Just two weeks ago, the Cardinals’ special teams — led by an NFL record-tying three 50-yard-plus field goals by Neil Rackers and a blocked punt for a safety — keyed a victory against Seattle.
In the NFL, however, teams’ fortunes can change quickly, and the same evidently is true for units. Arizona is now regrouping on special teams in the wake of Sunday’s poor performance in a loss at Buffalo, after which coach Dennis Green promised changes.
"When we are fast (on special teams), we look quick and fast," Green said. "When we can’t look fast, we look small. If you saw our team play against Seattle, we looked quick, fast and explosive. (On Sunday), we looked small. We looked smaller than Buffalo, smaller going for plays. . . .
"We’re going to have to get a little more size and hopefully don’t sacrifice as much speed."
Green’s first move was to activate rookie Adrian Mayes — who is listed as a safety but played exclusively special teams at Louisiana State — from the practice squad. The Cardinals have been experimenting with depth-chart changes in practice.
"We’re talking about it," special teams coach Kevin O’Dea said. "What will happen is still on the drawing board. We’ve moved a couple of guys just to look at them, and we’ll evaluate what we saw on film. Injuries will affect it as well. We’ll have to iron those issues out by the end of the week."
Two contributors to the Arizona special teams, cornerback Renaldo Hill (hamstring) and linebacker Gerald Hayes (quadriceps), are limping. Hayes had the punt block against Seattle.
Both are expected to play on Sunday at Miami.
O’Dea said the specialty units lacked intensity at Buffalo, and the result was two damaging kick returns by the Bills: Terrence McGee took a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown, and Nate Clements’ 40-yard punt return set up another score.
Aggressiveness is vital in football, perhaps no more so on special teams. Execution enables a player to stay in his kick-coverage lane or find a wall of blockers on a return, but the aggression to fight through a block or shake off a tackler is paramount.
"Special teams is about want-to, focusing on that one play and executing it," said fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, a member of the kickoff- and punt-coverage units. "It’s a man-to-man situation. . . .
"Desire is the thing you need in special teams. We can study and practice all we want — and we need to do that — but without desire, the Xs and Os don’t mean anything."
It is not just the kick coverage that has been spotty, as Green has been unhappy with the punt-return team all season. Karl Williams is averaging 5.2 yards on 17 punt returns, ranking 11th in the NFC.
"We’re not doing well there," Green said. "Our puntreturn unit has not been productive at all."
Ayanbadejo is confident of a turnaround. He said Wednesday’s special teams practice was the best of the season. And Mayes promised to bring an injection of intensity to the unit.
"Some people take it for granted, but special teams starts the game and can be the energizer of the game," Mayes said. "You go down there and make a big play; that can go right down the line to the offense and defense. It can change the face of the game."