Setting the Stage:
Both teams are coming off a bye. Cards are 3 & 0 (with wins over SD, Giants and SF). Denver is 2 & 1 (having beaten Indy and KC but losing to Seattle in OT). When you think of Denver, the first thing that comes to mind is Peyton Manning. He's completed 74 of 111 attempts for 814 yards (264 a game) and 8 touchdowns. His main target has been Emmanuel Sanders (with 25 receptions - more than double that of the top Cardinal receiver, Michael Floyd who has 11). But Floyd is averaging 22.9 ypr (vs. 13.4 for Sanders). Julius Thomas is their big receiving TD threat with 5 TD's. Demaryius Thomas is (statistically) their #3 wideout. Main Denver bll cow RB is Montee Ball (165 yards on 49 carries - 3.4 ypc) which isn't as good as Andre Ellington's 206 yards on 46 carries (4.5 ypc).
Denver has a slight edge over us in points per game, but we're a tad better in 3rd down conversions and time of possession. Our defense is stingier (allowing 316.3 yards per game vs. Denver's 390.7 and fewer passing and rushing yards per game ). The Cardinals are giving up just 15.0 yards a game (vs. Denver's 22.3). Interesting story line figures to be how well Arians can get into the mind of his former pupil, Manning (& vice versa).
Opponents' Last Game:
In week #3 (before the bye week) Denver lost to the Seahawks 26 - 20.
Seattle received. TB on the KO. Denver held them to 3 7 out. Ryan's 61-yard punt was fair caught at the Denver 14. On the first play of the Denver possession, Ball gained 9 yards up the middle but then fumbled. Recovered by Chancellor. Seahawk ball at the Denver 6. They ran Lynch 3 times in a row (for +3, +4 and -1) before Hauschka kicked a 20-yard FG. Seahawks 3 - Broncs 0.
Touchback on the KO. Manning engineered a 15-play drive that ended at the Seattle 5 with a 24-yard McManus FG to tie the game. Manning completed 6 of 8 passes on the drive. Longest play was a 17-yard completion to Sanders. Seahawks 3 - Broncs 3.
TB on the KO. Three & Outsville. Ryan punted 66 yards. It was returned t othe Denver 29. Denver ran off three plays of little consequence before the quarter ended.
First Quarter Score: Seahawks 3 - Broncs 3.
Two plays later, Colquitt punted 43 yards where it was returned to the Seattle 30. Seattle managed to move to the Denver 41 where Ryan's punt was fair caught at the Denver 7. Manning completed four passes, but Ball and C Anderson only ran for +1, -1, -1 and +1 before Denver was forced to punt. It was returned to the Seattle 27. On the sixth play of the series, Wilson hit Lockette deep right for a 39-yard TD. Seahawks 10 - Broncs 3.
TB on the KO. Denver was held to 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Seattle 32. 2:38 left till halftime. Lynch picked up gains of +9, +3, +8 and +1, and Wilson scrambled for +5 while Wilson completed 4 for 5 to engineer a 10 play drive capped by a 3-yard TD completion to Lynch. Seahawks 17 - Broncos 3.
TB on the KO to end the 1H.
First Half Score: Seahawks 17 - Broncs 3.
Broncs received - TB on the KO. 3 & out. Punt returned to the Seattle 29. Seattle 5-play drive ended at midfield. Ryan's punt was downed at the Denver 7. A 19-yard completion to Sanders helped Denver get out to the 42, where they had to punt. Fair caught at the Seattle 17. 3 & out. Ryan's 58-yard punt was returned for no gain at the Denver 17. Three & out (again). Returned by Seattle to their own 39. They managed to move into FG range (at the Denver 29, but Hauschka's 46-yard attempt was blocked. Broncos managed to move out to the Seattle 46 as the quarter ended. .4 and +15.
Third Quarter Score: Seahawks 17 - Broncs 3.
