18 Things to Watch for in the Colts/Cardinals Game
It's hard to come back from losing the Super Bowl
Last week, the Colts relied on a heavy dose of Manning and Clark to snake out a much needed win against the Dolphins. Now, as a reward they get to play the Cardinals on the road six days later. The game is in prime time so I know you'll all be watching. Here's what to look for:
1. Watch for exhaustion. Not only was the defense on the field for more than 45 minutes on Monday night, but they came out fairly banged up. Freeney, Brackett, Hayden, and Session joined Bob Sanders on the injury report. That's a lot of good players that are dinged. Against a good offensive team, the Colts will need their best guys healthy and playing big minutes in the Arizona heat. The defense won't be able to endure another long night.
2. Watch for cushion. In week one, rookie Jerraud Powers made several outstanding plays in tight coverage. In week two, both Colts corners (especially Tim Jennings) gave huge cushions to Ted Ginn and allowed lots of gimme completions on third and medium. With Powers expected to return to the lineup, pay attention to the cushion he gives Cardinals receivers, especially on third down.
3. Watch the statue. Kurt Warner is a fabulous player with many great attributes. He is not mobile in the pocket, however. Not only is he no Mike Vick, he's not even Manning mobile. He's been sacked three times this year, and took 26 last year. He is also a fumble machine playing against the two best fumble producing ends in the NFL. The Colts best chance to turn this game will be Freeney and Mathis creating turnovers. The Colts have forced just one turnover this year (Bethea's pick at the end of MNF). That has to change soon.
4. Watch for strength verses strength. The Cardinals are a superb passing team, and they feature the best receiving corps in football. The Colts lead the NFL in pass defense and are built to stop a team like Arizona. It should be an elite matchup as both teams seek to beat the other at the heart of their game.
5. Watch for big ratings. Not from the TV audience (though the Colts always pull down a nice number), but from the starting QBs. Manning and Warner rank 2 and 4 all time on the career passer rating standings. Warner has a 93.8 and Manning a 94.9. Those are historically big numbers, and the epic matchup should be fun.
6. Watch the dump off. Both QBs could rely heavily on their running backs to catch balls out of the backfield. Running back Tim Hightower is Kurt Warner's leading receiver through two games. With the Colts young WRs not catching many balls, Manning could end up tossing long handoffs to Addai and Brown. The teams whose backs respond the best could come out on top.
7. Watch for the debate. Indianapolis chose Donald Brown with the 27th pick of the draft. Arizona took Beanie Wells from Ohio State at 31. Fans will get a chance to see who got the better player Sunday night. Early on, Wells has 14 carries for 73 yards (5.2 YPC) and Brown has 15 for 59 (3.9 YPC) and a TD. That obviously doesn't tell the whole story, as Brown has 3 catches for 40 yards and Wells has none.
8. Watch my arch nemesis...Chris Collinsworth. To be fair, I've actually enjoyed him paired with Al Michaels this season. I know he's a darling of many because he actually watches tape (which is a plus), but his nasally voice and HORRIBLE commentary in the 2006 playoff game against Kansas City. I called him up and clowned him back in 1991 when he was doing sportstalk radio in Cincinnati. That call from a 15 year old shattered his will and left him weeping for days. Now he's back to torment me again...Who will survive? Turn in Sunday night to...never mind. Not even I can make listening to Collinsworth sound exciting.
9. Watch for neutral. As in...the running games will be stuck in neutral. Last year, the Colts and Cardinals were 31st and 32nd in running the ball. Both tried to fix the problem by drafting new running backs. It's worked so well that the Cardinals are now 25th and the Colts are 29th! Everyone knows that if a rushing attack sucks, it must be the RB's fault!
10. Watch the best WR in football. I'll field arguments that it's still Randy Moss (though who knows if he still has it), but Larry Fitzgerald clearly grabbed the title by the throat last year. His performance in the playoffs was virtually impossible. I've never seen a player take over games that often from the WR position, but man, he sure did. Did I mention that the Colts' top three corners and #1 safety are all dinged up? No? Crap.
11. Watch the third option. We know that Wayne/Clark is a devastating combo at WR/TE, but Indy has to develop a third option. Before the season began, we were all counting on Gonzo to step up and throw together a 1,000 yard season. He's down for two months, however, and Manning has to have someone else be open. Be it one of the other WRs or a TE, someone has to show and catch 5 or 6 passes in what promises to be a shoot out game.
12. Watch for tweaks. The Tampa-two is a great option against a team like the Cards, but Indy may struggle to run it on Sunday night. If Gary Brackett can't play, Freddy Keiaho has to step in. He struggled greatly in coverage last season. The Tampa-two depends on the MLB getting deep and taking away key routes. If Brackett doesn't play, the Colts may have no choice but come with more pressure to force quicker throws.
13. Watch for 80 yards. Neither the Colts nor the Cards have been very good at hitting that mark in recent games. The Cards have rushed for 80 yards in just 7 of their last 18 games (they are 6-1 when they do). The Colts also have just 80 yards or more on the ground in 7 of 18 games. They are 5-2 when rushing for that much. The team that manages a competent run game is likely to gain an edge (or at least be running out the clock at the end of the game).
14. Watch for touchdown passes. Indy may only have allowed 6 TD passes in their last 18 games, but both sides should expect to see plenty on Sunday. Kurt Warner has thrown 1.65 TDs a game. Manning has thrown 1.89 a game. The two have combined for 5 of the last 10 MVP awards, and battled down to the wire last year. The prime reason is that both men put the ball in the endzone.
15. Watch for a vanishing quirk. The way NFL schedules are constructed now, the longest one team can go without playing at a team from the other conference is 8 years. Because the cycle is the final year of the original cycle, the Colts are playing at Arizona. This marks the first trip by Indianapolis to Arizona since 1990. That kind of nearly 20 year gap between trips will never happen again, unless the NFL changes scheduling systems. The last time the Colts played in Arizona, they lost 20-17 with Jeff George as QB.
16. Watch for confusion. Last week Jimmy Johnson of the Fox pregame show proclaimed the Cardinals to be done. This week he'll proclaim them to be legit contenders in the NFC. Next week he'll call them the greatest team in the history of football. By November, they'll be "deader than the last man to cross me in public". That's why I don't watch Fox. Well, that and the mechanical scoreboard robot. What's up with that?
17. Watch the Cards D line. They are allowing just 2.5 YPC this season and just 56.5 YPG. They have also produced 8 sacks (2nd in the NFL). They stop the run, and get after the passer. It could be a tough night for the offense if the line can't figure out how block the Cards.
18. Watch for the step back. In a vacuum, I think Indy is the much better team. However, I've had this game marked as a loss for the Colts for months based solely on the difficulty of taking another cross country trip 6 days after playing in Miami. The defense is just a little too banged up in the secondary to feel strong about this game. Not all losses are bad losses and an out of conference setback shouldn't hurt the team in the long run. Cards 35 Colts 24. Demond likes a shoot out: Cards 40 Colts 34.