This weekend, the Cardinals will play on Sunday night football for the first time in franchise history. That means the national spotlight will be on the Cardinals, and as will the pressure. The team felt it when they lost their home opener to the 49ers in week one. Now they return to University of Phoenix stadium hoping to quiet the critics. There's no doubt that it will be an offensive battle, but what's the most important keys to the game? Let's take a look:
Cardinals offensive tackles vs Colts defensive ends. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis could undoubtedly be the fasted defensive ends in the NFL right now. However, they were completely gassed last week by the Dolphins time of possession, and that took them out of their zone. Pennington was sacked twice, but overall he was protected well all night. He was also able to complete 66% of his passes. This week, added assistance will be a need for tackle Levi Brown(If he's healthy enough) and Mike Gandy. Tight end help is the first thing that comes to mind. Chips from the running backs also help and buy the quarterback time. The offense may also need to run some screen plays or draws to counter the Colts pass rush.
Ball Security, Beanie. It's likely that the Cardinals will want to establish the run early, considering the fact that the Colts have the 30th ranked run defense. The success of the Dolphins on the ground last Monday will be a tempting factor for Ken Whisenhunt, so you can expect that Beanie Wells will get a significant amount of carries. Last week he put two footballs on the ground, which thankfully didn't cause the Cardinals the game. Adrian Wilson put a bounty on Well's head, declaring that they'd give him grief all week and that he'd keep the ball at his side much of the time as well. Wells can't cough the ball up on Sunday if the Cardinals stand a chance to win.
Limit Peyton Manning. And when I say limit, take it lightly. The Cardinals won't stop Peyton, and if they do I'll start thinking much differently about our defense. They can however, limit his production. Whether it be the amount of touchdowns or yards he throws, it needs to happen for the Cardinals to win the game. Peyton is a mastermind at predicting the defenses blitzes, so the Cardinals will need to disguise them and bring exotic looks to the line. He also plays less then stellar against 3-4 schemes, so the more the Cardinals can exploit that, the better. The last point of emphasis is generating a pass rush with a four man front. The Cardinals need to do exactly what the 49ers defensive line threw at us in week one, in order to get pressure on Manning, but keep enough men in the secondary.
Keep the Offense in Sync. The offense finally found what it had been looking for through the preseason and week one: chemistry. The Cardinals looked poised, accurate, and on time with their plays last week, and one can only hope that it carries over to this Sunday. Call it being healthy, or more disciplined in practice, but something made this team drastically change from week one. Steve Breaston returned from his knee injury, only to lead the team in receiving yards last week. Breaston's presence is important to the offense, as fellow wide outs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, are regularly double-teamed.
Honorable mentions: Limit turnovers, Karlos Dansby vs Dallas Clark, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Reggie Wayne, decrease penalties
If the Cardinals win at least three of these keys, I''d give them a stronger chance to win this game. They'll need their best game plan against Manning, and will need to play mistake free. What are your keys to the game? Which do you think are the most important?