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Halo 01-14-2010 02:51 PM

5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
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As Saturday aproaches and it becomes almost time for the Arizona Cardinals to come to town for their Divisional Round playoff game with your New Orleans Saints; it's becoming bit more tense all over the place.
Offices downtown and uptown are becoming all abuzz with water cooler chatter as people think of what the Saints need to do in order to win.
Fast food establishments in Metairie are filled with conversation as to how Drew Brees needs to pass the ball or how Darren Sharper should defend downfield.


Bars in the French Quarter are becoming plastered with black and gold decorations as patrons discuss how Kurt Warner can officially be stopped.
Well the buzz for the NFL playoffs is alive and well here at Examiner.com and it seemed only appropriate that myself and Scott Jones, the Arizona Cardinals' Examiner, had a little discussion as to how exactly our teams can pull off the victory this weekend. My column today will consist of Scott's 5 things that the Saints need to watch for when playing the Cardinals.


Be sure to check out his side as well for my 5 things to watch for when playing your New Orleans Saints.


1) A balanced offensive approach:
Sure Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald are setting post-season records on a regular basis (see Warner's assault and Fitzgerald's 9 TDs in 5 games) . But, the real key to their victory against Green Bay was that they were far from one-dimensional. Beanie Wells continues to blossom for the Cardinals rushing for 91 of the team's 156 yards on the ground against the Packers. Wells was a steal in last Spring's draft - the Cardinals took him with the 31st pick. The goal by Ken Whisenhunt and his staff was to develop a power running game in order to run time off the clock after the team built a lead.

Obviously, that strategy didn't go according to plan last Sunday. But, the team IS making strides. The tandem of Wells and Tim Hightower (who scored the Cardinals only rushing TD against the Packers) has the potential to be the Cardinal's version of "thunder and lightning". But for this to be effective, the team can't be in a track meet - something that is entirely possible when facing the potent New Orleans Saints.

A key indicator - if Beanie Wells can get to the 100 yard rushing plateau, I like the Cardinals' chances. It means the team is controlling the offensive flow and is not forced into passing every down - although Kurt Warner's the player you'd want if that situation occurs.


2) More pressure on the quarterback:
It's interesting that last Sunday, the Cardinals defense opened the game by causing a turnover and ended the game by causing a turnover. It's what happened in between that has to have Arizona's coaching staff concerned.

Cardinals fans marveled (some cursed) Aaron Rodgers for his ability to pick apart the Arizona secondary and put 45 points on the board . Savvy fans know this is because the Cardinals didn't put up enough of a rush. In fairness, the team did sack Rodgers 5 times (two by Bertrand Berry and another by Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett). But the Packers budding star was able to connect on big play after big play - including a pair of key fourth down conversions. His 422 yard passing performance was the most against the Cardinals since Tim Rattay of the 49ers had 417 back in 2004.

Dockett (named to the Pro Bowl last month) and Calais Campbell play a key role in the Cardinals pass rush. Campbell's coming off a late-season injury but played well against Green Bay. Dockett is motivated and has four sacks in his last two post-season games (including a record three in last year's Super Bowl against the Steelers).

A key indicator: If the Cardinals can get early and consistent pressure on Drew Brees, the Cardinals' secondary can respond and match up well with the Saints receivers. If not, last Sunday's offensive fireworks could serve as a preview.


3) Win the turnover battle:
When linebacker Karlos Dansby leaped across the goal-line to end last Sunday's game, he proved a point that Ken Whisenhunt has been teaching his players since he arrived three seasons ago - win the turnover battle and win the game. Against the Packers, the Cardinals were +2 (two fumbles and an interception vs. one fumble lost). Ironically, Dansby played a part in all three Cardinal take-aways. He tipped a Rodgers pass on the game's first play that was intercepted by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. On the Packers next series, he stripped Donald Driver of the ball and the Cards recovered and he grabbed the fumble caused by Michael Adams and scored on the final play of the game.

After forcing three turnovers against Green Bay, the Cardinals have now forced 16 turnovers (10 INTs, 6 fumbles) in five postseason contests under Whisenhunt. In those five games, the Cardinals have committed just six turnovers, giving them a plus-10 turnover ratio in the postseason.

After finishing the Wild Card contest with a plus-two turnover margin, the Cardinals are 22-1 when winning the turnover battle under Whisenhunt. The Cardinals are 2-19 overall when losing the turnover battle and 7-2 when breaking even. In week 12 in Tennessee,
Arizona lost for the first time under head Whisenhunt when winning the turnover battle.

A key indicator: If the Cardinals protect the ball and get a few bounces, expect a very competitive game.


