Minus the field-stretching playmaking ability that marked Mathieu’s run at 2015 Defensive Player of the Year honors, the Cardinals‘ secondary regressed from a strength to an occasional liability last season.
Might Mathieu be poised for a return to his pre-injury heights?
“I’m feeling great, it will be a great year for us,” he said this week, via the Sporting News. “Any time I’m healthy I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the NFL.”
History is instructive. After struggling through the 2014 season following tears to his ACL and LCL, Mathieu garnered acclaim as “pound-for-pound the best player in the league” upon regaining full health. Since his latest ACL injury was deemed a “clean” tear, it’s reasonable to believe he can make another run at top defensive honors now that he’s feeling “great” again.
Even if Mathieu does round into superstar form, it’s worth asking if Arizona’s defense will suffer a dropoff from last year’s No. 2 finish.
In addition to Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell, the Cardinals lost underrated safety Tony Jefferson and run-stuffing linebacker Kevin Minter in free agency. To offset those defections, they added veterans Karlos Dansby and Antoine Bethea while drafting linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker in the first two rounds.
“We didn’t quite have the season we wanted to last year, but all in all we’re going to have a great defense again,” Mathieu added. “We added a couple guys that could really help us out. We’ve got a few guys coming back from injuries, all in all it will be a great year for us.
“If we can just correct a few small things we’ll be a dominant team again. It’ll be five or six teams that definitely have a shot to win a Super Bowl and I do believe the Cardinals are one of those teams.”
After battling cancer in 2016, Arians recently hinted that he’s nearing the end of his coaching career. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer and future Hall of Fame wideout Larry Fitzgerald both contemplated retirement this past offseason.