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Emphasis on special teams pays off for Cardinals

The SportsXchange

Since 2008, the Cardinals have blocked 15 kicks, more than any other team in the NFL. They've blocked so many, in fact, that they almost expect to make a big play every game.

"It's a little bit like blood in the water for sharks," kicker Jay Feely said. "You get a little taste and you want more."

There are a handful of reasons for the Cardinals success.

First, coach Ken Whisenhunt puts a heavy emphasis on it. He learned under former Steelers coach Bill Cowher to gauge his team's competitiveness by watching the block teams.

Many players often give up on those plays, usually because they are tired and discouraged from giving up yardage.

"Sometimes guys are tired," special teams coach Kevin Spencer said. "It could be the end of a 10-play drive. They are disappointed and sometimes guys go through the motion. We don't tolerate that here. It's a football play."

Second, the Cardinals have Calais Campbell, a 6-foot-8 defensive end. He rushes up the middle and causes a huge problem for kicking teams. Campbell blocked three kicks in 2011 and blocked a field goal in the first game this season.

Campbell gives the players around him credit for creating a surge up the middle. "People don't see the push or the guys inside," Campbell said. "I kind of just ride the stream and jump up and balance myself. I think everybody tries to block it; it just helps that I'm 6-8."

It helps, too, having speed off the edge. Defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel rush from there, and kickers know they have to be flawless in their approach.

"You get in those situations and guys speed up, they change their technique," Feely said. "You worry about getting it blocked instead of focusing on the fundamentals that are going to help you make the kick."

And, third, the Cardinals are confident because they have success. It's not a play that the players just blow off. Spencer said players talk on the sideline, discussing what changes they might make on the next rush, where the opponent's weakness might be.

The Cardinals weren't confident when Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowksi was lining up for the potential game winner last. But neither were they surprised when the 42-yard attempt went wide left.

"I thought, 'If I have to be in this situation, this is a heck group to be in it with,' "Spencer said.

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