The last time the Indianapolis Colts ventured down to Wyatt Earp country was way back in the day when George W. Bush's father was president, Jeff George had upside, and Macaulay Culkin was beating out the late-Patrick Swayze in the box office wars. Yep, 1990 was when the Colts last played the Arizona Cardinals in the state of Arizona. They were called the Phoenix Cardinals back then, and their bird logo was much less "ferocious" than it is now.
Aside from changing their logo, getting a beautiful new stadium, and inviting the entire state of Arizona to be the "home" of their team (as opposed to just Phoenix), what the Cardinals have managed to do recently is become relevant. For much of their existence in the desert (after moving from St. Louis back in 1988), they were the doormat of both the NFC East (the old division) and the NFC West (their current, geographically correct one). But, with a rejuvenated quarterback in Kurt Warner, a smart head coach, and arguably the most under-rated safety in football (Adrian Wilson), the Cards are no longer an easy team to laugh off and dismiss on your team's schedule.
As we work to do every week, we'll breakdown match-ups and bring in some insight from opposing team's fans for the game. Unlike last week's contest, which featured the Miami Dolphins trying to keep Peyton Manning off the field, the Cardinals will likely attempt to utilize their potent offense to score points early, allowing their pass rushers to tee-off on Manning in order to throw off his timing.
For the Colts, the task of attacking the Cardinals offense poses more problems than anything the "Wild Cat" threw throw at Indy Monday night.
Pretty much from here on out, the Colts defense against the run is going to be a key going into any game. A club cannot give up over 200 rushing yards and expect future opponents to ignore that. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer was brought in specifically to improve the run defense and get the Colts defenders off the field on the third down. He was successful in Week One against the woeful Jaguars. In Week Two, he failed utterly and completely. With the Cardinals this week, Larry Coyer must rebuild his reputation with fans, who are now skeptical that his addition to the club changed anything from the defense we all suffered through last year.
To attack the Cardinals, a defense must attack Kurt Warner. His story is amazing and inspiring, and while he can often be deadly accurate with the football, the fact is the man is a walking turnover waiting to happen. He is horrible at protecting the football both in how he receives the snap and how he holds the ball in the pocket. Also, his decision making is sometimes suspect. Many bash Brett Favre for his "gunslinger" mentality. Warner is just as bad. Look no further than the Super Bowl to witness Warner throwing a bad, game-killing INT at a crucial moment. And even though Warner has played in this league for many years, he has never had to face Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. He last faced the Colts in 2001, the year before they drafted Freeney and two years before they drafted Robert Mathis.
If you read what Cardinals fans are writing about the game, the match-up of Freeney and Mathis with Zona's offensive line is not one that seems to favor the red birds:
Bezekira: I shutter to think what Freeney and that wicked spin move would do to [Mike] Gandy or God-forbid [Levi] Brown if we try to leave those guys on an island. I sure hope that Whiz sticks a TE over there or leaves a back in to chip him because he’ll absolutely kill Warner if it’s a one on one situation.
On offense, the Colts must continue to improve running the ball. Indy averaged 5.5 yards a carry against the Dolphins, but that was only on 11 carries. The Cardinals sport a tough run D, which is allowing only 56.5 yards per game. Despite this stout run defense, the Colts must get Joseph Addai and Donald Brown going. They must sustain a few long drives and give their defense some rest. Indy must use the run to set-up the pass, which matches up well with Zona's seemingly mediocre pass defense.
The conventional thought is that this game will be a "shoot out." For me, that's unlikely. Any team trying to win a shootout with the Colts will lose, even an opponent sporting talented WRs like Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. The Colts offense is too efficient and too well-coached. They rarely make mistakes, and if teams are trying to throw on Indy, they are playing to Indy's strength. Indy sports (arguably) the best secondary in football, and their pass rushers can generate pressure with just the front four.
My feeling is Arizona will try to run the ball more. They like Beanie Wells (even though they likely would have drafted Donald Brown ahead of him if Indy hadn't snatched him up) and Tim Hightower, and will look to use Indy's run defense to get their running game going. The Colts must counter this by simply playing better. There are no more excuses with this run defense. Players like Ed Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir, and Eric Foster are a talented bunch. Safeties Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea are excellent. So, the issues are not "size" or "talent" or anything like that. The key to Indy's run defense is the interior players must start dominating. We know they can. They know they can. Now, we need to see them do it. The Cardinals sported the worst rushing attack in the league last year. This year, after two weeks, they are still hovering near the bottom.
This is a match-up the Colts should take advantage of.
They are capable to controlling Arizona's running game, and if the Cards get behind and start throwing it more than they want to, that favors Indy and the Freeney Express.
Out for the game are Anthony Gonzalez and Bob Sanders. Likely out is Gary Brackett, who is day-to-day with a sore knee. Freddy Keiaho (ugh!) will probably start at MIKE. Kelvin Hayden said he expected to play, but he was held out of Thursday's practice with a sore hamstring. If Hayden and Jerraud Powers play, it makes me feel better about covering Arizona's deadly receivers. However, if one or both are hurt, it means more Tim Jennings. Double ugh! However, it seems likely that one or both of the Powers and Hayden combo will play, which is very good news.
As always, the fine work at Revenge Of The Birds (who sport the best blog logo in the network, btw) makes the lead-up to this exciting game all the more enjoyable. Check out Hawkwind interviwing me prior to the game along with shake n bake answering questions from Cardinals fans.