This is the fifth installment of my 11-part playoff preview series. To read the others click on the appropriate one below:
Let me first start by saying that Saturday will be a great day to watch great quarterbacks play at a high level. Peyton Manning in the late game and Drew Brees squares off against Kurt Warner in the earlier game but the Cardinals have had a short week. They played the late Sunday game last weekend and they play the early Saturday game this weekend. I don’t think it will really have much of an impact on the game, but you never know. The real question here is can lighting strike the same place twice? The place being represented by the Arizona Cardinals and the lightning being represented by an unlikely playoff run. Bad analogy? Fine, but you get the idea. This is gonna be a high-powered, high-flyin’, high-energy game that you like to see in the playoffs. Both teams are pass-happy, and score a lot of points. The Cardinals beat the Packers in this very type of game last week. Again, can lightning strike twice?
If the Cardinals hope to pull off another win they’ll need to get at least a little bit more out of their defense than they did last week. They at least need to make sure the Saints aren’t able to jump out to an early lead. This may not be quite as impossible of a task as it seems on the surface. The Cardinals are 6-2 on the road and the Saints haven’t exactly played great football in the past month and a half, especially defending the pass. The New Orleans secondary repeatedly got abused by opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers near the end of this season and the Cardinals have one of the best receiving corps in the league. On top of that the Saints defensive end, Charles Grant is out for the rest of the season so their pass rush won’t be as effective.
However, the Saints defensive tackle, Sedrick Ellis will be healthy for this game and should help stop the run game. But even with Ellis back I don’t know how well the defense can be expected to play against the ground attack. This season they allowed an average of 4.5 yards per carry which is one of the worst in the league. This means that the Cardinals need to remember to stay balanced on offense because while they are a passing team, the running game will be extremely important and needs to be utilized, especially with Beanie Wells coming off a very impressive performance last week against t good run defense.
Defensively the Cardinals need to get after Drew Brees with their defensive ends. The Cardinals sacked Aaron Rodgers five times last week and they’ll need to get similar pressure again this week. The Saints have a good offensive line, but left tackle Jermon Bushrod is a glaring weakness. If Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett can get into the backfield and disrupt Brees’ rhythm then that will prevent the Saints from being able to use their spread package as much as they would like to. (As a side note, Bushrod vs Freeney is a huge reason I think the Colts would easily beat the Saints if they met in the Super Bowl).
The Saints need to not have turnovers, I know that’s an obvious statement but they really need to protect the ball if they want to win. The Cardinals forced three turnovers against Green Bay last week and the Packers are a team that protects the ball exceptionally well. The Cardinals like to try to force turnovers and special teams, and that is a phase of the game that the Cardinals definitely have an advantage in. The Saints also need to find ways to get Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson forced out into space on man coverage against either Jeremy Shockey or Reggie Bush. Bush should be used extensively in this game for two reasons. The first is because Pierre Thomas will likely be playing through a rib injury, which will make him more likely to fumble and also because Bush should cause personnel issues for the Cardinals defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints defense needs to make plays. Until the end of the season the Saints capitalized on defense and was an opportunistic group. They also need to keep the Cardinals out of the red zone as they are a very effective running team when they get near the goal line and they lead the league in red zone efficiency. Will Smith needs to get after Kurt Warner and the rest of the defensive line needs to step it up. Kurt Warner is 9-3 all-time in the playoffs. That is a disgustingly good win percentage for the post season. He is a future Hall of Famer who reads blitzes extremely well and executes properly against them also, but on the other hand if you don’t bring enough pressure he can sit in the pocket and tear up your defense that way. He only threw four incompletions last week and was sacked only once against the Packers.
The “under the radar” battle that I look to have the biggest impact on this game is the matchup between Jeremy Shockey and Adrian Wilson. If the Saints can scheme to get Wilson lined up in man coverage on Shockey and Shockey is able to make the most of it then this could be a vital point to the outcome of the game. I anticipate both quarterbacks throwing for 300 yards and at least a couple touchdowns, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they each have a pick as well. This will be a hard fought game and a much closer game than many people anticipate, but in the end…
Saints win 35-28.
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