Setting the stage
Coming off of their bye, the Arizona Cardinals resume business hosting the Houston Texans.
At a lowly 2-6, the Houston Texans are a team plagued by inconsistency and unmet expectations. Some of that is injuries to impact players such as Matt Schaub and Arian Foster, both of whom don’t figure to be in on the action in Glendale come Sunday. The Texans will also be down head coach Gary Kubiak, who was hospitalized after collapsing during halftime in the game against Indianapolis. Replacing him on an interim basis is defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
That brings us to the home team, the Arizona Cardinals. At 4-4, the Cardinals are in an excellent position to surge into playoff contention, but it all starts with Sunday’s matchup against Houston. The Birdgang will welcome a non-NFC West team; they are 0-3 in division and 4-1 against everybody else, including wins against Carolina and Detroit who sport winning records.
On paper, this looks to be an easy matchup for the Cardinals. If only it were that easy in the NFL. Even at 2-6, this Houston team is rife with talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Here’s a look at some matchups in Sunday’s game between the Cardinals and Texans.
Case Keenum vs. Arizona secondary
While Keenum has looked incredibly promising for Houston these past couple weeks, the honeymoon period may be over for the young Houston quarterback.
The Arizona defense is tied for third in the NFL with 12 interceptions and generates above average pass rush pressure, with 23 sacks on the season (T-13th in NFL). While Keenum fared well against other solid defenses in Indianapolis and Kansas City, something has got to give.
It is absolutely imperative for the Arizona defense to generate some big plays to slow down the young quarterback before he gets too comfortable.
JJ Watt vs. Bradley Sowell
In eight games, defending Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt has five and a half sacks, compared to having ten and a half through eight games last season. Despite the statistical regression, Watt still represents one of the best defensive players in the game.
Arizona left tackle Bradley Sowell has been shaky at best after the trading of Levi Brown to the Steelers. Needless to say, Sowell will need to be on top of his game with Watt on the other side of the football.
Patrick Peterson vs. Andre Johnson
This matchup ties a little bit into the first one. The young Case Keenum may find himself forcing the ball to the tried-and-true Andre Johnson more and more as the Cardinals dial up pressure on him.
In his first two starts, 19 of Keenum’s 58 pass attempts have been in the direction of Andre Johnson, which is a relatively high allotment. Essentially, one in every three pass plays will be headed within a couple feet of Patrick Peterson in Sunday’s matchup, and as one of the best playmakers in the Cardinals defense, it will be up to him to set the tone on the defensive side of the ball.
Down Arian Foster and with an inexperienced quarterback under center, Houston’s offense does not seem primed for a whole lot of production. However, Houston still has the talent to keep Arizona’s offense off the board. That being said, this will be almost certainly end up a defensive showdown, and the last team with the ball may end up being the one that wins it.
I like ARZ 17 – HOU 10. The Cardinals offense has shown steady improvement each week, the team is coming off a bye and playing at home. There’s no reason to believe the Cardinals will be phased in a close game situation.
Kickoff is at 4:25 ET from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The game will be televised on CBS.