Week two sees the Arizona Cardinals take their first road trip of the season making the long haul flight to the nations capital Washington, home of the Redskins. The Redskins are on a high coming off a big victory over their divisional rivals the New York Giants and are energized by the play of Rex Grossman under center. Youth on defense is big for the Redskins and aggressive defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will look to bring the heat on Sunday against a QB starting his second game for his new team and an offensive line with well documented struggles at both tackle spots. It is shaping up as a great battle between two of the lessor NFC teams in 2010, both of whom will be clamoring for a 2-0 start, both teams will be up for hit, hit the jump to see five key matchups that will help to decide the winner of this game.
The Cardinals like to move Larry Fitzgerald around to find him favorable matchups when they can. Against Carolina Fitzgerald had a quiet day, but made two big time catches as soon as the coverage around him faltered. Being in bracket coverage with a CB in trail and a Safety over the top all day will limit even the best receivers, but it also opens up space for other receivers to work with. When game planning around Fitzgerald, you either need to trust your elite corner (of which the Redskins do not have one) or dedicate a safety to play over coverage on every down, with Laron Landry likely missing from the Skins lineup on Sunday we may see a lot more Fitz, or we are going to see a lot of room for the Cardinals Tight Ends and slot receivers to work with. I expect to see a lot more throws in the direction of Fitz and a lot more catches for number eleven, specifically in the redzone where Fitz is going to have a distinct size advantage over the Redskins CB's.
I am a proponent of the guards and center being the catalyst of everything that happens on offense; they spark the running game and allow a QB a clean pocket to step up into to make their throws. The Cardinals interior OL did a tremendous job against the Panthers both opening running lanes and keeping Kolb relatively clean. They face a more experienced unit on Sunday who will provide a tougher battle, but one the Cardinals should still win. Cofield is entering just his 2nd career game in the 34 defense, is not your prototypical nose and despite his obvious ability could be a weakness along the defensive front. Carriker is much improved from his days with the Rams and a much better fit in the 34, Stephen Bowen has come over from the Cowboys, both record a sack week 1 and will be looking to add to their totals. One to watch for is Chris Neild a rookie nose from West Virginia who had two sacks in his NFL debut., he is shaping up as the wildcard in this matchup. Establishing the ground game for the Cardinals will be imperative, if the interior OL cannot win the battle here it could lead to one dimensional playcalling and the Skins pass rushers pinning their ears back in pursuit of Kolb. The same matchup on the other side of the ball is going to be just as important for the Cardinals, shut down the running game and get pressure up the middle on Grossman.
3 - Rex Grossman vs Turnovers
Which Rex will we see, the one that showed up in Week 1 to play tremendous football and lead the Redskins past the Giants (the same one who showed up for half of the 2006 season when he made it to the Superbowl with the Bears) or are we going to see the Grossman who showed up for the other half of the 2006 season, including that Monday Night game when Rex threw four INT's. Rex and turnovers will always be interconnected as consistent inconsistency and ability to follow a 2 TD , 0 INT game with a 0 TD, 4 INT game then bounce back with a 3 TD 0 INT game all in the space of three weeks (See weeks 5-6-7 of 2006). Since his arrival in Washington Rex has been better (9 TD 4 INT, 87.1 QBR), but the turnovers are still there (4 INT's and 2 Fumbles in 4 starts). If the Cardinals defense can get into the face of Grossman early, get him throwing off the back foot and create turnovers it could be a long day at the office for Rex. Turnovers lead to short fields and points, not to mention that the Cardinals are 25-2 (including playoffs) over the past four seasons when they win the turnover battle.
London Fletcher might just be one of the most underrated players in the history of this great league, from his years of service to the Buffalo Bills followed by his move to Washington Fletcher has done nothing but produce, and he is an effective coverage backer, and his ability to limit Heap could also affect the first matchup on this list. If Heap can get open vs Fletcher and force the Skins to use one of OJ Atogwe or Reed Doughty to cover Heap it will limit the ability of the Redskins to roll bracket coverage over Larry Fitzgerald. If Heap can make plays and punish the defense it will force them to take some of the attention off Larry Fitzgerald and as soon as that happens it is time for #11 to shine.
The Redskins OL has struggled of late, including some struggles in the preseason, and it provides a golden opportunity for the Cardinals pass rush to kick into gear. If the Cardinals can get the upper hand in this battle and get to the QB early and often then it not only affords the youngsters in the Cardinals secondary a much easier day at the office, helps to win the field position battle and forces the Redskins into third and long situations. Third and long situations are ones that defensive players and coaches' alike love to see. It limits the offensive playbook and really opens up what the defense can do. Get the defense off the field, either via punts or turning the ball over, third and longs make their job nice and easy.
*note, underlined is who I expect to win the matchup.