James Ihedigbo made a bold declaration earlier this month when he told NFL Network that he and Detroit Lions teammate Glover Quin form “the best safety tandem in the NFL.”
Better than Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor, the leaders of Seattle’s Legion of Boom? Yep, that’s how the Lions veteran saw it then.
This past week, I asked Ihedigbo if he still felt that way.
“Of course I still feel that way,” he said. “When we look at ourselves and look at how we play on the football field, week in, week out, our production level is still the same. Glover Quin has been having a lights-out year, leading the league in interceptions at this point with six. I’m not too far behind him with four.
“I’m not talking about last year or years to come. But this season, in terms of our production, as a duo, it ranks as the best among safeties in the NFL. It’s more of a fact statement, but there’s a little extra behind it. And we’re proud of it.”
They should be.
Besides their combined 10 interceptions, Ihedigbo and Quin are part of a defense that ranks second overall in the NFL. Let the record show that the Seahawks’ defense ranks first overall and is first against the pass, 13 spots higher than the Lions, but Thomas and Chancellor have only one interception each.
“The biggest part of playing in our secondary and our defense in general is accountability,” Ihedigbo said. “That doesn’t come from the coaching staff or anybody else. It’s the guys that are on the field, your brothers. You don’t ever want to turn on that film and be the weak link. We say, ‘If you’re not running to the ball, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.’”
Setting the tone for that attitude is first-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell. As a former member of the New England Patriots, Ihedigbo played for one of the game’s all-time great coaches in Bill Belichick, who not only consistently puts players in the best position to succeed but who also consistently pushes the right buttons to motivate them.
But Ihedigbo never has had a coach use some of the tactics that Caldwell implements to get his players to understand the importance of striving for excellence in every game.
“I learned about the Chinese art of shooting bows and arrows, the techniques of it,” Ihedigbo said with a laugh. “He’ll use literally anything to get his point across. Every week’s different during our team meetings and throughout the week. But the similarity is the task of continuing to be at your best and be great. That’s what we have embraced this year as a team.”
Oddsmakers don’t like the Arizona Cardinals’ chances of winning the NFC West by beating the Seahawks.
Why would they? Third-stringer Ryan Lindley is the Cards’ starting quarterback now that Drew Stanton, who took over after Carson Palmer suffered a season-ending knee injury, is dealing with a sprained knee. This is the same Ryan Lindley who while playing in six games for Arizona in 2012 completed only 52 percent of his passes, threw seven interceptions and no touchdown passes. This also is the same Ryan Lindley the Cardinals cut in training camp and re-signed in October.
The big difference, though, is that Lindley’s coach is Bruce Arians, who not only has a way of elevating a quarterback’s performance, but also knows how to lead a team through a crisis. Remember the coach-of-the-year-job he did leading the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs while filling in for Chuck Pagano, who was battling cancer?
With the Cardinals overcoming so many injuries on the way to an 11-3 record, Arians has reached a point where he has turned their hardships into reasons the team will succeed, not fail.
“It’s almost like, if we don’t get an injury, everybody’s going to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’” he said. “They’re expecting it every week and every game, so each time that it happens it just galvanizes this bunch even more. It makes it fun every week. No one gets bored around here, that’s for sure.”
Starting Lindley doesn’t mean the Cardinals have to re-invent themselves offensively, Arians insisted. It’s just a matter of finding the calls from a vast playbook that Lindley feels good about running.
“We won’t change,” the coach said. “To me, it’s ‘All right, Ryan, here’s the plan. There’s enough stuff here. Give me some shots that you really like and are very comfortable with.’
“For me, putting him in a comfort level is huge. That’s what separates some coaches who say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to play this system.’ We’ll fit the system.”
Arians pointed out that the Cardinals running game has adapted after Andre Ellington suffered a season-ending sports hernia and Kerwynn Williams took over in his spot.
“We have to tailor it to what they like, what they do best,” Arians said.
Besides, there isn’t a ton of strategy involved in dealing with Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks pretty much take the approach that their athletes on that side of the ball will beat you more with physical prowess than schematic wizardry.
“They line up pretty much in the same spots all the time,” Arians said. “It’s always a struggle. You’ve got to convert third downs and you can’t turn the ball over. And you’ve got to be able to play with hands all over you as a receiver because it just doesn’t get called against them.”
• To say Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater has been the best of this year’s rookie quarterbacks isn’t saying much because only three have started more than one game. Johnny Manziel had a miserable first start for the Cleveland Browns last week. But the proof goes well beyond the fact Bridgewater’s 82.7 passer rating is far superior to the 76.9 of Oakland’s Derek Carr or the 70.8 of Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. Bridgewater did throw two interceptions in last Sunday’s 16-14 loss against Detroit, but he has overcome plenty to convince the Vikings he has a promising future: a line that has had to utilize three backups, three different running backs, three different tight ends and a wide receiver acquired from another team’s practice squad.
“It’s pretty incredible to me what he’s done, how he’s handled it, the things he’s gotten done and what he’s really done is made everyone around him better and that’s a quality that you’re looking for,” Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner told reporters. “The thing that excites me is he can make any throw you need to make – he does it with people around him, he does it with people hitting him, he does it when he has to slide in the pocket.”
• Despite the media hysteria over Manziel’s starting debut, the Browns were and continue to be realistic about what he gives them. Although they might not have necessarily counted on his disastrous showing against the Bengals, they did see his struggles as a distinct possibility and won’t be shocked if more follow against Carolina and in next week’s season finale at Baltimore. “Johnny is going to have some growing pains,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told reporters. “He’s played a type of football that he’s not going to be able to down in and down out in the NFL, but you still want him to do it at times. He did it at times. You know he’s going to have some bad plays from his lack of experience, and we hope to manage those and not put him in those situations as much.”
• It has always seemed strange that, in an age when technology allows vast amounts of data and video to be available at one’s fingertips, NFL coaches can still be seen on the sidelines of a game holding a laminated sheet containing plays and other vital game information in one hand and a marker in another. Why aren’t these guys using computer tablets that undoubtedly would provide so much more with every bit as much, if not more, portability? Finally, the league seems to be heading down that path. In January’s Pro Bowl at Arizona, it will experiment with the use of Microsoft Surface tablets providing replays and coaches’ video during the game rather than just the still images they currently render.