Setting the stage
So a Cardinal flies onto a pirate ship… And no, I’m not talking about the NL Central, although that may be on more people’s national radar on Sunday.
I find myself constantly referring to the Arizona Cardinals’s games as “unglamorous,” “under-the-radar,” or anything of that sort. In a division with Seattle and San Francisco, Bruce Arians and the Birdgang aren’t even the most talked about team in their own division, let alone the league.
At 0-3 to start the season, Tampa Bay is one of the teams that can sympathize, living in the shadow of undefeated New Orleans and preseason favorite Atlanta. Both Tampa and Arizona are also coming off gruesome losses, getting outscored a combined 54-10.
Needless to say, both teams will be playing to salvage their season before the tank label can be applied.
Greg Schiano, after starting 6-4, has lost eight of his last nine games. Tampa Bay’s recent struggles culminated in Schiano’s benching of incumbent Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
The Cardinals are in equally murky water, winning two of their last 15. No quarterback controversy in Phoenix, but the Cards will employ an emaciated linebacking corps after last week saw them lose three to injury for the year. Kevin Minter is also ruled out, as well as Daryl Washington who will sit his last game due to suspension.
Tampa Bay did perform significantly better against their common foe, New Orleans, however. Arizona struggled 31-7, whereas Tampa only lost 16-14 to a last-second field goal.
Here’s a look at some of the key matchups to watch:
Mike Glennon vs. Arizona secondary
What do you get when you put a rookie quarterback up against a defense full of ball-hawking playmakers? And then you factor in that the rookie quarterback threw 17 interceptions in his senior year at NC State?
No knock on Mike Glennon at all, but Arizona’s secondary is a scary unit even for veteran quarterbacks, much less a rookie. He could bust onto the scene, but odds are Arizona’s secondary comes out on top this one.
Arizona outside linebackers vs. Tampa Bay tackles
I include this one only to point out that Arizona will be down starters Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander for the season, as well as backup Alex Okafor, meaning veterans John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy will be shouldering most of the load. Second year pro Dontay Moch out of Nevada and third year Vic So’oto from BYU were also called up from the practice squad to take their spots as well.
While Shaughnessy isn’t the premiere pass rushing threat that Abraham is, a lot of pressure will be placed on the linebacker corps to reach Mike Glennon and make the rookie as uncomfortable as possible. Hopefully there isn’t too much dropoff for the Cardinals, whose depth will be put to the test.
Larry Fitzgerald vs. Darrelle Revis
Much like two weeks ago in a matchup that pitted Patrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson, Arizona’s victory could very well hinge upon the outcome of a matchup between two of the NFL’s best in wideout Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
The two titans have clashed in the regular season only once, a 56-35 Cardinals loss where Fitzgerald caught for 122 yards on eight catches, but Revis intercepted a Warner pass late in the game. That’s a favorable enough outcome for the Cardinals to try their luck in that matchup, though it would be easy for Carson Palmer to turn the other cheek and give Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts their opportunities. Much like week one, this offense works best when the three-headed-monster all have equal chances.
Fitzgerald will be moving all over the field, bringing Revis with him. If he can draw a safety, or anything that can cause a hole in the Tampa defense, expect Palmer and crew to utilize it.
Cards run defense vs. Doug Martin
Week one, the Cards run defense stifled a weak Rams running game, to which I said “let’s see how they do against Reggie Bush!” They responded to that well, and after giving up 104 rushing yards last week to the Saints, the Cards run defense unit still ranks third best in the NFL.
Enter Doug Martin, whose 297 rushing yards entering week four is second only behind Lesean McCoy’s 395.
I’ve so far been incredibly impressed with the play of Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley. If they have a solid afternoon along with Dan Williams and Yeremiah Bell in shutting down Doug Martin, Greg Schiano may be forced to abandon the run in favor of passing into a talented Arizona secondary, something I’m not sure Glennon is equipped to handle at this point.
By the numbers
- Arizona 2013 record: 1-2 (5-11 last season)
- Tampa 2013 record: 0-3 (7-9 last season)
- Mike Glennon in preseason: 33 of 70 (47 comp%) for 357 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs and 1 lost fumble
- Doug Martin since 2012: 392 carries for 1,751 yards (4.5 ypc) and 12 TDs, 53 receptions for 491 yards, TD
- Arizona rushing yards allowed per game: 73.3 (3rd lowest in NFL), 3.2 a carry (4th lowest)
- Tampa leads the all-time series, 9-8
- Vegas betting line: Tampa is favored by 2.5.
This is a tough game to pick, because Tampa is a way better team than their 0-3 record indicates. It’s at Raymond James as well, and I’m a proponent of the home-field advantage. However, Tampa is in disarray. Schiano’s benching of Freeman is puzzling to me, and I think that has a risky effect in the locker room. Arizona, on the other hand, is eager to prove that they are a better team than the one that played at New Orleans last week.
Doug Martin helps his rookie quarterback early, providing some run support and setting up some easy play action for the Tampa offense. Arizona’s linebackers catch on quick though, and the defense tightens up before Tampa gets in too much a groove. Glennon being as interception-prone as he is, I expect Arizona to rack up some turnovers as well. Speaking of Arizona…
Arians establishes the run game early; it’s been working for him so far this season. Mendenhall, Smith and Ellington all get key runs on the day, keeping Tampa’s defense honest and opening up opportunities for the passing game. If Arians doesn’t abandon the run game too early, I like the Arizona Cardinals big, ARZ 27 – 14 TB.