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Cardinals Try To Stamp Out Mental Errors

Posted Aug 13, 2013

Arians hopes players can avoid dreaded "MEs" after first preseason game

Rookie defensive tackle Padric Scott prepares for a play in Green Bay.

A list is never a good thing.

There’s the most wanted, the honey-do and the cut. Then there’s Bruce Arians’ list of mental errors. And to the Cardinals, that might be the worst list of all.

The head coach charts all his team’s mistakes after each practice with the intention of making his players aware of their blunders and the hopes they subsequently correct them. He may have needed an entire legal pad after Friday’s preseason game at Green Bay. Mistakes littered all four quarters, from penalties to missed assignments to too many men on the field.

While blame was spread across the roster – the first-team veterans looked confused by the Packers’ no-huddle offense – the young players were the focus of Arians’ ire, and he wasn’t quiet about informing them about their mistakes. But he also spent the last few days trying to correct them.

“That’s always a Catch-22,” Arians said. “The more exposure you have, the more you get exposed. That’s part of it. There’s a lot of information. Then you get into a game and they don’t play the same defense that you practice. Now, last week was no excuse. They played almost the identical defense we practiced since April. This week will be totally different so you put up with some.

“Pre-snap mental errors … they got to go, or you got to go. One of the two. That’s exactly what you tell them.”

The rookies will take the former.

The mental errors haven’t reached an epidemic level yet and most are correctable with studying and a little more focus. But only if they put in the time.

“It takes a lot of time at nighttime,” rookie safety Tony Jefferson said. “You got to sacrifice playing video games or talking to your friends back home.”

Besides the assignment breakdowns and lining up incorrectly, the mental errors cost the Cardinals yards. The Cardinals’ first unit had two penalties in the first quarter. One was for too many men on the field and the other was tackle Levi Brown false starting. But then in the third, the Cardinals were hit with a delay of game. Jefferson was flagged for a block above the waist and Earl Watford was caught with an unnecessary roughness penalty.

“It was just one of those bonehead things that I did,” Jefferson said.

The fact that the young guys were playing in their first NFL game was the main reason behind most of the mental errors. The anxiety and magnitude of the event overwhelmed them to a point.

Jefferson was anxious all of last week and it showed. On his first play, he didn’t line up correctly.

“Totally just blanked out a little bit just thinking I’m in my first NFL game,” he said. “I was trying to get the jitters out and once I did it was smooth sailing from there.”

After that first snap, the nerves evaporated and they started to realize the grass was still green and the hash marks were still three feet apart. After the first play or two, the rookies understand the excuses for mistakes are invalid.

“You begin to realize it’s football,” rookie guard Earl Watford said. “Even though you may have had errors in practice, when you get out there and you get out in real life situation, (it’s about) how do you react? How do you respond?

“And it kinda hits you. I know it hit me and a lot of other guys I talked to. It’s football. Don’t make it bigger than it is. Try to stay comfortable. Try to stay relaxed and just go out there and play.”

Rookie defensive lineman Padric Scott believes mistakes can be avoided by understanding every nuance of the playbook and staying in shape. Once someone starts thinking, all their preparation can be unraveled, he said.

That’ll make Arians’ list even longer.

The coach gave the younger players more reps than normal during OTAs and minicamp by having them practice on a separate field. All that extra time makes the mistakes less tolerable for Arians.

Playing their first NFL game in historic Lambeau Field didn’t help the players’ focus.

“I only see those (stadiums) on TV and video games,” Jefferson said. “And then I’m there.”


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