We looked at the first four match-ups yesterday and Skin Patrol of Hogs Haven and myself are back today to wrap it up and get you ready for Sunday's game between the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins. It'll be an early kickoff for all of those out in the desert so set you alarm clocks and put that first glass of Kool-Aid on the night stand.
Hogs Haven: Advantage: Redskins - Cardinals are near the bottom of the league in both traditional and DVOA rushing statistics, so I don't view this as much of a problem. The Redskins run defense has been merely average, but that should be enough to keep this game from turning on the strength of the Cards running game. One thing to watch and hope for is a stubborn insistence by the Cardinals to run the ball even if they aren't getting very much production out of that. Every play that this team isn't passing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin is a victory for the Redskins defense.
CG: Advantage: Redskins - The Cardinals rushing attack hasn't been very encouraging through two games and it'll be interesting to see what their game plan is heading into this game. Against the Niners, the plan was to grind out yards on the ground and eat up the clock, but against Dolphins they went to the air early and often. They didn't have a very good average (2.7 ypc) in either game, but Ken Whisenhunt is trying to establish a reliable ground game so I don't see them giving up on it anytime soon. I'd still expect them to run 30-35 times on Sunday but it'll probably end up being quantity over quality.
Match-up #6: Cardinals defensive front 7 vs. Redskins OL (rushing)
Hogs Haven: Advantage: Cardinals - Arizona and Washington are about equal in running defense vs. running offense production so far (Redskins have about as many YPC as the Arizona has given up). But that's not the whole story, as DVOA reveals the Cardinals as a top 10 rushing defense. Lest you say "Well who have they played," DVOA adjusts for opponents. Which tells me that, despite giving up 4.1 YPC, a lot of those 4+ yard rushes were on X and long where the opposing team needed more yards to meaningfully advance the ball. I'm of the opinion that whether the 'Skins run the ball will have less to do with the offensive line (same as it ever was) and more to do with Jason Campbell, as he's the one who has been inconsistent thus far this year. If he gives Arizona cause to fear the pass, Portis and Betts will have much fewer defensive players in the box to account for.
CG: Advantage: Cardinals - This could be one of the more critical match-ups of the game because the Redskins need to be able to run the ball to take pressure off of Jason Campbell. The Cardinals have been decent at stopping the run and they're getting better as Alan Branch (will play) and Gabe Watson (probably won't) get healthy. The Niners were able to move the ball on the ground because both players were out and third string nose tackle, Bryan Robinson had to play most of the game. The Dolphins saw a much tougher front wall last week when Alan Branch returned to the lineup and he's much closer to 100% this week. The Redskins may run the ball on Sunday but it'll be for around 3.0 yards per carry.
Match-up #7: Cardinals return team vs. Redskins return coverage
Hogs Haven: Advantage: Redskins - Some explanation is required since the Redskins punt unit has been horrid. Our kick unit has been pretty good, though, which matches up well against a Cardinals kickoff return unit that hasn't done much so far. Arizona's average kickoff has been way down and, incredibly, Shaun Suisham is currently a better kicker offer than Neil Rackers (that won't last the remainder of the season but, wow, how does Suisham have as many touch backs as Rackers?). I'm not worried about kickoffs. Punting is another matter. Durant Brooks has been horrid and I'm willing to blame him more than our actual coverage unit for the ills of our season so far. Having said that, I simply refuse to believe that the best punter in CFB somehow forgets how to play the game after reaching the NFL. Whatever ills Brooks right now is mental, and I have confidence that he'll get his game back. This is a true test, as Arizona has been very good returning punts with an 11.7 average, despite having a long of just 17. This is, right now, the most consistent punt return unit in the league. Brooks needs to kick the living hell out of the football.
CG: Advantage: Push - The Skins have been pretty decent at limiting opposing kick returners (18.7 avg) but they did allow a Reggie Bush to take a punt to the house last week. Steve Breaston is a really good punt returner (11.7) but a sub-par kick returner (16.5 avg) so the match-up should be pretty interesting. The Cardinals committed a couple of penalties on punt returns last week and they'll have to avoid a repeat performance in that area. Breaston does have the speed to expliot a poor punt or bad coverage though and the Cardinals could put in something special after seeing Bush's return last week.
Hogs Haven: Advantage: Redskins - Similar to above, this one requires 1/2 explanation, because we're great in one area and dismal in another. The good news is that our kickoff return is phenomenal, as Rock Cartwright is one of the most consistent and underrated return men in the league. Neil Rackers, as stated above, is really playing below his ability with just a 25% TB percentage, lower than even limp legged Shaun Suisham. The Redskins have a top 5 return unit (per DVOA) and Cartwright has as many 20+ returns as any player in the league. So long as Neil Rackers continues to forget who he is, we will be in great shape in the return game. The bad news is our punt return unit, which sucks because Antwaan Randle El simply isn't very good at returning punts. He's great at dancing. If dancing were a talent, if juking two tacklers but advancing the ball 0 to -3 yards in the process were a rewarded skill in the NFL, he'd be a star punt returner. The maybe good news is that murmurs have continued to reach print this week (they started in the off season) that the team may be ready to give Santana Moss a chance to return punts, which he did in College to great effect I believe. As he is the most dangerous player we have in space, replacing Antwaan Randle El for Santana Moss in the return game instantly takes us from an awful unit to a top 10 one. Fingers are crossed.
CG: Advantage: Cardinals - Rock Cartwright isn't your average kick returner but that doesn't stop him from being very effective (27.6 avg). On the other hand, Antwaan Randle El looks like he's really slowed down as a punt returner (less than a yard a return this year). The Cardinals have been pretty successful in limiting kickoff returners (18.7 avg) but those numbers are dragged down by three squib kickoffs that resulted in a total of six yards. The Cardinals have allowed at least one return of 25 yards each game so far. They'll have to pay special attention to Cartwright and they'll need Rackers to put nearly every kick in the endzone (top 5 in touchback percentage). If he's able to do that though, the Cardinals should be able to limit the Skins return game.
That's it guys, what do you think? Agree/Disagree? Who's got the overall edge? Many thanks again to Skin Patrol of Hogs Haven and jump over there to see the game preview from a different view.