Whew... We made it.
I actually am slightly sad that the Cardinals did not open up the 2014 season on Sunday, as I love the attention of a Monday night game, but sitting through another day of gushing over the Seahawks and then watching the 49ers dominate the Cowboys in the "Game of the Week" left me waiting for what the Cardinals will have to add to the NFC West early dominance (well, not you St. Louis).
Of course the big news, or mystery, is whether or not Andre Ellington will suit up, but there is plenty to watch if he doesn't, but we should probably start with that.
Does Andre Ellington play?
There is little doubt that the Cardinals, the #BirdGang, and much of the NFL media are waiting to see what Andre Ellington will do getting "25 touches a game". While that always seemed to be more Arians bluster than actual game planning, now comes the hard part of whether or not he actually plays.
If Ellington plays, who knows how healthy he will be. Let's assume if he plays he will only play if he is 100%, that means we can likely see between 15-20 carries and 3-5 catches in the game for Ellington, if not, how do the Cardinals fill that void?
Sure we know that the Cardinals will have plenty of receiving targets, but what about out of the backfield?
Also who runs the ball? Is Dwyer getting 15 carries? Is Taylor getting the other 5-10, the Cardinals ran the ball about 25 times a game last season, and if so, can they provide enough to keep the Chargers, a terrible run defense in 2013, honest?
Which Carson Palmer Shows up?
Palmer has been much maligned throughout his career, but the reality comes in that Palmer has a history of peaks and valleys in his game. Last season Palmer went at most two games without throwing an interception and only had a single four game stretch where he threw one interception or less consecutively.
Palmer is going to have games where he is CARSON PALMER!?!?!? It's going to happen, it just matters how often it happens, and what games it happens in.
The Chargers offense is dynamic and can put points on the board in bunches, if Palmer gives them a short field to work with consistently it could be a long night for the Cardinals. The Chargers defense also struggles to rush the passer, and has questions in the backend, so if he has a good game, the Cardinals offense, even without Ellington, should be able to roll.
Stop the run and put the game in Philip Rivers hands
Some of Rivers worst work came where he threw 40+ passes in a game. If the Cardinals can continue to be the most dominant run defense in the NFL, then Philip Rivers will have to beat them, and while his worst was still pretty good (hell let's be honest it was really good), then the Cardinals have a good shot at shutting down the Chargers offense.
When the Chargers ran the ball well, over 140 yards, they only lost one game, 16-20 to the Miami Dolphins. The Cardinals strength should still be stopping the run, if they can do that, then Philip Rivers will have to put up big numbers.
Do not leave points on the field
While Chandler Catanzaro has been nails in the preseason, it is time he does it when it counts, and that means when the Cardinals are driving down the field and their offense stalls, Cat Man has to get them points.
The Seahawks have Steven Haushka, the 49ers have Phil Dawson, those are two of the very best in the NFL, and veterans, the Cardinals are counting on Catanzaro to give them an edge not only in the kick off game, but to extend their scoring zone.
Seth's prediction when it is all said and done:
The Cardinals offense does well in game one, as Palmer is able to put up big numbers, and the defense holds off a furious late rally from Rivers and the Chargers.
Player of the Game: Carson Palmer (3 touchdown passes)
Goat of the Game: Antonio Cromartie