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Before the matchup arrives, though, we caught up with Cards Wire editor Jess Root to get the scoop on Indy’s opponent in Week 16. Be sure to follow Jess and Cards Wire for all of your Cardinals’ needs this week.
Check out our “Behind Enemy Lines” with Jess:
After starting 7-0, the Cardinals 3-4 in their last seven games. What stretch is more symbolic of this team?
Jess Root: Well, I believe it is somewhere between the two. They pretty much had a completely healthy group through the first seven weeks and they did better than anyone thought they could do. But then they had three games without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, they were a play from beating the Packers even with two awful turnovers that led to 10 points early in the game. Hopkins got hurt again and they hit a tougher stretch of their schedule. I always felt this was a 10-13 win team entering the season and they had a Super Bowl ceiling. But they have not played as well as they should be lately and they played better earlier than most expected, so, again, somewhere in between. With the losses of J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins, they aren’t the best team in the league now but they are still capable of beating anyone.
Does Kyler Murray have a chance to win the MVP award?
JR: He does. It doesn’t look like it now, but if he has a big final three games of the season, he has a chance. The problem is he doesn’t have the gaudy touchdown numbers that Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have. Likewise, he missed three games, which will limit the final numbers. He is probably a longshot at this point, but he has the talent and ability to take over the final three games and put himself in the mix again.
What is the biggest weakness for the Cardinals after 14 games?
JR: Everyone will say this — the run defense, and it is mostly true. They struggle to consistently stop the run when a team is able to stay multi-dimensional. But we have seen them absolutely stonewall great running teams, too. They have been bad in games early and then shut it down. I think that is because teams can’t be great about everything. They have a solid pass defense and they play great from ahead. But if a team stays close and can keep a balanced attack and use play-action, they struggle to get off the field. More recently, the more pressing issue has been red-zone efficiency. They have converted on only four of their last 12 red-zone trips. They were up around 70% for much of the season before that.
Which players are flying under the radar but deserve more love?
JR: Receiver Christian Kirk has been very good, although he did have a pair of drops last week. James Conner would be in that category, too, but he was selected to the Pro Bowl, so I guess he isn’t really under the radar. Defensively, there are three guys. One is defensive end Zach Allen, who has taken over the role that J.J. Watt had. He is showing up all over the place in recent weeks. Linebacker Markus Golden probably deserved a Pro Bowl nod over Chandler Jones and safety Jalen Thompson gets overshadowed by Budda Baker, but he is nearing his level. He is physical, he hits hard and rarely misses tackles.
Final score, prediction?
JR: The Cardinals have lost two straight for the first time all season. They have the offense to neutralize the Colts’ ball-control attack. The recipe for success has get an early stop and add points. That way, the run game is less of a concern. All of Carson Wentz’ six interceptions have been against top-caliber teams like the Cardinals. They will get an early lead, force a Wentz mistake and hold off a late rally. The Cardinals hold on for a 31-28 Christmas Day win.