Coach Bruce Arians announced Monday that Tyrann Mathieu will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Arizona placed the safety on injured reserve on Tuesday.
It's a devastating turn of events for one of the most versatile and most valuable defensive players in the entire league. The "Honey Badger" was enjoying a true breakout campaign that highlighted his incredible playmaking ability in coverage and against the run.
Arians was clearly emotional when talking about losing Mathieu, who is one of the leaders of the Cardinals. He was taken in the third round of the 2013 draft, and has evolved into one of the team's signature players.
"We have a little different bond, just because of where he came from, where I came from," Arians said via the team's website. "I've just gotten real attached to him. I love the player but I love the person more."
This is the second straight year where a torn ACL will alter the Cardinals' playoff chances. Last year, they lost quarterback Carson Palmer on their way to a loss in the wild card round in the playoffs. The Cardinals have clinched the NFC West title this season and are in position to clinch a bye in the playoffs, although they will have to do it without their defensive sparkplug.
Mathieu tore his left ACL in December of 2013 at a time where he was a strong contender for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. This season he was one of the top defensive players in the entire league because he does a little bit of everything. He's the ultimate 2015 weapon in the secondary with an ability to play slot cornerback, free safety, strong safety, and linebacker. His instincts and ability to wrap at tacklers near the line of scrimmage is uncanny. ProFootball Focus listed Mathieu as a cornerback, and had him ranked as the top player at his position in the league by far.
"He set goals and he was attaining them," Arians said. "I thought he should be right there with Patrick Peterson for defensive player of the year. I don't think there was any doubt. It's a shame with two games left."
The combination of Mathieu and Patrick Peterson makes this Cardinals defense special. Arizona plays more defensive backs than any team in the league because guys like Mathieu can blitz or play run support at any time. He allowed the coaching staff to be as creative as possible, and the loss of Mathieu will perhaps force the staff to play coverage more safe. The team was also without Rashad Johnson during Sunday night's win over the Eagles.