Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What to Watch For: Cardinals @ Panthers

It's playoff time and we're a sports blog, so our first preview of the NFL Playoffs Divsional Round.

Cardinals @ Panthers

The Cardinals surprised many by beating the Falcons in the Wild Card round and did a lot of things well that they haven't showed all season. The Cardinals ran the ball and stop the run fantastically, which is exactly what people assumed they couldn't do and exactly why they couldn't win.

The Panthers were a great team all season, led by a great dual-headed running attack and a formidable defense and pass rush. DeAngelo Williams seemingly scored 4 td's every game this season and despite Jake Delhomme's frequent ineptitude they rolled to the #2 seed in the NFC.

As these two face off in Carolina on Saturday, here's what we'll be watching for:

  • Before the game even starts, the Cardinals have two things against them. Travel and temperature. The Cardinals were winless this season traveling to east-coast opponents which is unbelieveable for a playoff team. Also, they are a warm weather team, historically they haven't performed well in colder, crappier weather. They can't possibly lay another egg against east-coast teams. It's law of averages, right?

  • Is the Arizona pass rush from the Wild Card round legit? Or was that showing one and done, because that certainly wouldn't surprise me. Bertrand Berry told Tony and Wilbon on PTI today that Falcons QB Matt Ryan wasn't changing up the snap count and that is part of the reason for the pressure they generated. That certainly won't happen with a veteran QB like Delhomme running the show. He's been to the playoffs and all the way to the Super Bowl, he won't be nervous come game time and forget such a simple facet of his job.

  • Is Edgerrin James back and is he a solid running back again? Edge looked great against Atlanta, but he's been so poor this season that I have trouble thinking he'll be successful in Carolina. Jon Beason covers a ton of ground and the Carolina front 7 will be much more tenacious than the group Edge just ran all over.

  • Speaking of the Carolina front 7, they shouldn't have trouble getting all the pressure they need on Kurt Warner come Saturday. That is their key to victory. They can't allow Warner time to sit back and kill them from the pocket. They need to flush him out and keep him moving all game, the more they hit him the better. Kurt is still a great QB, but he's never been a scrambler and as he gets older, he's only getting more and more immobile. It's a lot harder to Fitzgerald and Boldin if you're worried about who's about to hit you (namely, Julius Peppers)

  • About Boldin, how hurt is he? This is the guy who played after he broke his face, so I've got to assume he'll be toughing it out if at all possible. But hamstrings are a strange injury, there's no telling how long it'll take to heal. Could be a week, could be 4 weeks. I'm confident Boldin will play, but the real question is how effective will he be? He hurt it while sprinting down field and didn't seem any slower until he reached the endzone, so who knows? Maybe, he'll be fine, and I hope so because any hope of a competitive game may rest on his well being.

  • Who is going to tackle DeAngelo? And if they bring him down, who's going to stop Jonathon Stewart? Now this defense was good against Atlanta against the second best rushing attack in the league in Michael Turner and Jerrious Norwood. But this is the best rushing attack (no offense, Earth, Wind, and Fire, you're probably tied for 2nd. Maybe 2B to ATL's 2A). Williams has shown all season that he will take advantage of cutback lanes and if the defense is disciplined, he'll make you pay. Now how much discipline can we possibly expect from this team? Outside of Adrian Wilson how many playmakers do they have? Karlos Dansby is a good, but unspectacular linebacker and I can probably say the same for Darnell Dockett on the D-line.

  • Which big-time WR would you rather have, Larry Fitzgerald? or Steve Smith? or maybe Boldin? At gun point, I'd take Boldin because he does things over the middle and after the catch that is only rivaled by Brandon Marshall. However, Fitzgerald has the best ball skills in the NFL which was obvious by that awesome TD catch he had last week between two defenders. But, Steve Smith has game-breaking athleticism and speed that you just can't teach. I read somewhere the other day that he's such a freak that his physical talents make up for poor route-running skills and game IQ. I don't know if the DB's in this game are capable enough to stop any of these 3.

Prediction Time: Carolina 31, Arizona 21

I think Carolina will have it's way with Arizona unless Delhomme takes too many risks. DeAngelo will get two TDs, Stewart one. Also, one of the Arizona TD's will probably be garbage time at the end when it is too little, too late. For Arizona to steal this one, they need to keep the score low and I think it'll take a final, two minute drill to win it at like 17-14 or something. The line is Caroline -9.5 so I guess I'd be laying the points, but most likely I'd stay away from this one. If anything, I think I'd take the under of 48.5 because I'm usually wrong on those. Then again, if i could tease Arizona and the Under, well now we're in business.

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