A forgotten head coach from a forgotten time in Denver Broncos’ history, Vance Joseph is most well known for being the man Sergio Dipp was talking about during the greatest sideline report of all time.
Since that fateful day, Joseph lost his job in Denver and has served as the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator since the 2019 season. In his first season with the team, the Cardinals had the worst defense in the league, surrendering a league-high 6,432 total yards, and were tied for the fourth-most touchdowns against. In 2020, Arizona’s D improved dramatically — although the only way to go was up — finishing 13th in yards allowed. In 2021, the unit was 11th. And now, in 2022, they have fallen back down to Earth, ranking 22nd. However, that number is not indicative of just how solid Joseph has been with this defense.
This season, the Cardinals are spending a devastatingly low $77,228,871 on their defense. That ranks 24th in the NFL. This past offseason, Arizona lost arguably its best defensive player, Chandler Jones. Sure, there are some up-and-comers in the likes of Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons, but aside from Budda Baker, this defense is filled with low-end players.
In terms of points and yards allowed the Cards don’t look that good, sure, but remove the Kanas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints games for a second. Without those two dumpster fires, Arizona has allowed an average of 19.6 points per game, which would tie it for 10th in the NFL. The Redbird held the Philadelphia Eagles, L.A. Rams, Carolina Panthers, and Seattle Seahawks all to 20 points or fewer in three of those games. Seven of Carolina’s points came via a pick-6. The Iggles and the ‘Hawks are both top-12 teams in the NFL this year in terms of yards per game, and both are top-five in terms of points scored per game, yet Philly scored its fewest points of the season against a pretty mediocre (on paper) Cardinals defense and Seattle scored its third-fewest.
If you want to get into specifics, Vance Joseph has really done well with the Arizona cornerbacks. Through most of training camp, one of the men competing for one of Arizona’s starting spots at the position was Antonio Hamilton. In early September, Hamilton suffered serious second and third-degree burns that almost killed him.
Thankfully, he’s since made a full recovery and is playing once again, but he did miss the first four games of the season. The Cardinals’ secondary wasn’t at full strength. Despite Hamilton’s absence, here’s how each of Arizona’s opponents’ top receivers did in their matchups:
- JuJu Smith-Schuster: 6 receptions, 79 yards, 1 fumble lost
- Davante Adams: 2 receptions, 12 yards, 1 touchdown
- Cooper Kupp: 4 receptions, 44 yards, 1 rushing touchdown
- DJ Moore: 6 receptions, 50 yards
That’s already pretty good. Kupp and Adams combined for six total receptions against the Cards! You could argue that JuJu and Moore each had good days with six receptions apiece, but neither got into the end zone.
The dominance against opposing top options continued after Hamilton returned.
- A.J. Brown: 3 receptions, 32 yards
- D.K. Metcalf: 2 receptions, 34 yards (if you believe Tyler Lockett is Seattle’s No. 1, he recorded two receptions for 17 yards)
It wasn’t until Chris Olave’s seven-reception, 106-yard performance last Thursday night that a true No. 1 receiver really broke through against the Cardinals’ secondary. You can praise Byron Murphy, Jalen Thompson, and Baker all you like. They’re all good players, but given Joseph’s history as a DB in the NFL, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this unit has blossomed.
Joseph has also consistently made fantastic halftime adjustments throughout the season. In the second half, Arizona is allowing an average of just 10.4 points per game. Take out the Saints game, and that number drops to 8.83. Take out the Chiefs game as well and that number drops to just 6.4. I know it’s unfair to judge Arizona solely on its best defensive games, but I do sincerely believe that matchups against the Raiders, Seahawks, Rams, and Eagles are tough enough as is.
Now, none of this necessarily means Joseph would make a good head coach. Maybe he’s best as a DC. But, last season, when Kliff Kingsbury had to step away due to COVID, Joseph became the co-head coach alongside assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. The Cardinals went into Cleveland and scored their second-most points of the season, demolishing the Browns 37-14. Cleveland was fifth in total defense that year. The only teams to score more points against the Browns than the Cardinals that year were the Chiefs, Los Chargers, and… the New England Patriots. Okay, that last one isn’t as impressive but it’s still a good feat for a team that was without their head coach, quarterbacks coach, and two defensive linemen.
Yes, Joseph’s tenure with the Broncos wasn’t good. He went 11-21 and never finished better than third in the AFC West. However, he has said he wants another shot at head coaching in the NFL. Based on what he’s been able to do in Arizona, he definitely deserves that second shot. Even if the team’s record isn’t great, it hasn’t been the defense’s fault. Start giving Vance Joseph the credit he deserves. He’s definitely having the time of his life right now.