The Arizona Cardinals have won three straight games over teams that have been bottom-feeders this season. The Cardinals have beaten the 2-8 Atlanta Falcons, the 2-8 Houston Texans and the 1-9 Jacksonville Jaguars for the winning streak that they’re on.
Sunday brings a real test when the 7-3 Indianapolis Colts visit University of Phoenix Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). Arizona faces a team with a winning record for the first time since the Week 6 clash against the Seattle Seahawks.
How can the Cardinals get a fourth win in a row? It might be tough against a winning team, but it can be done. Let’s break down the Arizona game plan and show the Cardinals can get to 7-4.
Offensive Game Plan
1. Run the Ball Effectively
The Cardinals had a dreadful showing last week at Jacksonville in the ground game. Including quarterback Carson Palmer’s kneel-downs, the Cardinals rushed for 14 yards on 24 carries. That’s less than a half of a yard per carry. Jacksonville came into the game as the worst rushing defense in the league and was allowing more than 150 yards per game on the ground.
Arizona couldn’t capitalize on the matchup but was fortunate to get 419 passing yards and two touchdowns from Palmer to get the win. According to the detailed breakdown on Pro-Football-Reference.com, Arizona ran a dozen times up the middle and finished the day with minus-one yard rushing. Running right of center yielded four carries for one yard.
Any semblance of success the Cardinals had rushing was toward the left end where they had six carries for 16 yards and a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown. Arizona has another strong matchup here as the Colts allow 126 yards per game on the ground, good for 28th in the league.
They’re going need to be able to run effectively to keep Andrew Luck and the Colts offense off of the field as much as they can
2. Account for Robert Mathis on Every Play
Linebacker Robert Mathis is going to be a focal point for the Arizona offensive line. Mathis leads the league in sacks with 13.5 in 10 games. His speed on the edge is going to be tough for left tackle Bradley Sowell to keep up with. He’s going to have his hands full all game with Mathis.
He’s got the speed and size to wreak havoc in the backfield. Arizona may need to keep its running back in to block Mathis, and that will impact how the Cardinals run their offense.
3. Attack the Back
The Colts are a little nicked up in pass coverage, and players are missing practice. According to the NFL.com injury listings, the Colts listed cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry didn’t participate in practice yesterday. Cornerback Josh Gordy had limited participation in practice.
The Colts don’t have much depth in the defensive secondary, so these injuries could open up more opportunities for the Cardinals if the Colts aren’t healthy.
If Arizona can do all of these things effectively, it should be able to build a large enough lead to weather a comeback from quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Defensive Game Plan
1. Cover Coby
It should come as no surprise that covering Indianapolis tight end Coby Fleener is one of the biggest priorities for the Cardinals this week.
Last week he posted a career-best eight catches for 107 yards against the Titans and is poised to do the same against Arizona. The Cardinals are among the worst teams in the league at covering the tight end even with Pro Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington in the lineup.
Luck should know this and look to exploit it in the Indianapolis offense. Seemingly everyone else who played Arizona has done that this season. Even Jacksonville used its tight end on a 4th-and-1 call in the first quarter and it turned into a 63-yard touchdown catch for Danny Noble.
If the Jaguars can do it effectively, you know the Colts can too.
2. Avoid Luck’s Revenge
Luck has been in the league for less than two years and already has 10 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter to his credit, according to his page on Pro-Football-Reference.com.
The reason why this happens is unknown. The Colts have been coming out cold in the first half then find motivation or make incredible adjustments at halftime and wind up taking wins.
Luck has been able to bring his team back several times, so no lead is safe. Unless it’s something like when the St. Louis Rams held a 38-8 lead heading into the fourth quarter at Indianapolis in Week 10.
Even without wide receiver Reggie Wayne (ACL, out for season), Luck has been using Fleener and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to get the job done on the comebacks. Another thing worth noting is that in those game-winning drives, Luck has run the ball at least three times on eight of those 10 drives.
Luck can take off running and tear off chunks of yardage if he’s left alone in the open field. It’s not like the Colts are getting much help in the running game from Trent Richardson. Since being traded from Cleveland in September, Richardson has turned in a meager 272 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 96 carries in eight games.
It’s safe to say he is a non-factor in the offense, and it adds to Luck’s need to rally his team back late in the game. The best way to avoid Luck’s revenge is to get a three-possession lead and make it extremely tough to come back.
If Arizona can follow this game plan, the Cardinals should be on their way to 7-4.