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NFL WildCard Playoffs Pre-Game Analysis: Atlanta at Arizona

Atlanta Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do allow Matt Ryan to tee it up deep to Michael Jenkins and Roddy White a few times. Arizona's pass defense was ranked 22nd in the league and can be picked on within reason.

Do give Jerious Norwood his 10 touches. I don't know if the guy can handle the load of a starter, but he is one of the most explosive backups in the league, and he should be able to break either a run or a screen pass for a long gain if given the opportunity.

Do pressure Kurt Warner early and hard. Kurt fell into the "extended slump" portion of his career via getting rushed and hit hard ... remind him of those hits or else he'll make you pay.

Don’t ignore Tim Hightower. He's like the boogey man ... if you shine the lights on him, he can't hurt you.

Don’t be afraid to play with 5 DBs on occasion. Kurt Warner knows how to find open receivers, even if it's the 3rd Down RB or the backup TE.

Arizona Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do make use of Steve Breaston early. If he becomes a factor in the first half, it'll force Atlanta to divert their attention from Fitzgerald/Boldin or even Hightower onto Breaston, and will open up the field even more.

Do stack 7 men in the box on defense. Atlanta relies heavily on the rushing attack to open up the passing game and allow rookie QB Matt Ryan to ease into his "ice mode." If Arizona can stymie the run game early and force Matty Ryan to go to the air too early, it's their best chance.

Do get fancy on special teams. Maybe let Larry Fitzgerald return a kickoff or punt, or something. This is playoff time ... roll up your sleeves and be creative.

Don’t rely on Kurt Warner's aged arm early in the game. The running game isn't the Cards bread nor their butter, however if they can establish 3.5 ypc early on, it'll keep the Atlanta D on its toes.

Don’t forget that you're an NFC West team playing an NFC South team. The NFC West was arguably the weakest conference in the league this year, so even though Arizona has home field, it hardly has an advantage in this game ... play like you're the lower seed with a chip on your shoulder.

Key Matchups:

When Atlanta has the ball
RB Michael Turner vs. OLB Karlos Dansby
As I noted above, Atlanta must establish it's running attack to ease the transition to playoff mode for Matt Ryan. But Arizona will undoubtedly have Karlos Dansby breathing down Michael Turner's neck from the getgo. Dansby had 119 tackles on the season, leading the Cardinals. If Turner can escape, this game won't be close.

When Arizona has the ball
QB Kurt Warner vs. The Entire Atlanta Defense
It's no secret: Atlanta's defense is not that good. Ranked 24th overall, 21st against the pass and 25th against the run. For an experienced play maker like Kurt Warner, this should be a lot of fun. Atlanta will have to realize that Warner will make a few plays on them, but if Warner cannot lead his offense to TDs on 2 of the Cardinals first 3 possessions, that'll be a victory for Atlanta's D.

Intangibles:

Time Travel
No, not like Uncle Rico and Napoleon. However, Atlanta is traveling from the Eastern Time Zone to the Pacific. No team got screwed as much by jet lag and travel this year as the Arizona Cardinals. This is, perhaps, where home field might actually be an advantage for the Cards as it protects them from traveling east for the game. Maybe it's payback time...

Motivation
As I mentioned in the FourCast this past week, the Falcons have definitely been through the ringer from the Vick through the Petrino fiascos. Yet this year, the team has been on a mission to shake off the bitter past, and that mission has led them into the playoffs. Arizona, on the other hand, is finally back in the playoffs after years of futility. Which head coach will be able to inspire his team prior to the coin-flip?

Final Score Prediction:
Atlanta wins, 24-20.

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