In most years, a game between the Colts and Cardinals wouldn't have many parallels and storylines. Sure there may be a player or two that have played for both teams (and there are a couple), but the tie between these two inter-conference foes isn't a common one. But it's a very good one, and will be talked about a lot before Sunday afternoon's meeting.
We all know that Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians was here in Indianapolis last season, and filled in admirably as the interim Head Coach while Chuck Pagano was kicking leukemia's ass, even winning Coach of the Year honors. While I think everyone selfishly wanted Arians to stay, we all understood why he jumped to take a Head Coaching spot in Arizona. As a coach with "many years of experience", this was most likely his last, and only, opportunity to reach the pinnacle of his profession, and you can't blame somebody for doing that.
How has he done in the desert? A lot better than the "experts" thought. Their season win total in Vegas was 5.5, and they've already beaten that after 10 games, sitting at 6-4, tied with the 49ers in the NFC West, and winners of three straight games. They were also the last team to beat the Panthers, back in early October. As you'll see in the numbers, the Defense is playing at an extremely high level, ranking 2nd in the NFL overall. What some people may have thought would be a cake-walk for the Colts before the season, isn't even close to that now.
The history between the two franchises involves four different cities, as they initially started Baltimore vs. St. Louis, then one game Indianapolis vs. St. Louis, then the Cardinals moved to Phoenix, and the two teams have met five times since then, with the Colts winning four of those five (including a Jim Sorgi win!). The last time the two teams met, in 2009, the Colts followed up their 15 minutes of Possession win over Miami on a Monday night with a beat-down of the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football 31-10, which included this picture of Pierre Garcon, who had his coming out party that night. Overall the Colts lead 8-6 in the series.
How do these teams match-up? Let's jump in and find out.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Cardinals:
|Orange Zone Eff||52.0%||21||51.7%||12||52.2%||20||53.1%||14|
|Avg Start Pos||30.2||15||26.6||4||32.8||5||29.3||15|
|3 and Outs||2.78||4||3.22||25||4.24||21||4.80||4|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.518||1||0.781||22||0.648||6||0.820||18|
Keys to the Game:
- I told you the Cardinals Defense was very good. They are tops in the league in Time of Possession per Drive and Yards per Drive. It will be a win for the Colts if they get two, possibly three long drives down the field. That'll be more than a lot of other teams.
- Turnovers will also be critical, as both the Colts Offense and Cardinals Defense are ranked 2nd in the NFL. I think I read they have seven different guys that have multiple interceptions / forced fumbles (one of which is former Colt Jerraud Powers), which is crazy to think about. The Colts cannot afford to turn the ball over. They'll have to play mistake-free to win.
- The first area the Colts need to focus on is on 3rd/4th down, which is an emphasis area of Coach Pagano. It's seemingly the only stat he brings up, but this week it will be critical, as the Cardinals are pretty mediocre to slightly below average. The Colts were close to 50% last week in Tennessee, and they'll be in good shape if they can do that again. Have to keep extending drives, and I'm thinking more than once it'll be with Andrew Luck's scrambling. Just a hunch.
- The other area where the Colts will have to have flawless execution is in the Red Zone, where the Cardinals rank 31st at 77%. Touchdowns must be scored by the Colts when they get down close. If we see a lot of Adam Vinatieri, it's not a good thing.
- Don't expect a lot of success running the football. Cardinals are excellent against the run. Use play-action, please.
- On the flip side the Colts Defense plays a much lesser opponent, one that actually ranks lower than them. It doesn't mean they can "go easy", as they've looked awful since the bye week.
- The biggest key for the Colts is they are getting Greg Toler back, whose absence the past three weeks has sent the Colts passing numbers from 4th in the NFL to 27th. To say there is a drop-off from Toler to Cassius Vaughn is a bit of an understatement. He'll be needed against a passing attack that has two very talented WRs in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, who had his best game as a pro last weekend in Jacksonville. Welcome back Greg. You're desperately needed.
- Third and Fourth Downs will also be key on this side of the ball, as the Cardinals are the 2nd worst team in the NFL. Pagano preaches about it, and his Defense needs to execute Sunday. Get them off the field, quickly, and give the Offense decent field position, as they can't be expected to go 80 yards each and every drive.
- Starting Field Position on this side of the ball is also very good for both teams, and that starts with Special Teams. Pat McAfee has been a stud all season, again, but he and the Colts are facing, in my opinion, the most dangerous punt returner in the NFL in Patrick Peterson. The Boomstick better be skying some punts to discourage any returns, because I'm fearful of a return TD (especially after seeing Tavon Austin do it two week ago).
As you can see by the numbers, these are two very evenly matched teams, where it'll be strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. These are the most fun games to watch, as it's all about who executes better, and we see who is for real and who isn't. While I think it's definitely possible the Colts go out there and win, I think the home-field advantage will be all of the three points that it normally is in the NFL, and that'll be the winning margin. If they played in Indy it'd be the Colts by 3, but playing in Arizona will be tough for the Colts to overcome. They are really good at home. Let's hope I'm wrong.
Cardinals 23, Colts 20