4) Keep Anquan Boldin on the Bench: True, "Q" is one of the most popular Cardinals ever. He's a three-time Pro Bowler and is the perfect complement to Larry Fitzgerald. But incredibly, the Cardinals are 6-1 in games where he doesn't play. In fact, Fitzgerald has an off-the-charts 43 catches for 733 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last week, he had two of the team's five TD grabs.

But while Darren Sharper and the rest of the Saints defensive backfield will be watching every move Fitzgerald makes, it would be wise to keep an eye on Steve Breaston and LSU alum Early Doucet (see Breaston and Doucet step up). Last Sunday, Breaston and Doucet combined for 13 catches, 202 yards and three scores - in RELIEF of Boldin.

Kurt Warner is one of the most efficient playoff quarterbacks in history. His experience and ability to read the defenses quickly usually means a completion. Against the Saints, expect him to connect with an interesting mix of Fitzgerald, Breaston/Doucet and even Hightower and Wells coming out of the backfield.

5) Keep their momentum:
Last season, the Cardinals battle cry in the playoffs was "shock the world" and they just about did. Few could have imagined the words Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl in the same sentence (as Kurt Warner mentioned in his post NFC Championship press conference). Now, after one of the most thrilling post-season games in history, can the Cardinals continue? Most pundits didn't have them beating the Packers (or course they were also underdogs in ALL of their playoff games last season). The extra game can help keep the team sharp.

The Saints are rested and ready. However, I'm not sure this is such an advantage. Arizona played last weekend and is primed for another shoot-out (although most team insiders would hope it's not). The question is, will another "track meet" fall in the Cardinals favor or the Saints. The Cardinals are impressive when the team scores 30 or more points. In fact, in 23 games where the team scores at least 30, they have a 21-2 record including wins in the last 15.

Prediction:
Kurt Warner is the key to the Cardinals. As this future Hall-of-Famer goes, so goes the team. Conversely, the same can be said of Drew Brees and the Saints. Brees has certainly put up MVP-type numbers in 2009 and had the Saints primed for an undefeated season. But I'll take playoff experience any day -

Cardinals 31
Saints 28


It appears as if Scott and I have differences in opinions, but that is to be expected. Only time will tell what keys were watched and which final prediction comes true. In just about two days it will be game time and nothing will be left out on the field as the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints both look to get one step closer to Super Bowl XLIV.


LINKBACK: 5 Things to watch for from the Arizona Cardinals


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strato 01-14-2010 02:57 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Wrong..the score should be
Saints 37
Cards 17

exile 01-14-2010 02:59 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
PFT no like the Saints either. Is there enough crow in the world to feed these people come Saturday?

PFT?s Picks: Sorry, Saints ? you?re weekend?s lone upset - NFL- nbcsports.msnbc.com

Danny Cox 01-14-2010 03:25 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Well that's the score coming from an Arizona Cardinals' reporter.

Mine is over on his site here.

Of course I have the Saints winning but not by as much of a margin as I did early on in the week. I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

Rugby Saint II 01-14-2010 03:48 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Ain't skeered.:awe:

D_it_up 01-14-2010 05:31 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Mark Schlereth just picked the Saints to win this one....although it looked like someone was kicking him in the balls while saying it. It pained him that much.

CantonLegend 01-14-2010 05:36 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
people are so caught up in the argument about rest

rest doesnt make professional football players rusty

they are healthy.....its not about being rusty....its about being healthy

game speed only matters for 60 minutes.....in an entire week

the saints have only been robbed of 120 minutes of real actual football in a 19 week schedule so far

they have practiced just as much, they have won more games than any other team in the league besides the colts while also leading the league in players on IR

people forget how dangerous we are......and all the bandwagon fans will be back after we shoot the cardinals out of the air

Danny Cox 01-14-2010 06:26 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Rest...we had it at the end of the preseason and then came out to win the first four games.

Rest...we had it for a bye week and then came out beat the Giants' ass on the way to winning the first 13 games.

Rest...we had it and now all the injuries that have plagued the Saints are about 95% gone.

Rest...rest is good.

G504 01-14-2010 08:38 PM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Cardinal "defense" couldn't stop the Packers from scoring 45, and this guy thinks they'll hold Brees and company under 30? They were heralded for their defense in last year's playoff run, but in light of what happened to the Panthers & Eagles this year, that doesn't seem so incredible any more. Two more days. I can't wait!

homerj07 01-15-2010 10:26 AM

Re: 5 Things To Watch For From The Arizona Cardinals
 
Is our O-line better than GB's?? I know early on in the season they had a LOT of problems.

If our line can give Drew the time he needs & If our healed up "D" can hold them to just a few big plays we win this!!


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