This week’s three keys to an Arizona Cardinals victory come with a warning. And that is this: The current four-game losing streak could be only the beginning if nothing improves.
You can blame four straight losses on anything you want—the quarterbacks, the offensive line, the injury bug, or anything else—but the bottom line is the team has not prepared itself for consistent victory this season.
Enduring injuries is something NFL teams do every season.
Just two seasons ago, this week’s opponent was riddled with season-ending injury after season-ending injury. They still finished with a 10-6 record and won the Super Bowl.
Here is the list of Green Bay Packers who ended up on Injured Reserve in 2010:
RB Ryan Grant
LB Nick Barnett
LB Brandon Chillar
OT Mark Mauscher
LB Brady Poppinga
DE Justin Harrell
S Derrick Martin
TE Jermichael Finley
DE Mike Neal
S Morgan Burnett
TE Spencer Havner
LB Brad Jones
CB Josh Bell
The current Cardinals roster is not set up to withstand so much peril and still succeed—not like the Super Bowl champion Packers.
With Arizona’s offensive line decimated due to injury, the quarterback position as a result has become a destruction derby of sorts. Why? Unfortunately, coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves feel the talent backing up the injured linemen is adequate to suffice.
Even now, after surrendering 39 sacks through eight games, they feel the line is not a big enough issue to fix.
That is evident because the trade deadline, having just passed, brought exactly zero offensive linemen to the roster. They did nothing despite the standard, “If we had an opportunity to get somebody we think can help us, we certainly would try to do that,” routine from Whisenhunt (via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com).
The Baltimore Ravens were shopping veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie. There was reported interest shown by the Cardinals, but nothing was ultimately done about it.
Hearing the Cardinals don't have interest in trading for Bryant McKinnie, move unlikely— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) November 1, 2012
So, with the roster set and no trades occurring, let us delve into the three keys to victory for this week. I will keep it short by virtue of the above rant.
Abandon the Run Game Quicker
When the Cardinals’ run game works, it can be a helpful aid to the offense. But it rarely works, and the chances they have sustainable success with it are slim, given Beanie Wells is not yet cleared to return and Ryan Williams will not be back until next season.
During Monday night’s embarrassing loss to the rival San Francisco 49ers, Arizona called just eight run plays, gaining a total of six yards. Included in those six yards is an 11-yard run up the middle by LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was the only running back on the field the entire night—save for Alfonso Smith’s one play.
Despite so few attempts, they ran the ball until halftime. Only one time during the second half did the Cardinals run the ball. The moment they ditched the run game and went strictly with an aerial assault, the offense began moving the ball successfully.
John Skelton provided the “Captain Obvious quote of the night” following the defeat, saying via AZCentral.com, “The reason we abandoned the run game was because we couldn’t do it.”
Yes, that would be a reason to stop running the ball.
But doing so only after five instances in which Stephens-Howling gained zero or negative yardage is a little like beating a dead horse. Green Bay’s defense is not what San Francisco’s is—not by any stretch—but in the event the run game fails, they cannot afford to remain stubborn.
Run More Shotgun
This season, Skelton has completed 18-of-40 (45.0 percent) for 222 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions while under center. Those are bad statistics. His numbers from the shotgun are much better.
His 55-of-86 (64.0 percent) for 524 yards, one TD and two INT from the gun make him look better as a quarterback. It is what he did in college while at Fordham University, and it is what he still does well today.
Playing to the strengths of the quarterback is a great way to help the team win. Playing from a shotgun allows Skelton quicker drop-backs and quicker throws.
It also keeps him as far away from faulty protection as possible. The injury-plagued line’s struggles are as well-known as any news-worthy story involving the team—perhaps more.
Running the ball out of a shotgun formation is always tricky, but if the first key is a necessity, the Cardinals will not be running anyway.
Keep Rodgers’ Weapons at Bay
Packers’ wide receiver Greg Jennings has already been ruled out because of his abdominal injury, and Jordy Nelson’s game status is up in the air as well. But Aaron Rodgers makes all his receivers dangerous simply by doing what he does.
On any given week, any Green Bay receiver can have a career day.
Two weeks ago, it was Randall Cobb (eight receptions, 89 yards, two TD). With the possibility of Rodgers’ top two receivers being gone due to injury, it could happen again for Cobb.
Cards’ cornerback Patrick Peterson must have a better performance against the Packers than he did last Monday night against San Francisco. Peterson was burned by 49ers’ receiver Michael Crabtree for two touchdowns and whiffed on two tackles in an uncharacteristically poor showing.
Arizona’s pass rush will also play a part in stopping Green Bay’s receivers.
Getting pressure on Rodgers will be big in determining how successful the team is at stopping him. This game features the worst two offensive lines, the teams having given up the top two sack totals in the NFL this season—Arizona 39, Green Bay 28.
Rodgers has completed 69.0 percent of his passes this season. But that total is just 56.6 percent when under pressure.
Matchup to Watch: Cards LT D’Anthony Batiste vs. Pack OLB Clay Matthews
By now, every Cardinals fan knows about the sacks D’Anthony Batiste has surrendered—12, second-most in the NFL to teammate Bobby Massie. He has struggled mightily all season, and with the NFL’s No. 2 sack man coming to town, things could get worse.
Clay Matthews has nine sacks on the season, but he has slowed down after starting the season with six through two games.
A big game here could propel him to another NFL Defensive MVP performance. It also could spell the end—or the near end—for Batiste, as well. Darren Urban wrote about tackle Nate Potter and how Whisenhunt has been pondering to himself if the rookie is ready for regular-season action.
Prediction: Packers 27, Cardinals 17
**Breast Cancer Awareness Update**
Larry Fitzgerald vowed to donate to breast cancer awareness $1,000 for every reception and $5,000 for every touchdown he scored during the month of October. Here are his totals for the month:
Week 5: Eight receptions
Week 6: Six receptions, one touchdown
Week 7: Four receptions
Week 8: Five receptions
Grand total donation: $28,000