The Cards are coming to town which used to mean a guaranteed win. We’ve won 6 straight against the cards including a relatively close win on the road last year. But this is not your father’s Cardinals team, or your grandfather’s Cardinals team, or even your great grandfather’s Cardinal’s team. This is a well-coached, professional football team that has just as much a chance of winning the NFC West as anyone now that the Seahwaks wide receivers have committed mass suicide. To call it a good football team might be an exaggeration. This is the kind of team that wins its division and gets beat by a much more tested wild card team in the opening round.
But the question remains–what kind of football team are we? Are we the team that was unprepared for the first quarter surge of the Super Bowl champs and looked miserable? Are we the mediocre team that played the final three quarters of the Giants game and the 3rd quarter of the Saints game? Or are we the team that overpowered the Saints, a sure playoff team, for 3 quarters and finally learned to punch the ball into the end zone in the 4th quarter?
If we are the team that manhandled the Saints, the Cards are nothing to worry about. But we’re probably still a little worse than that. Injuries at linebacker make it possible Alfred Fincher could be seeing significant time at LB. While I recognize Chris Horton is not as good as he looked last week, I think Reed Doughty is a significant liability against a good passing team like the Cards. This defense is a little worse than it was last week (even with Jason Taylor definitely getting healthier). The offense will hopefully take another step forward to make up for it, but for now, let’s assume we’ve got a fight on our hands. What can we do to win this thing?
The Cardinals defense has a better secondary than the Saints defense, particularly by the end of the game where the Saints faced injuries. We will need to run the ball effectively and keep an advantage on time of possession. But the best player on the Cardinalls defensive line is DT Darnell Dockett. Dockett is a great pass rushing DT and can disrupt the run. Draws and ISOs will work well against him, but you can’t build an entire running game around that. We need a big game from the interior line, and if we can get the tough yards up the middle the rest should be gravy.
The passing game, particularly the deep passing game could be difficult. Adrian Wilson is a probowl caliber safety and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is shoring up the CBs so they go three deep. Roderick Hood is known to jump routes and is a prime candidate for a double move on the opposite side of Adrian Wilson. Antrel Rolle has been moved to safety and while he should be excellent there, he might still be in an adjustment phase. We need to take our shots down field to keep the Wilson out of the running game, but we’re going to earn our pay check this week on short and intermediate routes. I’m particularly interested in how much YAC we can get on routes that force Rolle to tackle. I think Devin Thomas might be ready for a big game working on those types of routes.
With all due respect to Gary Fitzgerald at Redskins.com, his preview stating that the defense starts with stopping Warner is wrong. The problem here is Boldin and Fitzgerald. The Redskins secondary has troubles with big receivers. When there is one, Shawn Springs can usually handle it. But Carlos Rogers or Fred Smoot will now be forced to cover Anquan Boldin and give up several inches and 20-40 lbs. Whether it is Warner or Leinart or my Aunt Tilly (OK, I don’t have an Aunt Tilly), they’re going to be able to get the ball to these guys. The key is to tackle them when they get the ball, and so much of the defense relies on Laron Landry playing the angel perfectly. If we can keep Fitzgerald and Boldin in front of the defense, we can limit the damage they will inevitably do.
The other half of the equation is Warner related, but not really about pressuring him so much as it is about catching INTs. We will pressure Warner. He’s slow and plodding. And when pressured, he makes mistakes, much like Eli Manning. But in the Giants game, we dropped INTs. We cannot afford to do that here. Warner is going to overthrow a few balls under pressure and we need Laron Landry to come down with them.
Yes, as you can see, I’m putting a ton of pressure on Landry. But the truth is, if he is the pro bowl stud we think we drafted, he can handle it. If not, we have to hope Jason Taylor has a big, multi-sack day.
In the end, I think we’re going pull this off in a rather tight one, but it could just as easily be a blow out for us or a heart breaker. I don’t need to tell you the stakes. There is a big difference between going into Dallas and Philly after we start 2-1 and going in 1-2. Right now, I don’t see this team as capable of going into either of those joints and winning. So we have to go 2-1 so when we can go into St. Louis 2-3 and be able to right the ship rather than 1-4 where a win really doesn’t feel like much. A lot is riding on a game this early, and big games from Landry and Portis will make the difference.
Final score- Redskins 19, Cards 17. Hail Skins!