Binged Amazon’s All or Nothing series all last vacation week, which followed the Arizona Cardinals all of last season. It’s yet another fantastic production from NFL Films. I’ve long since given up hope that the Patriots would ever allow this kind of access, although Bill Belichick’s A Football Life came pretty close, but it’s always fascinating to see the inner workings of an NFL team going through the treacherous grind of a full season.
I can never get enough of this kind of stuff. It’s clear that NFL Films is the true propaganda wing of the NFL and it’s why many of us got hooked on the game to begin with. Here’s what stood out to me, partially from a Patriots perspective, but mostly as a football fan.
You have to start with Bruce Arians whose colorful language might distract some from the excellent football coach that he is. It’s incredible that someone like him could kick around as an assistant for so long before getting his shot, while the same old head coaches keep getting recycled over and over again. I won’t say Arians makes the whole show, but there’s no question he’s the star and his attitude and football mind permeate throughout the organization.
It’s understandable why guys want to play for Arians, and that’s why it was even more shocking to see the Cardinals completely collapse in the NFC Championship. Still, Arians can coach my team any day and I am fascinated to see what kind of game plan he puts together for the Patriots in Week 1.
That’s where I found my mind drifting during the show — Week 1, Patriots @ Cardinals.
The biggest problem is going to be David Johnson, where I’d expect Dont’a Hightower to have his hands full with the second-year back who was told by his position coach during his 2015 exit interview that his career should end with a bust in the Hall of Fame. Johnson’s a big back who can catch and that will pose a number of problems for the Patriots. The first defensive key to the game will be to stop Johnson.
On the other side of the ball the biggest question is of course which quarterback the Cardinals will be seeing in Week 1, whether it’s Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo. But the Cardinals have some questions of their own, including how ready Tyrann Mathieu will be coming off a torn ACL late in the 2015 season.
The Cardinals defense was worlds different once Mathieu went down. His leadership both on the field and off it was apparent over and over during the course of the series. And as good as Patrick Peterson is, he and the rest of the Arizona secondary are a far less intimidating squad with the Honey Badger.
The Cardinals will also welcome Chandler Jones into their mix and I’m sure the former Patriot will be fired up to play against his old team. The Cardinals are the most blitz-happy team in the league which could be extremely dangerous if they’re seeing Brady, who torches heavy blitzing teams, or extremely effective if Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t seeing his hot reads clearly in his first start.
One thing to watch though, as Chandler is being moved to outside linebacker in Arizona, is that I expect the Patriots to get him in coverage against their tight ends as much as possible. And if you see Gronk or Bennett split out wide and Chandler going with them, look out (if you’re a Cardinals fan).
I was also extremely impressed with the management of the Cardinals, led by President Michael Bidwell and GM Steve Keim. Every time NFL Films captures the owner/management relationships, it’s always pretty awkward. Bidwell’s interactions with Keim and Arians was every bit as cringe-worthy as Robert Kraft trying to talk to Belichick at times in his A Football Life. The owners always seem to come off like I worry I would come off to the “football guys”, like a fan whose genuine enthusiasm just doesn’t get the true respect of those who have been grinding in the NFL for decades.
But of course, the owners are the bosses leaving the “football guys” no choice but to accept all the tepid observations and awkward fist bumps. Although Bidwell has the eccentricity you’d expect from the latest in a long line of fortunate heirs, his love of his rescue dog who died during the show after a long bout with kidney disease humanized him. By the end of the show, he seemed more a valued member of the Cardinals organization than he did at the start, even if he was a little goofy.
Larry Fitzgerald only further cemented his place as a Hall of Famer during the 2016, capped off with amazing catch-and-run in the divisional round that set up a shovel pass touchdown to win the game on the next play. Larry has always had a reputation as one of the game’s good guys and that was on full display in the series.
I couldn’t help but find most of the player-only meetings consistently awkward. Patrick Peterson, Carson Palmer and Tyrann Mathieu were just a few to step up and address the team at various points of the season. I never felt even close to inspired or moved with them like I was when Arians spoke. It always feels forced when players try to talk to the team. Even when it was Ray Lewis. You just always get the feeling these guys are professionals and don’t truly respond when their teammates get rah-rah on them.
One conspicuous absence was any sight or mention of Jen Welter, the Cardinals’ female coaching assistant last season. I had spoken with Jen a couple times before she became an NFL coach and she is a truly passionate football person. Just watch some of the highlights from her playing days. Would’ve been nice to see a little bit on her and the significant step she took for women in the sport last season.
Overall, this was every bit the perfect production that we’ve come to expect from NFL Films. They are masters of truly capturing and framing the epic “good vs. evil” narrative we all to apply to our beloved football teams. It was stylized in the right spots, humanizing beyond football in the right spots and left you with the all-too-familiar feeling of how there’s only one happy team at the end of each season.
It may not be the Patriots, but All or Nothing is a great way to get you through the last couple weeks before training camp. It certainly got me even more fired up for the season opener on September 11th in Arizona. The Cardinals will have their best shot waiting for the Patriots.