At 1-5 the Cardinals season is all but done, with little hope left for the Arizona Cardinals to make it into the postseason the fans already have one eye on the 2012 season. However, that is not wired into a competitive football players mentality and the Cardinals would love for nothing more than coming out and getting their second win of the season over a top quality Baltimore Ravens team. The trip east makes this an even tougher proposition, as does the Ravens smarting after a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on national television. If the Cardinals want to come back west with a win, they will need to play smart football and win the key matchups.
1 - Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson vs Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Anybody who watched the Ravens take on the Jaguars on Monday Night Football saw the struggles the Ravens offense went through. Most of that can be attributed to the fact that the Jaguars would not let the Ravens receivers get any separation and Joe Flacco was unable to get them the football. The Cardinals will be throwing two very young players out at the corner spots, and with Anquan Boldin it is going to be very tough to win a physical battle, but that is what the Cardinals will need Jefferson and Peterson to do. Peterson is coming off a very successful game against the Steelers and Jefferson will be looking to bounce back after his worst showing so far in 2011. Get physical, do not allow the receivers to separate leaving Flacco nowhere to go with the ball.
2 - Rob Housler vs Tom Zbikowski. After four games in the 2011 season Rob Housler was hardly being heard from in Cardinals camp, but since the Todd Heap injury, he has been a big part of the Cardinals offense and his size and speed combination is going to be a handful for any defense to contain. At his best, stretching the seam, Rob Housler has become an accurate pass away from the endzone on more than one occasion, and it is an area the Cardinals should look to exploit more often. Zbikowski is not best-known for his ability in coverage and if Housler can get in behind him as he has against both the Vikings and the Steelers he could be finding himself in the endzone this week. Possibly of more importance, he may take some of the eyes away from Larry Fitzgerald.
3 - Calais Campbell vs Andre Gurode and Bryant McKinnie. Calais Campbell has been the Cardinals most successful pass rusher of late and is coming off a stellar performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is capable of knifing through the offensive line and putting pressure on the QB. He is also capable of shutting down the running game on his side of the field. If Campbell can get the upper hand against Gurode and McKinnie it could be a long day for both Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, which would go a long way to giving the Cardinals defense an upper hand in this contest.
4 - Levi Brown and Daryn Colledge vs Haloti Ngata. Brute Strength vs Brute Strength, Haloti Ngata is one of, if not the best, defensive linemen in the NFL right now and his strength is what allows him to play with such success. Levi Brown may not be nimble or that great in pass protection, but thus far in the NFL season no team has run the ball behind their left tackle a higher percentage of their carries than the Arizona Cardinals. If the Cardinals want to get any kind of traction in this game they need to get the ball moving on the ground, and Brown and Colledge off the left side are going to be huge catalysts in making it happen. It is going to be a long, hard slog. On paper this is a terribly lopsided battle, but if the Cardinals cannot at least get some headway in this game then they are digging an even bigger hole for themselves.
5 - Beanie Wells vs The Field. A sprained knee is the official word coming from the Cardinals camp and it is the second injury that Wells has suffered this season that threatens to take him out of a game. The most worrying part of this injury is that it is to the same knee that really hurt Wells for all of the 2010 season. There is a brightside, Wells was able to take part in Thursdays practice, albeit limited. Without Wells the Cardinals running attack is a bunch of misfits; spot player and undrafted free agents that the team cannot expect anything from. It is a balancing act, without Wells the Cardinals stand little chance of winning on the road against a very tough defensive unit, but playing him with an injury now could cost him the rest of the season, or worse, part of his 2012 season. If Wells takes some part in practice on Friday then watch for a game time decision. If he has a full practice then expect him to take to the field as a starter against the Ravens on Sunday.