Safety Justin Bethel blocks a field goal Sunday against the Lions.
Bruce Arians opened his Monday press conference with the praise, calling his special teams unit "dominant" in the Cardinals' win against the Lions. It was hard to argue otherwise.
Justin Bethel blocked a field goal as the highlight of another great day including his coverage duties on punts. Jay Feely rebounded from a bad first game to a 4-for-4 day in field goals and touchbacks on six of his seven kickoffs. Punter Dave Zastudil dropped four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line. And Detroit started their six non-touchback drives inside the 10 five times.
"A lot of times in this league, special teams get overlooked until something bad happens," reigning NFC Pro Bowl special teamer Lorenzo Alexander said. "It's good a coach takes pride in special teams. It's not like that everywhere in the league."
As the Cardinals slowly worked their way back into the game in the second half Sunday, special teams kept the Lions pinned back and
created field-position flips that eventually worked in Arizona's favor.
Zastudil's first punt, 52 yards, was followed by a negative-six yard return as former Cardinal Micheal Spurlock tried to avoid the swarming punt coverage. Two plays later, Reggie Bush's lost fumble was turned into a Feely field goal.
Feely hit another field goal on the next offensive possession, and then again the next time the Cards had the ball – booting touchbacks every time. The next Detroit possession, with the Lions nursing a 21-16 lead, led to Bethel's block of David Akers' 47-yard field goal.
It didn't lead to points, but Zastudil had another punt downed my long snapper Mike Leach at the Detroit 8, and when the Lions went nowhere, the Cards got the ball on their own 39 with breathing room to embark on their game-winning touchdown drive.
"I think all across the board we are a talented group," Feely said.
That starts with Bethel, who emerged last season as a rookie and has turned into a star. Bethel drew a holding penalty on one return, as well as his block. He also consistently beats the blockers down the field on punt coverage, at one point Sunday getting driven out of bounds by a double-team and still beat it to make the play.
"I feel like I have taken great steps from where I ended (last) year," Bethel said. "Last year at the beginning, I was just another guy. In the regular season, I wasn't as special as I could have been. As I went through the season, a couple guys talked to me and told me to pick my game up and I realized I could be a dominant special teams player. I believed in it, and I kept getting better at it."
Feely said the second-year player showed up at training camp "a different Bethel" and he has played like it this season.
Along with Alexander, who came in with the veteran leadership as well as the special teams résumé, the Cardinals have a good base in the transition game.
"If you have a couple of guys who can go down and make plays," Alexander said, "you can accelerate your progression as far as being dominant quickly."
Arians said he felt like the third-down issues Sunday were "very correctable." "It wasn't like we weren't moving the ball," Arians said. "We didn't have any three-and-outs." …
The coach said he wasn't concerned about only having one sack in two games. "We're getting good pressure," he said. "They were like 3-of-11 (on third downs), so we don't need sacks. We just need to get off the field." …
The Cardinals will spend the week between road games at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay in Sarasota, Florida and will practice in nearby Bradenton. Arians said it is to make it easier on the team with two less cross country flights and the ability to adjust to the time zone.