COMMENTARY | Cue Jim Mora and his "Playoffs? Playoffs! Playoffs?" Anyone who has watched the Arizona Cardinals over the past eight weeks knows the Cardinals have been wildly inconsistent. Yet, they sit at 4-4 and are just a game out of the wild card race.
With an above-average defense, excellent special teams and a mediocre offense, the Cardinals could sneak their way into the postseason. Here are five keys to making the NFC playoffs.
No. 1: Limit The Turnovers (Here's Looking At You, Carson Palmer)
I've been saying this for weeks and for good reason. The Cardinals have found themselves in many games before turnovers have reared their ugly head. At 18.2 percent, the Cardinals are second-worst in the NFL in turnover percentage. Only the New York Giants (21.9) have been worse. Whether it's communication issues, offensive line issues or Palmer himself, if the Cardinals expect to make a late run, they need to curtail the turnovers.
No. 2: Establish 1-2 Punch In The Running Game
Arizona sits No. 23 in the league in rushing yards (745), but are a surprising 14th in yards per carry (4.0). A big reason for that is the big play ability of Andre Ellington, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry. We know that number is going to come down and hope Rashard Mendenhall's paltry 3.1 yards per carry will rise. Still, a combination of the inside-outside running game will open up the whole offense. Suddenly, defensive ends have to respect their containment responsibilities, inside linebackers have to cover each gap and defensive lineman can't just pin their ears back and rush the quarterback.
No. 3: Get Patrick Peterson More Touches
Whether it's in the punt return game or on the offensive side of the ball, special things happen when Peterson touches the ball. The Cardinals are already winning the battle as it pertains to field position, as they're No. 3 in the NFL in starting field position (own 31.7). Now, they need to take better advantage of that. Peterson can throw, catch and run so let him do it! Those extra wrinkles in the offense make up for the fact that teams aren't kicking to him much anymore. Even the threat of Peterson on the field changes the defensive scheme and opens things up for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
No. 4: Take Care Of Business At Home
The Cardinals remaining schedule is balanced, with four road games and four games at University of Phoenix stadium. They've got the Texans, Colts, Rams and 49ers at home, with the Jaguars, Eagles, Titans and Seahawks on the road. The Cardinals would be happy to go 2-2 on the road, which means they'll need to go 3-1 at home to even have a shot at the wild card. The Texans are in shambles and the Rams aren't exactly world beaters. The Colts and 49ers could be Super Bowl teams. Could the Cardinals get lucky and face a 49ers team in Week 17 with nothing to play for?
No. 5: Take More Advantage Of Positional Advantages
Opposing teams have done a much better job at this than the Cardinals have. There's a reason the tight end has crushed the Cardinals and other teams have done their best to exploit that mismatch. For the Cardinals, they have one of the best receivers in the league in Fitzgerald and a solid second in Floyd. If Fitzgerald is facing so many double coverages, start targeting Floyd or the tight end over and over! Floyd has shown the ability to beat man-to-man coverage and is learning how to win jump balls from one of the best in the business in Fitzgerald. As Keyshawn Johnson would say, "Throw him the damn ball!"
Michael Dunlap covers the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona Cardinals for the Yahoo Contributor Network. He is an NBA credentialed writer who is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the NBA site HoopsHabit.com . He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic.
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