COMMENTARY | Despite the usual offensive line issues and shoddy quarterback play that Arizona Cardinals fans have come to expect from the team in recent years, the Cardiac Cards come out of their bye week at 4-4 and very much in the running of the NFC wild card race.
Arizona is in an enviable position, as they hold tiebreakers over wild card hopefuls Detroit and Carolina, and will be playing a lot of teams similar to them talent-wise in the second half of their playoff run.
Meanwhile, the Houston Texans' hopes for the season are all but finished. At 2-6 there is little chance of a playoff berth, though they have shown signs of life thanks to the emergence of rookie quarterback Case Keenum.
The Cardinals will look to get one step closer to an unlikely playoff appearance, while the Texans hope to play spoiler and salvage a little pride from a very disappointing season.
Which team will come out on top? If it's going to be the Cardinals, here are three key things that need to happen when these two teams clash this Sunday.1. Don't let J.J. Watt go one-on-one with the tackles
I would prefer to be writing about how Bradley Sowell and Eric Winston need to step up and shut down J.J. Watt, but I am a realist. If Bruce Arians tasks either of those two with containing the best defensive player in football, that play will not end well for the Cardinals.
Our tackles need all the help they can get with Watt, and if that means keeping a tight end in to block or having a guard chip in, there needs to be at least two players in charge of keeping Watt off of Carson Palmer on every passing play.
J.J. Watt usually lines up as the left defensive end, and if promising right tackle Bobby Massie continues getting an increase in snaps, that could work to the Cardinals advantage. If the Texans choose to exploit Bradley Sowell, though, it could be a long day for Palmer no matter who we have helping the struggling tackle.
2. Shut down Andre Johnson
A lot of people have been talking about undrafted rookie Case Keenum the past few weeks due to him seemingly breathing new life into the Texans after the team flat-lined during a season they were supposed to make a Super Bowl run. The Houston product has earned the hype that is currently surrounding him, and I do believe he'll be a solid quarterback in this league.
With that being said, he is still an undrafted rookie making his third start on the road against a very tough Cardinals defense. There is also a chink in Keenum's armor that the Cardinals will look to exploit: he struggles when throwing to receivers not named Andre Johnson.
When Keenum targets his All-Pro receiver, he is 13-19, completing 68.4% of his passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. When he is throwing to his other targets, Keenum is 22-40, completing 55% of his passes for 303 yards and a touchdown. (Stats via Pro Football Focus)
Luckily for the Cardinals, cornerback Patrick Peterson is quickly becoming one of the best cover corners in football. Shutting down Andre Johnson will be his job, and if he can get it done it would make getting a win much easier for Arizona.
3. Play with the lead
Playing with a lead might seem like a simple game plan, but it's something the Cardinals need to get better at. The team has routinely made mistakes during the first three quarters before roaring back in the fourth, and that will not work against a Texans team designed to play with the lead.
The Cardinals need to score early and often, which would limit J.J. Watt's chances to get to Carson Palmer in the second half, and would rookie Case Keenum into taking chances against the ball hawking Cardinals secondary.
If the Texans build a solid lead up in the first half, expect to see an ugly game and a sound win by the Texans. If the Cardinals can manage to put points on the board in the first half, they have a very good chance of walking away from this one with a victory.
Cody Milford is an up and coming sports writer hailing from Arizona. His passion is covering the Arizona Cardinals, and his work has been associated with Sports Kings, Yardbarker, Bleacher Report, and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter.
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