Dear Cincinnati Bengals, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why, the Arizona Cardinals(and their improved defense) are coming to town. With two weeks remaining and playoffs hopes relying on two Cardinals wins and a little help, our Arizona Cardinals are in Cincinnati looking to deliver a lump of coal in the Bengals stockings. However, this won't be an easy task, as the Bengals are still fighting for their playoff lives with the New York Jets. In a game with serious playoff implications, both teams will be game planning to exploit any potential mismatches, as both teams seasons hang in the balance of this game.
Hit the jump for 5 keys to a Cardinals victory this Saturday1. Utilize Larod Stephens-Howling - Many Cardinals fans have clamored for Larod Stephens-Howling to be used more frequently and effectively in our offense. Last season, he provided value in kickoff returns but with the new rule, kicking the ball from the 35 instead of the 30, the Hyphen`s value in that role has been diminished. We have seen the offensive spark Larod can provide when given the ball in space, taking in two long touchdowns against the Steelers and Cowboys, and with his return space being limited on kickoffs, the Cardinals have to use Stephens-Howling effectively in their offensive schemes. So please, Whiz and Miller, give Larod the ball on something other than an inside run, and he can take it to the house.
2. Todd Heap and Rob Housler vs. Bengals LBs - Last week, we saw a healthy Todd Heap lead the Cardinals in both yards and receptions. This week, hopefully we can see an equally effective use of Heap as a safety blanket. With either quarterback at the helm(though, signs point to John Skelton getting the start), Heap is a very useful weapon, using his size to shield defenders from the ball and his strong hands to real in passes. Rob Housler, our third round pick out of Florida Atlantic, is a physical specimen who is the ideal tight end mismatch; to fast for linebackers to cover, to big for corners to cover. Housler has been able to find open space this year, and were it not for arrant throws, he would have three easy touchdowns. Look for him to find space again, and hopefully be delivered an accurate throw.
3. Patrick Peterson vs. A.J. Green - Yet again, Patrick Peterson is part of a key match up, this time against fellow first round draftee A.J. Green. In a battle of each teams wunderkind, Peterson will have to play one of his best games to slow down the dangerous Green. Green has been an absolute monster this year, becoming the Bengals most dynamic and consistent wide receiver option. Peterson, on the other hand, hasn't been as consistent in pass coverage this year, but has been progressing nicely as he adapts from the talent level in college to that of the NFL. Look for the Bengals to try to avoid matching Green up against Peterson and exploiting some of our lesser coverage options in A.J. Jefferson or Richard Marshall, because despite his struggles, Peterson is still our best cover cornerback.
4. Pressure - As with any game in the NFL, quarterback pressure is huge, but this game could be decided by sacks and the ability to avoid them. While the Bengals are currently fourth in the NFL in sacks with 39(the Cardinals are 12th with 36) it is their ability to avoid sacks that gives the Bengals an edge. Going into Saturday's game, the Bengals are third in the NFL in sacks allowed with 22, while the Cardinals are 31st with 47 sacks allowed. Much of the Bengals success can be attributed to their ability to stop opponent pressure and provide pressure of their own, and if the Cardinals want to leave Cincinnati with a victory, they will have to try to thwart that trend.
5. Big Bad Levi Brown - The past few weeks have been some of the best Levi Brown has played at left tackle in his career. He has held up very well in pass protection protecting both John Skelton and Kevin Kolb's blindside, and has done well in run blocking too. If Levi continues his recent trend of solid games, we should look to use him as a weapon, rather than the usual game plan of hiding Brown and giving him as much help as possible. Run behind and between the solid run blocking combination of Brown and Daryn Colledge and feel free to call pass plays to exploit the weaker DB unit of the Bengals, without worrying if Levi can hold his own in pass coverage. But, maybe these past few weeks have been an anomaly, and Levi reverts back to Big Bad Levi Brown on Saturday. All we can hope is that he doesn't, because his impact could be huge in keeping our playoff hopes alive.
There you have, five keys to victory on Christmas Eve against the Cincinnati Bengals. It will be tough, but if the Cardinals win these five match ups, they will have a very good chance at winning on Saturday. What do you think? Do you agree with these match ups? Do you have any other ideas for keys to a Cardinal victory? Let me know in the comments below