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Know Your Foe: The Arizona Cardinals

BY PAUL GALLANT, SportsRadio 610
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(Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The last seven weeks have been a complete and unmitigated disaster for the Houston Texans. With embarrassing blowout losses, second half meltdowns, and a head coach rushed to the hospital at halftime, pretty much everything has gone wrong.

But based off of the schedule ahead, things should get better (even though that was the sentiment heading into the Rams game). Going into the season, the following three game stretch:

11-17 – Texans @ Cardinals
11-24 – Raiders @ Texans
12-1 – Jaguars @ Texans

…had “Cupcake Buffet” written all over it. For the most part, it still does. The Raiders have Terrelle Pryor, and not much else. The Jaguars? Should be in Los Angeles the Arena League.

But the Cardinals? They’re actually competitive. And are coming off of a bye week. Here’s what you need to know about ‘Zona.

You Know How Keenum Has Been Making Big Plays?

That might change this Sunday. Arizona is tied for the second most interceptions in the NFL (12) with 4 other teams. Cornerback Patrick Peterson (3 interceptions, ranked 13th among defensive backs according to Pro Football Focus) headlines that group. Across from Peterson is corner Jerraud Powers, who is coming off a trainwreck game against the Falcons (-4.7 rating). Assuming Peterson mans up on Andre all game, maybe this is the game DeAndre Hopkins breaks out.

Yeremiah Bell is the Cardinals strong safety, while rookie Tyrann Mathieu plays free. Mathieu is an aggressive play-maker, both from a coverage AND tackling standpoint (he’s second on the team with 46 take downs). With that in mind, the Texans theoretically could use that aggression against him. Since Case Keenum has gone under center, he’s made the majority of his plays off the bootleg. If I’m Rick Dennison I run tons of them Sunday, hoping Mathieu bites once or twice and opens things up for a long bomb.

When Keenum drops back, he’ll have to be wary of middle linebacker Daryl Washington, who is a great blitzer and even better when he drops into coverage. Washington’s starting partner Karlos Dansby also does a good job getting to the passer. And while veteran pass rusher John Abraham (who is dealing with a shoulder injury) isn’t quite what he used to be, you can’t afford to ignore him.

Benjamin Needs To Drinks His Milk

Assuming Arian Foster is out and Ben Tate’s cracked ribs are still tender, it could be a very long day for the Texans running the ball. The Cardinals’ front seven is extremely physical and vastly underrated. It’s led by left defensive end Calais Campbell (ranked 9th among all 3-4 DEs with an 11.4 ranking on PFF), who’s particularly stout against the run. Middle Linebacker Jasper Brinkley (who doesn’t start) is even better, ranked second against the run among all inside linebackers by PFF (including 4-3 ones). Right outside backer Matt Shaughnessy and nose tackle Dan Williams also have high rankings against the run.

Who’s That Guy?

Two weeks ago, Arizona found the blueprint for offensive success. Hand the ball off to 6th round rookie Andre Ellington. Ellington isn’t very big (5’9, 199 lbs) but he makes up for it with shiftiness, great acceleration, and open field speed. And he showed that ability off with 15 carries for 154 yards and an 80 yard score against the Falcons defense (which to be fair, is exceptionally bad against the run).

The good news for the Texans? Speedy backs like Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles didn’t DOMINATE the Texans. But they had some success. And they faced a defense WITH a healthy Brian Cushing. Without Brian, the possibility for a big game is certainly there.

Miss Seeing Takeaways?

You could see plenty Sunday. Why? Because Carson Palmer – like most USC grad quarterbacks – STINKS. He’s second in the NFL with 14 interceptions…largely because the Cardinals finally realized that passing the ball with this guy under center is a horrendous idea.

On top of Palmer’s inadequacies, Arizona’s offensive line are the worst pass protectors in the NFL. It’s not even close. Pro Football Focus ranks their hogs as such:

LT – Bradley Sowell – (-15.7 pass protection rating, 74th among 76 tackles)
RG – Paul Fanaika – (-10.1 pass protection rating, 67th among 72 guards)
RT – Eric Winston – (-6.6 pass protection rating, 63rd among all tackles)

Center Lyle Sendlein isn’t awful, but that has more to do with left guard Daryn Colledge (6.5 pass protection rating, 4th among guards) than anything else.

Even if the Cardinals O-Line does protect, Palmer simply doesn’t have enough help. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (36 catches, 470 yards, 5 TDs) hasn’t been the same player over the past year and a half. His name alone though commands respect. The two weeks of rest did him well, seeing he was finally taken off the Cardinals injury report this week (he’d been battling a hamstring injury). Michael Floyd (34 catches, 433 yards, 2 TDs) lines up across from Fitzgerald. After that? Not a whole lot to work with…unless you check down to Ellington (22 catches, 198 yards, 1 TD).

It’s easy to understand why the Cardinals have shied away from the pass of late. With that in mind, an early multi-score lead for the Texans would do them wonders. J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith against that line? Sounds like a thanksgiving feast.

Predictions

The Texans have been plagued by a litany of issues the past six weeks. But I think that they end Sunday in Arizona (at least temporarily) against a Cardinals team that is offensively limited and turnover prone. Texans 27 – Cardinals 20.

Get in contact with Paul Gallant on Twitter – @PaulyGRadio – or on Facebook – Paul Gallant.

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