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Vance Joseph Focused On Cardinals' Unfinished Business

Defensive Coordinator will have head coaching interview, but Rams come first

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (black shirt, right) calls out plays next to head coach Kliff Kingsbury (sunglasses) during a game in San Francisco earlier this season.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (black shirt, right) calls out plays next to head coach Kliff Kingsbury (sunglasses) during a game in San Francisco earlier this season.

Vance Joseph hasn't interviewed for the vacant Miami Dolphins head coaching job yet. To be honest, he's not sure of that timeline.

Not that it matters. "Right now, my sole focus is on the Rams," the Cardinals defensive coordinator said Friday. "That's where my thoughts have been."

The opportunity that Joseph might have a chance at becoming a head coach again was always a possibility after the season – a chance that's "pretty cool," he said – but it also underscores what the Cardinals have had with Joseph finishing his third season.

Safety Budda Baker, who went through a different defensive coordinator in each of his first three seasons, compared it to the comfort of being able to live in one house for a decade as opposed to moving from house to house, state to state, every year.

"It's very hard to come into a situation and be great, or to come into a coaching staff and for that team to be great out of the gate," the Pro Bowler said. "This is our third year. We understand the weaknesses of the defense. We understand the positives of the defense."

The Cardinals were top 10 in points allowed, and while a number of their rankings slipped down the stretch, "we've played well enough to put ourselves in this (playoff) position," linebacker Jordan Hicks said.

"We've had our ups and downs on defense, but when we're playing well and doing what we need to do, this team plays well."

The test will be apparent Monday. The Rams, while not exactly hitting on all cylinders offensively of late, still provide a difficult challenge. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a good game the last time the teams met – Dec. 13 on "Monday Night Football," albeit in Arizona – as did wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

Kupp's big game the second meeting (13-123-1) was in direct contrast to the MVP candidate's worst game of the season – which was against the Cardinals when the teams played in Los Angeles in Week 4 (5-64-0).

That Rams game started a stretch of defensive showings where the Cardinals lost their consistency, and Joseph knows it. The Cards were seventh in the NFL with 27 takeaways, but they have made just one interception over the final five games. Against the Seahawks in the season finale, Joseph lamented that the Cards gave up 130 yards and three touchdowns on Seattle's final eight offensive plays.

In the first 12 games of the year, the Cardinals gave up just eight plays of 30 yards or more. They gave up 11 in the final five games.

"Playing defense in this league is difficult but if you don't play with great detail, if you make too many mistakes, it can look like it looked on Sunday," Joseph said.

"The first two months of the season we didn't give up big plays. It started against the Rams. We have to get back to playing clean football."

As good as the Cardinals have been on offense, especially early in the year, it was the defense that stood out much of the time. Chandler Jones' five sacks and stopping Derrick Henry on opening day. Byron Murphy's pick-6 in Jacksonville. The goal-line stand against the 49ers. Backing Colt McCoy in two wins. Four interceptions in Chicago. Stoning Zeke Elliott in Dallas.

"It's been a good year on defense," Joseph said. "It's our third year together and we expected to be good this year. Last couple of weeks it's just been OK, but overall it's been a good year.

"It hasn't been perfect, but every time there has been a big moment, they've stepped up."

All the moments are big in the playoffs. If his unit can play like it, then maybe Joseph has to put any head coaching possibilities to the side just a little longer.

"He'll be a head coach somewhere, some day," Baker said, "but I'm glad he's our defensive coordinator right now."