The Arizona Cardinals are just over 24 hours from the most important game in franchise history. They're sixty football minutes from either advancing the Super Bowl or making off season vacation plans. Standing in their way are the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that embarrased them not quite two months ago, but the Cardinals will be in the comfy confines of University of Phoenix Staduim. Will that be enough to turn the tide? Only time will tell, but here's what the Cardinals must do to emerge with a victory and head to Super Sunday?
Protect the Ball: At the end of the first quarter in the Thanksgiving Day game, the Cardinals offense had more turnovers than first downs and they got into a quick hole, from which they could never recover. By the end of the game, the Cardinals had turned the ball over four times, resulting in 14 Eagles points, and they lost by 28 points. Kurt Warner and the offense will have to protect the ball and not put the defense in bad situations.
Keep the Crowd in the Game: Keeping the crowd in the game and staying loud will require the Cardinals getting off to a fast start. They need to put points on the board or keep the Eagles out of the end zone (or preferably they could do both). University of Phoenix Stadium is a tough place to play but if the Eagles can neutralize the crowd, they could level the playing field. I wouldn't be surprised to see a bomb to Fitzgerald very early in the game to try and energize the team and the crowd.
- Play solid special teams: In a game of two relatively evenly matched teams field position is ultra-important and the Cardinals can not afford to give up a long punt or kick return. DeSean Jackson returned a punt for a score during the regular season and he had a 62 yard return against the Vikings. Quintin Demps is a rookie whose been explosive on kick returns and he's returned a kick for a touchdown during the regular season and had a 46 yarder in the playoffs. The coverage units must play disciplined and tackle well or these rookies can really hurt them. The Cardinals also need a solid game from Ben Graham.
I can't shake the feeling that this game will come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes as opposed to the team with the biggest plays. The Cardinals and Eagles are relatively evenly matched and one or two bad plays could spell disaster for either team. What else do the Cardinals have to do to emerge victorious?