Week 2 Matchup
How do the Cardinals replace the best player on their team? Can they replace the player responsible for nearly half of their total offense? These are the questions the Arizona Cardinals and head coach Bruce Arians must answer ahead of their clash with the Indianapolis Colts. After a frustrating and sloppy defeat in Detroit, the Cardinals travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the underwhelming Colts. Can Arizona get back on track and get their first victory of the 2017 season? Here are three things to watch for against the Indianapolis Colts.
Recovering from the loss of David Johnson
The first thing the Cardinals will need to do is figure out how to limit the sting of losing David Johnson. The dynamic running back is out for an extended period after injuring his wrist in Week 1. Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson accounts for roughly 40 percent of the Arizona offense with touches coming from both the run game and through the air. Head coach Bruce Arians stated that there will likely be a running back by committee for the time being. Andre Ellington, rookie Kerwynn Williams, and recently signed Chris Johnson will all take their turns attempting to pick up the slack. Johnson and Williams are the more dynamic speed backs with Ellington being a stronger receiver out of the backfield. Williams is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but game situations will dictate who is used and when. The Colts are likely without starting nose tackle Al Woods and starting inside linebacker Antonio Morrison, both suffering injuries last week. Those losses could lead to some positive yards on the ground for Arizona. While it is foolish to think these three can completely replace Johnson and his production, the offense needs to get something positive out of the group to help provide balance against the Colts.
Key number two comes in the form of the man behind center, quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer struggled mightily against the Lions, often missing open receivers and making some terrible throws. The former Heisman winner finished with 268 yards on 27 out of 48 passing, throwing for one touchdown against three interceptions. Against a much weaker Indianapolis defense, Palmer will need to carry the offense through this game. Indianapolis is likely without their starting cornerback Vontae Davis (groin) and starting safety Darius Butler (hamstring). Davis is by far their best player in coverage and his loss should allow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to have quite a day. Expect Arians to let Palmer find his groove early with a mix of screens and short passes to the receivers. Combined with the run game, this should open up Fitzgerald and the rest of the Arizona receivers over the top of the defense and result in some big plays. Palmer does not need to be perfect on Sunday, but he will need to be accurate and make smart decisions if the Cardinals want to get their first win.
The Defense against the Colts
The final key to victory for Arizona is how their defense can take advantage of a struggling Colts offense. In week one against the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Scott Tolzien threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel had himself an interception return for a touchdown against the Lions. Tolzien will not start this week as the Colts are starting Jacoby Brissett, who was traded by New England at the end of the preseason. Brissett’s biggest asset is the ability to keep the play alive with his legs. In the passing game, the Cardinals will look to take away speedster T.Y. Hilton. Patrick Peterson and Bethel will need to be on their game as Hilton is a talented receiver who has a knack for getting open all over the field. With a mobile quarterback in play, the Cardinals pass rush must be a factor. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche is listed as questionable with a calf injury. If he is unable to play the defense will look to linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. The Cardinals pass rush accounted for just a single sack in Week 1 and will need to improve. The Colts are without starting center Ryan Kelly so expect Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher to utilize multiple blitz packages to confuse the Indianapolis offensive line and put pressure on the quarterback.
In the end, the Cardinals do not need heroic performances to get the victory on the road. Fundamental play from all aspects of the game should be enough to overwhelm a bad Colts team. Falling to 0-2 on the season is not an option for Arizona. Expect a big effort and a rout, Cardinals 33-13.
*all statistics courtesy of NFL.com