The Arizona Cardinals can’t seem to get out of their own way. The offense will play well but the defense will miss tackles. The defense will play suffocating football while the offense forgets what it means to gain 10 yards. Inconsistency has been the name of the game all season for the Cardinals and their record of four wins and six losses spotlights the issue. The Jacksonville Jaguars come to town for an inter-conference clash, and after a holiday filled with giving thanks and poultry, here are three keys to an Arizona victory against the Jaguars.
Blaine Gabbert started his first game as quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals last week. The former first round pick played admirably and kept his team in the game against Houston. This week he faces a tougher defense and his former team, the Jaguars. On the season, Jacksonville has 40 sacks; that’s nearly double the amount Arizona has on the year. They’ve also thrown in 13 interceptions. The pass rush is ferocious for Jacksonville and it is in part to former Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell.
Campbell left Arizona after spending his first nine seasons with the Cardinals. This season Campbell has made a major splash in Florida as he’s tallied 11.5 sacks, a career high, in just 10 games. Campbell is joined on his sack crusade by fellow linemates Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler, and Malik Jackson. Between the four they account for 32 sacks, just over 75 percent of the team’s sacks. If the Cardinals are looking to get anything going offensively it begins with containing the pass rush. Gabbert will need to get the ball out quickly to help his offensive line and will need to be accurate when opportunities appear. If those things don’t happen, it could be a rough day for the former Jaguar.
Skill Players Needed
Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, no other Cardinals receiver or running back has shown any consistency from game to game. Running back Adrian Peterson has had two games of over 100 yards rushing and three games with less than 40. The receiving options for Arizona has been lacking as well. Injuries and drops have helped keep the Cardinals out of the end zone for much of the year. If the offensive line holds and Gabbert can get the ball out, who will be there to make the plays?
With receiver John Brown out, and fellow receiver Brittan Golden questionable, the pressure falls back to Fitzgerald to carry the load. The veteran has played well this season despite questionable quarterback play. Outside of Fitzgerald the Cardinals will need another career performance from tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. Seals-Jones scores twice last week in Houston and provided some punch to an often listless Arizona passing game. Someone needs to step up for the offense or it will be another dominant performance by the Jacksonville defense.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has struggled this season. The quarterback has the physical traits but has lacked accuracy and consistency in finding his receivers. A talented running game has effectively protected Bortles and the play-calling has kept the quarterback from needing to make many downfield throws. On Sunday the Cardinals need to change that and force Jacksonville into making mistakes on offense.
The Cardinals rank in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed per game with just over 101 yards. At home they give up under 90 yards per game. Jacksonville averages over 160 yards of rushing offense a game with a staggering 175 yards a game on the road. The Cardinals need to drastically cut that number if they have any hope of stealing the victory. Expect loaded fronts with eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage. The defense will need to basically dare Bortles to throw the ball. When Bortles does put the ball in the air, the defense will need to make plays. A plus turnover margin is a pathway to victory for Arizona.
The Cardinals are not favored and rightfully so. The Jaguars have a tremendous defense and the best running game in the league. Arizona has been inconsistent and prone to make mental mistakes. The Jaguars are the better team on paper, but they still need to play the game. Arizona has a small margin for error but the offense will need to make plays to help out their defense. In the end Jacksonville’s ground game should prevail. Jaguars win 27-13