By the time the Arizona Cardinals take the field against the Houston Texans, the team will be without their top two quarterbacks. Following a tough loss against fellow NFC West member Seattle, the Cardinals are looking at starting a third different quarterback of the season, following a sprained knee to Drew Stanton. Blaine Gabbert will be the starter on Sunday. Bruce Arians has made the decision at quarterback so now, here is a look at Sunday’s matchup against the Texans and three things the Cardinals need to do to guarantee a win.
Run the Football
With Gabbert at quarterback, the Cardinals need to get the run game going early and often on Sunday. The passing game showed inconsistency against Seattle and can be expected to continue to struggle with Gabbert at the helm. The offense will need to stay on schedule and get yards from the run game. The Texans run defense has performed well on the season but are without J.J. Watt and facing injuries to multiple defensive starters and contributors. The Cardinals need to rely on their offensive line to push around the Texans front and create holes for Adrian Peterson. A healthy run game, even without long runs, will create enough balance to move the football and keep Houston’s defense on its heels.
The Texans run defense gives up less than 100 yards a game. The key will be getting a body on Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is officially listed as an outside linebacker for the Texans. However, he plays on either side of the defense and often lines up as a rush end. Through nine games he has six sacks, a career high, 25 tackles, and two forced fumbles. To put it simply, Clowney is a terror to offensive lines. It will be on tackles Jared Veldheer and John Wetzel. Wetzel takes over at left tackle as D.J. Humphries injured his knee last week and is now on injured reserve. Humphries was a major force in the run game teaming up with left guard Alex Boone. Now Wetzel must maintain that level or at the least provide some interference against Clowney and the rest of the Texans defense.
Catch the Football
The receiving corps for the Cardinals struggled mightily against Seattle. It had less to do with the Legion of Boom than with mental mistakes. The sheer volume of drops by Arizona receivers is not shocking. The issue is the drops happening in big moments. A drop on a pass that would have been for a first down, or a missed big gain. Those can kill momentum and change the outcome of a game. With the offense staring at Gabbert playing quarterback, there will be added pressure for the passing game to make plays. Gabbert excels in the short game as well as passes to receivers out of the backfield. Due to accuracy issues Gabbert has struggled to consistently get the ball to his receivers, making the margin for error even more razor thin.
The Texans have a fierce pass rush even without Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt on the field. Clowney is a defensive MVP candidate and will give fits to any offensive line. Passes will need to come out quickly and force the Houston secondary to make plays and bring down Arizona’s speedy receivers. At some point someone other than Larry Fitzgerald will need to make a play. Whether it is running back Andre Ellington, or receiver John Brown, someone needs to make a play against a suspect Houston secondary and give the offense a jolt of energy.
Get Out Front Quickly
The Houston Texans have a talented defense that is even better at home. They struggle against the pass but excel against the run. This could prove a bit difficult for Arizona as they are attempting to figure out who will be playing quarterback. While they are having that issue, the offense needs to jump out to a quick start. A quick start will ease the pressure on the offensive line that has struggled with consistency. Offensive balance will be key in getting points on the board. The game can’t be won with points, but scoring early puts pressure on the Texans offense to keep up. The Texans offense is struggling to find a quarterback after rookie Deshaun Watson went down for the season with a knee injury. Watson was dazzling during his time at the helm and breathed life into the Houston offense. With Watson gone, the Texans went back to quarterback Tom Savage. Savage has completed just 47.3 percent of his passes and thrown as many interceptions, two, as touchdowns this season.
A quick Arizona lead means the Texans will need to get away from the ground game and running back Lamar Miller. Since entering the league in 2012, Miller has finished each season averaging no less than four yards per carry. In 2017 he is at 3.9 yards per game through the first nine contests. Miller is up to 543 yards and two touchdowns on the year but has struggled since Watson’s absence. The Cardinals defense will need to force Savage into action. Savage is nursing an injured right throwing shoulder and took a beating against the Rams a week ago. If the Cardinals defense can stop the run on early downs, it will be interesting to see if Savage can make plays downfield. While Deandre Hopkins is a dynamic receiver, the Cardinals believe Patrick Peterson will be able to keep the talented pass catcher under control. It will be a battle, but one that could prove moot if Savage is overwhelmed by the Arizona defense.
The Cardinals are figuring out who will play quarterback. The Texans are in the same boat. The difference will be which quarterback will be able to minimize mistakes and which team is able to ease the pressure on their signal caller. Both teams need the win as both are still in the playoff hunt. Arizona has less margin for error and pressure will be on the team as their season hangs in the balance. Will the team stand up and make plays? Cardinals win 27-13.
*all stats courtesy of NFL.com