The Arizona Cardinals could pull off a season sweep.
Not only is Bruce Arians on track for his second NFL coach-of-the-year award in three seasons, but also Todd Bowles, the team's defensive coordinator, is prominent in the conversation for assistant coach of the year, a new honor that the Associated Press is beginning this season.
While much of the talk has been about the quarterback-juggling the 9-1 Cardinals have done, with Drew Stanton stepping in for the injured Carson Palmer, the reshuffling on defense by Bowles has been a huge factor for a franchise that's off to its best start since 1948.
Bowles, in his second season, just got a three-year contract extension that runs through the 2017 season, but chances are he'll be a head coach before then. The deal allows him to entertain those offers.
"It's like a clock counting down, 'When is Todd Bowles going to leave?'" cornerback Jerraud Powers said last week, according to the Arizona Republic. "If he leaves, it's just part of the business. It's a tribute to him and it's also a tribute to the assistants and the players, as well. Pretty sure if we weren't doing what we were supposed to do, he wouldn't be getting the extension."
In his first season with the Cardinals, Bowles took over a defense that was 28th against the run and finished No. 1 in 2013. The challenge this season was bringing a host of backups up to speed after the starting unit was hit hard by attrition.
This season's defense is without standout linebackers Karlos Dansby (signed with Cleveland), Daryl Washington (drug suspension) and John Abraham (concussions), along with defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell sat out three games because of a knee injury.
At one point this season, defensive tackle Dan Williams was the only remaining member of the defensive front seven that was so effective a year ago.
Somehow, the Cardinals have continued to thrive. They have yielded 17.6 points per game, third-fewest in the league, and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, and that includes back-to-back games against Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Dallas' DeMarco Murray (who has rushed for at least 100 in every other game this season.).
The Cleveland Browns were in need of a pick-me-up after Sunday's 23-7 loss at home to Houston, one that dropped them from first place to last in the tightly knotted AFC North. They will get a big boost this week with the return of All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon, whose suspension was trimmed from a full season to 10 games under the league's new drug policy.
So Gordon, who led the league in receiving yardage last season, will be available for Sunday's game against Atlanta. But Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer cautioned people about having "crazy expectations" for Gordon, who wasn't allowed to practice with the team during his suspension.
"We all know what Josh is capable of, but let's not put all this pressure on him to be the savior," Hoyer told reporters. "We all have to be better on offense. We all have to be more consistent."
The pain game
Although the original reports were that the medical staffs of three visiting teams were subjected to surprise inspections by Drug Enforcement Administration agents on Sunday — San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa Bay — the Associated Press reported Monday that Detroit and Cincinnati had similar inspections.
Attorney Mel Owens, a former standout linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams, welcomed the news of the inspections. He is among the lawyers representing more than 1,000 former players who have filed a class-action suit against the league for the alleged mishandling and dispensing of various painkillers and prescription drugs.
"I thought to myself, 'Finally somebody's looking into it,'" Owens said. "Because it's been going on for decades. Even when I played it was happening the way it was described."
Owens, a first-round pick who played for the Rams from 1981-89, said in his experience painkillers and prescription drugs were constantly distributed, and not just by team doctors but by trainers and others who were not permitted by law to do so. He said his clients who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the same.
"It happens wherever it's necessary," he said. "There's guys getting injected on the sideline, I've seen it. It's not a secret. You ask any NFL player, 'Have you seen guys getting injected on the sideline?' Of course. On the plane? Of course. In the hotel, on the buses, on the plane? Of course. By the trainers? Of course.
"I've been saying forever that you can't have the NFL as it is without overmedicating the players. It's so haphazard and lackadaisical in the NFL and there's no oversight."
Hail to the Thinskins
First-year Washington Coach Jay Gruden has his hands full keeping the crumbling Redskins locker room intact, especially after Sunday's 27-7 loss at home to Tampa Bay, which came into the game with just one win.
In his postgame comments, quarterback Robert Griffin III was critical of himself, but also indirectly critical of teammates, saying, "It takes 11 men. It doesn't take one guy. That's proven. The great QBs — the Peytons and Aaron Rodgers. They don't play well if their guys don't play well. They don't."
Gruden bristled at that, and on Monday told reporters that Griffin "needs to worry about himself. I'll worry about everybody else… He elaborated too much."
Of course, Griffin couldn't leave that alone. He fired back on Twitter with a thinly veiled rebuke of his critics, possibly including his head coach.
"It's unfortunate that anyone would take a piece of my press conference & say I threw my teammates under the bus," Griffin wrote. "These men are my family."