Halftime adjustments prove key for Cards

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Something was said at halftime of the Arizona Cardinals-Carolina Panthers game on Oct. 6.

What it was may be lost in the annals of locker room lore, but whatever the Cards coaching staff told its players, it was short and poignant. And it worked. Arizona came out looking like a new team. Its 18 rushing yards in the first half turned into 90. A deficit turned into a win.

Halftime has been the turning point for Arizona all season. And all it takes is a brief huddle and a few quick decisions. But, like any meeting, there’s an order, a Robert’s Rules of sorts, but for halftime meetings.

“We all come in and we all get together, and pretty much all of us kinda congregate together, and obviously we talk about the run game, protection and adjustments that need to be made and go for the passing game after that,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s about all we do. It’s real brief because, you know, halftime is real short.

“So I throw in my two cents, Coach [Tom] Moore throws in his two cents and move on.”

But the changes aren’t major.

Usually, it’s something minor yet important enough to make a difference, like changing assignments in coverage or tweaking a route.

“It’s just small things that can determine an outcome of the game,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “Small things, but a big deal.”

There have been two common halftime adjustments this season for Arizona: Throw to Larry Fitzgerald and start running the ball more.

Or both.

Against the Panthers, the Cardinals came out on their first drive of the third quarter with a pass to Fitzgerald for 6 yards and then ran the ball seven times. They scored and went on to win 22-6.

But why is this staff so good about noticing what works and what doesn’t, and then fixing it? Quarterback Carson Palmer said it’s because of their longevity in the league.

“There are a lot of games under those belts,” he said. “You look at Coach [Tom] Pratt, he’s been around forever. Coach Moore’s been around forever. There is a lot of time logged, a lot of halftimes they’ve been in where they’ve been behind or been up and had to make adjustments.”

All those halftimes have also helped Arizona coach Bruce Arians develop a philosophy he instituted last season in Indianapolis and carried over to Arizona. He breaks the game into two 30-minute segments, the first and second half.

Arians' message is the same every game: Play the first 30 minutes to see what has to happen the second 30. If the Cardinals play well in the first half, they build on it. If they don’t, Arians has been known to wipe the first 30 minutes clean at halftime and start over.

“We go out there up 14 after the first half or down 14 after the first half, he’s still thinking about the next 30 minutes and what we got to do to win the game,” Powers said. “He was like that last year when he was in Indy. When he took the job that’s one of the first things he said.”

The coaches are all on the same page when it comes to halftime adjustments, Powers said. That may not be the case elsewhere, but it works for Arizona.

As any coach would, Arians would prefer not to have to adjust drastically during halftime, but he works with what he’s given. And most importantly, he has a staff that’s able to not just adjust and do it quickly, but it makes the right corrections to fix the Cardinals’ issues.

“I’ve been around some pretty good ones and these are about as good as it gets,” Arians said of his staff. “I think the second half proves it.”