt returns last season but believe they will be improved despite the slow start to 2014.

And then there is Catanzaro, who hasn't missed a field goal yet in nine attempts between the preseason and Monday night. This will be the first road test with an amped up crowd, but neither Jones nor Catanzaro is concerned.

Jones eyed seven collegiate kickers before the draft, and Catanzaro stood out in part because of his demeanor. After a four-year career at Clemson full of trips to hostile environments, Catanzaro is sure a road game in New York won't turn him into the weak link on special teams.

 "I really don't feel like any environment's going to faze me," Catanzaro said. "I've been through it all."


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