Browns vs. Cardinals: 6 Things We Learned in Cardinals' 20-17 Overtime Win

Cedric HopkinsContributor IDecember 18, 2011

Browns vs. Cardinals: 6 Things We Learned in Cardinals' 20-17 Overtime Win

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    In typical fashion, the Arizona Cardinals win another close game in overtime.

    The Cleveland Browns looked dominant in the first half, but after making some much-needed halftime adjustments, the Cardinals took control of the game in the second half.

    Quarterback John Skelton started off slow against the Browns at the University of Phoenix Stadium, but picked it up and led Arizona into overtime.

    Following another electrifying 32-yard punt return by Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals got workable field position at Cleveland's 40-yard-line. On a 3rd-and-6 from the Browns' 36-yard-line, Larry Fitzgerald hauled in a 32-yard pass to land the desert birds at the 4-yard-line. Jay Feely took it from there and made the 22-yard chip-shot to take Arizona to .500 on the season. 

    Be sure to take your high blood pressure medication before you follow along as I outline the keys to another exhilarating Arizona overtime win over the Browns.

Cardinals Defense Makes a Stand

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    The Cleveland Browns came into the game against the Arizona Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every category on offense. In the first half of the game, the Browns appeared more dominant than the Cardinals on both sides of the ball. 

    Prior to the Cardinals' touchdown at the end of the second quarter, Arizona had only one offensive snap in Browns' territory. The Browns had several long drives and wore down the normally dominant Cardinal defense. 

    The Cardinals needed halftime to regroup. And regroup they did. 

    Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton dialed up several exotic blitz packages that kept Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace off balance. 

    Arizona has forged itself into one of the strongest defenses in the league. Arizona's front seven kept Browns' running back Peyton Hillis to 3.8 yards per carry and kept the Cardinals in the playoff race.

Beanie Wells Makes Most of Limited Opportunities

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    In the first half of play, Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells ran for 22 yards on six carries. Wells was under used against the Cleveland Browns' 31st-ranked run defense in the first half. 

    In order for Wells to get into a rhythm, he needs to get the rock at least 12-15 times a half. Wells only averaged 3.4 yards per carry against the Browns. Perhaps, his knee is still bothering him more than the Cardinals have let on. After at least one carry, he appeared to favor his right knee.

    While the Cardinals did not utilize the punishing running often (Wells only received a total of 15 carries the entire game), they did use him effectively. 

    When the Cardinals found themselves on the 1-yard line, they turned to Wells, and he punched it in on his first attempt. Just last week, the Browns stonewalled Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall at the goal line on four consecutive attempts.

    Because of his ability to break any given run for a touchdown, Wells forces defenses to remain honest and always look for the run when he's in the game. 

    In the final two weeks of the season, Wells faces two tough run defenses in Cincinnati and Seattle

John Skelton Started Cold, Finishes Hot

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    For almost the entire first half of the game, Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton played flustered; he overthrew several passes, put the ball behind receivers and was not comfortable in the pocket.

    On the final drive of the first quarter, however, he settled down, took control over the Cardinals' two-minute offense and placed a touchdown strike to wide receiver Andre Roberts.

    Skelton continued his dominant play in the second half and led the Cardinals to a 20-17 overtime win. 

    On the game, Skelton went 28-for-46 and threw for 313 yards and a touchdown. Skelton also threw a pick, but that turnover could be attributed to wide receiver Early Doucet. Skelton's pass bounced off Doucet's chest and landed in Buster Skrine's arms. I think Skrine was as shocked as anyone that he caught the pick. 

    For the second straight week, Skelton has taken control over the Cardinals offense and played well. Even though Kolb will probably take the field when Arizona travels to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, the Cards have to relish in the thought that they have a capable backup quarterback. 

Patrick Peterson Was Iced by Browns' Kicker—Almost

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    That's Arizona Cardinals' punt returner Patrick Peterson in the picture to the left. He's still looking for a punt from Browns' punter Brad Maynard. 

    Maynard took Peterson and his record-breaking punt return abilities out of the game by kicking his punts out of bounds. A smart move by Maynard; there's no reason to give the league's best punt returner a chance to break one for a touchdown. Until overtime, that is.

    Special teams is a big part of Arizona's game. With teams learning to kick away from Peterson, the Cardinals lose a significant portion of their offense attack.

    After the Browns' first drive in overtime stalled, Maynard punted the ball to Peterson and gave him the opportunity to make a difference in the game—Peterson did just that. 

    Peterson took the punt 32 yards to the Cleveland's 40-yard-line. Peterson's return set up a 32-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald, and kicker Jay Feely took care of the rest. 

    It's remarkable that any punter will still kick the ball to Peterson. Maynard needs to have his contract renegotiated. 

Cardinals Need To Get Larry Fitzgerald in the Game

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    At the start of the fourth quarter, Larry Fitzgerald had a single catch for 10 yards. Unacceptable. 

    Fitzgerald is arguably the most explosive weapon on Arizona's offense. The coaching staff needs to focus on getting the ball in their playmaker's hands. And Fitzgerald is that guy.

    The fact that Fitz may be the victim of double-teams is no excuse. Other receivers (think Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson) routinely see double and triple-teams, and still, the coaches find a way to get them the rock. 

    While Fitzgerald was frozen out of the game during regulation, he came through with a 32-yard catch that set up the game-wining field goal. So while the Browns made the Pro Bowler irrelevant for four quarters, they couldn't stop him when it mattered. 

    After playing against the Browns, Fitzgerald has now played against every team in the NFL, excluding the Cardinals.

Arizona Remains Clutch

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    Early in the season, the Arizona Cardinals lost several games by less than a touchdown; they started the season 1-6. 

    Over the past seven weeks, the Cardinals have stood their early-season record on its head and won six of their last seven games. In order to have a 7-7 record, Arizona has had to remain clutch at key times of several games. 

    Whether it's a 99-yard punt return for a touchdown or the defense holding opposing offenses in overtime, the Cardinals have proven time and again that they are a clutch team. The pride that this Cardinals team plays with is unparalleled in the league right now.

    Sitting at .500 on the year, the Cardinals have scratched, clawed and climbed their way into the playoff conversation. They deserve every word.