Hope you like that title. My creative juices are flowing like the wind.
I have a few things I’d like to share about the Arizona Cardinals. I just did some film study on the Cardinals last two games (San Fransisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns). The Cardinals won both games in low-scoring fashion, 21-19 over the 49ers and 20-17 OT over the Browns.
The Browns and 49ers are very similar teams to the Bengals (inconsistent offenses and powerful defenses). QB John Skelton started in both games and led his team to a comeback victory each time. Both games were home for the Cardinals though. Now they have to head east on a short week, which really helps the Bengals. The 49ers and Browns made a lot of mistakes that the opportunistic Cardinals capitalized on, and the Bengals will definitely be the victors if they don’t make the same mistakes.
THE CARDINALS OFFENSE
In short, QB John Skelton can be inaccurate, and the run game is cold right now. They can hurt you with big plays though. In the 49ers game, they offense only put up points because of three big plays- a 60 yd TD reception by WR Early Doucet, a 46 yd TD reception by WR Larry Fitzgerald, and another 53 yd reception by Fitzgerald which set up the third TD. All three plays were catch and run plays. In the Browns game, a big punt return by Patrick Peterson and a 32-yard catch essentially won the game for the Cardinals in overtime. The Bengals must tackle well and not blow coverages, otherwise Skelton and Fitzgerald will make you pay.
Skelton is a big QB, 6’6″ and very Roethlisberger-esque. He can elude pressure very well to extend plays, which honestly seems to happen on every play. He can also run for a first down in similar Roehtlisberger fashion. He ran for 3 long first downs in the 49ers game, so the Bengals D-line must not let him slip past. DT Domata Peko will be crucial in limiting Skelton from running for positive yardage. Skelton tends to check down to the middle a lot. He almost never throws further than 30 yards down the field, which we see Andy Dalton do several times a game. 111 of his 191 attempts this season have been between the hashes. And, 80 of those have been less than 10 yards. All this means that the Bengals linebackers must cover very well this game, and we may see Thomas Howard or Rey Maualuga get 10+ tackles this game.
Beanie Wells is one of the biggest runningbacks in the NFL at 6’2″, 229 pounds. However, he’s been dealing with a nagging injury the past few weeks and has only 78 rushing yards in the past 2 games. The Bengals D-line and linebackers must tackle him well and as a group, otherwise Beanie can break off a huge day. Wells had a 228 yard game 4 weeks ago. I’m not too worried about Wells though. The biggest threat to me on offense is Larry Fitzgerald, the 3 time all-pro receiver. If Skelton extends the play and finds Fitzgerald in the middle of the field, watch out.
THE CARDINALS DEFENSE
This unit is the strength of the Cardinals team. They have vastly improved over the past few weeks, and are led by the strong safety play of Adrian Wilson and a relentless defensive line. Wilson is rated as the best safety in the NFL this year by Pro Football Focus. The other defensive playmakers are defensive end Calais Campbell, linebacker Daryl Washington, and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. These three are tackling machines, and Campbell and Dockett are very good at pressuring the quarterback. Campbell is a big man at 6’8″, 300 pounds and he already has three blocked field goals this year. He will be a huge test for RG Mike McGlynn, starting in his 3rd consecutive game after long-time starter Bobbie Williams went down for the year.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson is a bit of an enigma to me. The Bengals passed on him in the 2010 draft, taking AJ Green 4th overall instead and the Cardinals took Peterson immediately after. Word on the street was that Peterson apparently wasn’t having a very good season at cornerback, and his season PFF ratings are far below average for a conerback. However, he’s been graded positively over the past 3 games, and AZCardinals.com’s Darren Urban said that Peterson “struggled some at corner early on, but he’s played great out there for the last four weeks or so.” Some (including ESPN’s AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley) expect a huge mismatch between Peterson and AJ Green, but I don’t think that will be the case.
The linebackers and defensive line are the heart of this group. They were very stout defending the run against the 49ers, and they really stepped up against Peyton Hillis in the second half of the Browns game. Like the Bengals, the Cardinals make great second half adjustments, and that’s been key in their two come from behind victories the past two weeks.
Cedric Benson may have a decent first half this week, but I don’t expect a lot out of Benson overall, though the return of RT Andre Smith and FB Chris Pressley will definitely help. The Cardinals defense also covers fairly well, which means WR Andrew Hawkins and WR Ryan Whalen (both rookies) really have to step up this week as the team’s third and fourth receiving options. Whalen made his first NFL catch last week.
Jerome Simpson needs to have a strong day today too, as the Cardinals will probably double AJ Green all day. It will be most important for the Bengals to convert touchdowns instead of field goals when they get in scoring range. I think this was a huge focus in practice from Marvin Lewis this week after their poor offensive effort against the Rams last Sunday, so I’m not too worried about excessive field goals being an issue. In the end, I think the Bengals actually score touchdowns instead of field goals today, and that proves to be the difference in the end. Bengals win 24-20. WHO DEY!