This week’s three keys to an Arizona Cardinals victory come following yet another upset victory. The Cardinals are 3-0 for the first time since 1974, the defense is among the best in the league and the quarterback position appears to be solidified—for now.
All that adds up to Arizona being one of the biggest surprises around the league. Perhaps not to fans of “#BirdGang,” but it seems everyone outside the fanbase is shocked that the Red Birds are one of only three undefeated teams remaining in the NFL.
Looking to start 4-0 for the first time since—again—1974, the Cardinals face a 1-2 Miami Dolphins team coming off an overtime loss to the New York Jets. They may or may not be without star running back Reggie Bush, but that won’t matter as much as their own rushing attack will.
Here are the three keys to a Cardinals victory over the Dolphins.
Campbell, Acho, Lenon, Washington
Of the 98 called running plays Miami has executed, 58.1 percent of them—57 total—have come to the offense’s left side (via ProFootballFocus).
That means Calais Campbell, Sam Acho, Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington will have to be on their game to stop the rushing attack. Even more so for Bush (should he play), as he has taken 31 of his 50 total rushes (62 percent) to the defense's right side.
Bush has 209 rushing yards to the left side of his offensive line compared to just 95 when rushing right.
A major part of that has been left tackle Jake Long and left guard Richie Incognito. The two combine to weigh 638 pounds and are quick off the ball. They dominated Jets’ defensive end Mike DeVito, outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre and inside linebacker Bart Scott.
Incognito gets to the second level of the defense well and has the ability to eliminate middle linebackers. Both Washington and Lenon will have to watch him specifically. Getting off his block is imperative to stop Bush, Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller.
Utilize No-Huddle to Set Up Run
Miami’s defensive ends are athletic and talented—left defensive end Cameron Wake, especially.
Using the no-huddle offense can wear down an opposing pass rush, effectively taking great pass-rushers out of their game for a brief moment, be it one play in which they are rendered useless or an entire drive.
Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb is at his best running the no-huddle, so this will be something to watch Sunday.
Three or four consecutive no-huddle pass plays could set up Ryan Williams for a big-gainer down the field. Wearing down Miami’s defensive line gives an advantage to Arizona’s offensive line, allowing them to push them off the ball to create gaping holes through which Williams can run.
Why Williams and not Beanie Wells?
Wells was placed on Injured Reserve with a torn ligament in his left big toe (also called turf toe), and under a new NFL rule is eligible to return for the November 25 home game against the St. Louis Rams.
According to Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ official website, Williams is ready for the challenge of being a featured back.
I feel like this will be a defining moment for my career, coming back from a (potential) career-ending injury. It’ll be cool. It’s what I always wanted since I was a young’un. When I make something out of it, I think it will show a lot about who I am as a football player. I’m ready to see what I’m made of myself.
Through three games, Arizona has 78 called run plays to 97 called pass plays.
That means 44.6 percent of all plays called have been designed runs, the highest percentage since they ran the ball 45.4 percent of the time during the 2004 season.
With Wells on the shelf until the holidays, it is yet to be seen whether coordinator Mike Miller will continue to run the ball that often, but Miami has the third-ranked run defense in the NFL over the first three weeks of 2012. To be successful Sunday, they will need to break down the defense with a successful no-huddle look at times.
Continue Fitzgerald’s Momentum
Larry Fitzgerald enjoyed a season-high nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown during last Sunday’s 27-6 victory over the Eagles. He did so on nine targets, meaning he caught every pass intended for him.
For his career, Fitzgerald has faced the Dolphins twice. Both were victories, and he had 11 catches for 245 yards and one TD.
They haven’t seen one another since Week 2 of the 2008 season—the season proceeding Arizona’s Super Bowl XLII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This season, Miami is allowing 307.3 yards per game through the air, ranked 29th league-wide.
Shots downfield can be had against a weak secondary, so if ever Kolb wanted to make a case to remain the starter once John Skelton is healthy, taking advantage of the deep ball to Fitzgerald will be a great way to do it.
It isn’t typical of Miller to throw the ball beyond 20 yards (Kolb has done so only four times in 59 attempts), but it will be necessary in order to bury an overmatched and possibly under-manned Dolphins squad.
They may be without cornerback Richard Marshall, who was limited Wednesday with a back issue. If he cannot go against his former team, the already weak secondary will be without its most versatile player.
Matchup to Watch: Cards’ RT Bobby Massie vs. Phins’ DE Cameron Wake
This will be rookie right tackle Bobby Massie’s biggest test to date. Cameron Wake is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and he has been held without a sack through the first three games. He is hungry for that opportunity, and if he gets one early, it could be a long day for the rookie.
Wake is like a shark in the water. Once he smells blood, a right tackle can kiss his hopes at protecting his quarterback goodbye.
Just because he hasn’t recorded a sack, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been productive as a pass-rusher. Wake leads the NFL with 13 quarterback hurries and eight QB hits and is rated as the top overall 4-3 defensive end through three weeks (via PFF).
Massie has been good so far, but he struggled some against the Eagles and Jason Babin last week. How he performs could mold how much the offense is able to accomplish both on the ground and through the air.
Ryan Williams will perform well in his first start as a feature back. Picking up where he left off during last week’s 13-carry, 83-yard performance, he will set the offensive tone with a solid overall display.
Twenty carries for 94 yards and a touchdown for Williams should help fans forget about Beanie Wells’ toe for a while.
Kolb-to-Fitzgerald will be ingrained in the collective mind of Miami’s secondary. Another big performance from No. 11 will doom the Dolphins, as the line will hold up enough for Kolb to get Fitz the ball early and often.
Two of three Kolb touchdown passes will go to Fitzgerald, who will add his 34th 100-yard receiving game.
As for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill against coordinator Ray Horton’s defense, the word of the afternoon will be—overwhelmed. From the defensive lineman and linebackers to the safeties and corners, Horton will not relent in his pursuit of the first-year NFL quarterback.
Reggie Bush’s status Sunday is unknown because of a knee injury. That means even if he is able to play, he could be limited. Should he play, he won’t make much happen. The knee doesn’t appear to be fully healthy, and if he is unable to make cuts the way he usually does, Arizona’s defense will swallow him whole.
Final Score: Arizona 28, Miami 10