Keys to a Christmas win for the Cardinals over the Colts

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  • Arizona Cardinals
    Arizona Cardinals
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  • Indianapolis Colts
    Indianapolis Colts
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After laying an egg against Detroit this past Sunday, Arizona has now lost consecutive games. In just two weeks, they have dropped from the first seed to fourth and lost a two-game lead in the NFC West. The Cardinals are now tied with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West for the division lead. While they hold the tiebreaker against the Rams, they can not afford to lose any more games.

The Cardinals need a quality win from a quality opponent. This Saturday, on Christmas Day, they will host the resurgent 8-6 Indianapolis Colts.

Arizona needs a win against a playoff-bound squad, in the worst way, not to prove something to fans, national media, or prognosticators, but because they need to prove to themselves they can still beat a quality opponent. The Cardinals have not beaten a team with a record of .500 or better since Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns.

Here are the keys to a Week 16 Christmas win.

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Get out to an early lead

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the Cardinals’ success has been their ability to score early on their opponents. When the Cardinals get out to an early lead, especially by two scores, teams adjust their offensive game plan. Early leads force opponents to throw more; thereby protecting the Cardinals defense from an effective running attack, Arizona’s glaring weakness. The linchpin to an early lead will hinge with Kyler Murray.

Efficiency from Kyler Murray

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Murray needs a big rebound game. His last two games have been marred by poor decisions, turnovers and uninspired play. There is a real possibility he is still shaking off the rust from a 37-day absence. Murray is not playing with the same level of confidence displayed earlier in the season.

The Cardinals are 1-3 when Murray’s quarterback rating is below 100. In Murray’s last four games, he has a quarterback rating of 87.2, a completion rate of 63.7% and has thrown five interceptions.

Match the Colts physicality/Bring energy and focus

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It is unfortunate this even needs to be a topic, but here we are. Arizona has played flat at home. They have played flat the last two weeks. Uninspired play hit new lows on Sunday in Detroit. A 10-win team coming off their first divisional loss and with a playoff berth on the line should not need a rah-rah speech from their coaches to be mentally focused to take care of business.

Each man in that locker room is responsible for the level of energy and focus they bring this Saturday. While the Lions were a gritty, no-quit type of team, the Colts are downright physical.

Indianapolis ranks as the sixth-best in terms of run-block rate according to ESPN Analytics. Each of their offensive linemen has been given grades of 66 or higher from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Defensively, PFF has the Colts as the seventh-best overall defense and second-best in special teams.

Indianapolis has won five of their last six games and seven of their last nine. This is not a team the Cardinals can take lightly.

Contain Jonathan Taylor

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This will be Arizona’s biggest challenge. The Colts are undefeated in games when Jonathan Taylor rushes for over 100 yards. Taylor has scored a touchdown in eleven straight games.

Arizona’s run defense has been their Achilles heel this season. Their 17th-place run defense ranking is misleading. Much of that has to do with the Cardinals’ offense to jump-start to early leads. Arizona ranks 27th in rushing yards per carry (4.56) and has allowed 100-plus yards rushing in three of their four losses.

Among active players, Jonathan Taylor leads the league in rushing attempts (270), rushing yards (1518), rushing touchdowns (17), yards per carry (5.6), and yards per game (108.4).

Win the turnover battle

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona has been fantastic at generating turnovers. Indianapolis, however, has been even better. The Cardinals have 24 total takeaways, good for seventh-best in the league. With 17 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, the Colts lead the league with 31 total takeaways.

It will be imperative for Arizona to protect the ball. 11 of their 14 turnovers have come during games at home and have been a deciding factor in each of their three home losses.

With three regular-season games remaining, the Cardinals need to find their mojo now. It is no longer about making the playoffs, but to be playing well ahead of the playoffs. They need to find the spark which made this team so special earlier in the season.

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