ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders isn’t shocked, surprised or evenly mildly close to a double take when folks talk about how the Arizona Cardinals are “slinging the ball around" on offense.
That’s because in three of Sanders’ four seasons in Pittsburgh, current Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was Sanders' offensive coordinator.
“You can see his mentality over there right now, in everything they're doing," Sanders said. “Defense is hard-nosed, blitzing everywhere … and on offense, they’re just slinging the ball around, so that’s definitely their mentality because that's his mentality. I knew that’s how it would be because that’s how he coaches."
Sanders caught 94 passes in those three seasons as the Steelers’ offense featured the same kind of big-play pop Arians has tried to implement with the Cardinals. Arizona wide receiver Michael Floyd currently leads the league at 22.3 yards per catch and the Cardinals, according to ESPN Stats & Information, are second in the league with 11.3 passes per game thrown at least 15 yards down the field.
The Cardinals have had 13 pass plays of at least 20 yards in three games combined this season – by contrast, the Broncos have eight. And Arizona, with backup quarterback Drew Stanton having made two starts, have had four pass plays of at least 30 yards.
It's not just the completions -- it’s the fact Arians’ offense is always looking to toss aside the play-it-safe approach and put one over the top of the defense.
“[Other] teams look for it; not everybody is as aggressive actually throwing them, just getting the ball down the field, giving their receivers a chance," said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “ … Certainly something we’re aware of."
Sanders says he just sees what he’s always seen from Arians, who has called plays in power-run attacks as well as offenses that spread it out and put the quarterback in the shotgun much of the time.
Arians’ 2009 offense marked the first time in the Steelers’ franchise history that the team had a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers.
“He’s one of those guys who says if you go against the current, you’ll drown, so he’s going to do what he thinks it takes," Sanders said. “Now that means throwing the football and throwing it downfield, and he’s good at doing it."