After the disappointing loss to Minnesota in week 9, Arizona has fallen to 3-5. Realistically, it could be a lot worse. The team could be 1-7.
In week 1 against the Rams, a blocked field goal proved the difference in the game. In week 3 against the Raiders, the Cardinals won because Sebastian Janikowski couldn't get it done. The Cardinals have been blown out twice and the only team they really beat all the way through was a confuzzled Saints team that had lost its step for a moment.
The good news is that things are getting better. The team is committing less penalties, the quarterback play has improved and there is more of a commitment to the running game, even if it isn't working that well so far. The bad news is that Arizona's defense is just as bad as everyone remembers it. We're talking Clancy Pendergast bad. We're talking go up against a quarterback with injuries to his arm, ankle and chin who is also over 40 and let him get 400+ yards on you bad. As was the case in last year's playoffs, Arizona's D couldn't stop anybody and remains a group that relies on turnovers rather than stopping people.
With that in mind, I'm going to look at Arizona's week 10 matchup against the Seahawks. The Cardinals need to win the game but it's not guaranteed that they will. Here are three potential scenarios for what will happen in the division next week (excluding ties):
-Cardinals win, Rams lose. Everyone in the division is stuck at 4-5. I'm not sure who would lead the division then, but at least everyone would be even. This is the best case scenario.
-Cardinals win, Rams win. The Rams improve to 5-4 while the Cardinals improve to 4-5. The Seahawks are also 4-5.
-Cardinals lose, Rams win. The Rams are 5-4 as are the Seahawks. Arizona goes to 3-6 and is effectively eliminated from playoff contention (though not stastically).
It's safe to say that Arizona's entire season rides on its week 10 matchup at home against Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck will likely start this game given the ineffectiveness of Charlie Whitehurst against the Giants. Here are some of the things that I think the Cardinals need to do in order to win their week 10 matchup:
-Pressure Matt Hasselbeck early and often. Whoever gets the most sacks has a big advantage here. Don't forget that Hasselbeck is injury-prone. I don't often advocate taking a guy out, but his absence really hurts Seattle's chances.
-Arizona's offense line must play better. They can't give up sacks and they have to run block more. Arizona really doesn't have a noticeable fullback that much which can be a problem because they run it up the middle quite a bit. Arizona needs to try running it on the edge now and then to spread out the defense. One of the reasons the running game doesn't work is that all the running plays are called up the middle and so the box becomes stacked.
-Throw the ball to Early Doucet and Steve Breaston. These guys need to deliver at home. Larry Fitzgerald is such an obvious choice as a playmaker, but if the other guys can get involved as well, it will just be that much better. Anderson does have his flaws, but ideally you want the opposing defense to start thinking that they can't just use three guys to cover Fitzgerald every play.
-Convert on third down. But this really means getting gains on first and second down. Arizona usually has a bad third down conversion percentage, and as long as that remains the case, the opposing offense will get their chances. It's actually sound defensive strategy to convert often on third down when you have the ball.
-The defense has to make their stops. Interceptions and fumble recoveries are nice, but receivers can't be completely open. There is talent on the Seattle side of the ball, and these guys aren't pushovers anymore. The running duo of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett isn't all that scary, but there are playmakers for Seattle. Mike Williams is one of them. If receivers run free, it won't be good for anyone.
-Good play from the quarterback. Derek Anderson needs to play well and be consistent. His first half against the Vikings contained a really good two-minute drill. Hopefully he can build off that success and continue to go. Arizona's offense only scored one touchdown last week, and that's not going to get it done. Anderson needs to put it in the end zone three to four times.
-Win the turnover margin. Arizona did this in week 9, but still lost. That's not usual at all. Most teams that win the turnover battle win the game.
It sounds like a lot, right? But these are the fundamental kind of things that most winning teams do week in and week out. The phrase "defenses win championships" might be true, but the I believe in the phrase that goes "quarterbacks win division titles." The Cardinals have a chance to climb back into the hunt, and a lot of it will rest on Derek Anderson. Sustaining drives might be the most important thing that can happen in week 10.