Colquitt punted from midfield. Fair caught by Seattle at their own 6. After a minus-7 yard sack by Ware and a false start flag, Lynch was tackled in the end zone (by Irivng and Ward) for a safety.An 11-yard completion to Forte helped set up a 5-yard Cutler-to-Marshall TD pass. Seahawks 17 - Broncs 5.
KO was returned to the Denver 23. Manning completed 3 of 4 short passes but Denver was forced to punt from their 40. Fair caught by Seattle at their own 14. On the first play of that possession, Wilson's pass for Harvin was intercepted by Harris and returned to the Seattle 19. On the 5th play from scrimmage, Manning hit J Thomas for a 3 yard TD. (Seahawks are making this interesting). Seahawks 17 - Denver 12.
Plenty of time (9:20 )left. Harvin returned the KO to his own 9. They moved to their own 42 in 8 plays (consuming 3:13). Ryan's punt was fair caught at the Denver 19. Despite taking a sack on the 2nd play of the possession, Manning was able to move his team to the Seattle 24 (including completions of +13, +14, +15 and +13) but on the 9th play of the drive, his pass intended for Welker was picked off by Chancellor and returned 52 yards to the Denver 35.
2:12 left. They ran Lynch 4 straight times (including a 12-yard pickup due to a roughness penalty) to reach the Denver 10 where Hauschka was good from 28. Seahawks 20 - Denver 12.
0:59 left to play TB on the KO. Manning completed 6 straight passes - the last of which was a 26 yard completion deep left to Tamme. 2-point attempt (a pass to D Thomas) was good. All tied up. Seahawks 20 - Denver 20.
0:18 left. TB on the KO. Wilson took a knee.
Regulation Score: Seahawks 20 - Broncs 20.
- Seattle received. TB on the KO. Wilson engineered a 13-play TD drive finished off by a 6-yard M Lynch TD-run off left tackle.
Final Score: Seattle 26 - Broncs 20.
What the Game Stats Tell Us
This had all the earmarks of a Seattle "laugher," but the Seahawks got a little sloppy with the football in the 2H (allowing a FG to be blocked and giving up a 4Q interception and safety). They were lucky to pull off an OT win.
Manning completed 31 of 49 passes for 303 yards and 2 TD's while throwing one interception. He was only sacked once.
Ball ran 14 times for 38 yards (compared to 6 carries for -2-yards by all other Denver runners).
Sanders had a huge day grabbing 11 passes for 149-yards. (Welker caught 6 for 60 yard. D Thomas caught 4 for 41). Longest completions were to Sanders (+42) and two 64-yarders to Tamme.
Ball lost a fumble.
Irving led the Broncs with tackles (13 - 11 of which were assists) followed by Marshall (12), Ward (8) and V Miller (7)
Ward, Ware and Miller were each credited with sacks. Harris had the only Denver interception.
Broncs picked up 19 first downs (18 thru the air/one on the ground).
Bronco offense netted 332 net yards. Net yards rushing: Just 36.
Game must have set the record for penalties (What's up with that)? *Niners were flagged 16 times for 118 yards. (Bears were penalized 10 times for 58 yards).
Seattle was minus-4 in turnovers (3 interceptions/one fumble lost). No fumbles or interceptions given up by Chicago.
Bronco Rushing Plays: 20/Passing Plays: 50.
Denver was penalized only four times (Seattle 7).
Turnover Ratio: -1 (Two teams were even in interceptions. Denver lost one fumble (Seattle lost zero). But Denver did block one FG,
Time of Possession: Niners 27:42/Seattle 38:04
WR1 88 D Thomas12 Caldwell
LT 78 Clady 71 Cornick
LG 74 Franklin 63 Garland
C 66 Ramirez 64 Montgomery
RG 65 Vasquez xx Farrell
RT 75 Clark 79 Schofield
TE1 80 J Thomas
TE2 85 V Green 84 Tamme
WR2 10 Sanders 14 Latimer 19 Burse
QB 18 P Manning 17 Osweiler
28 M Ball 23 Hillman 22 CJ Anderson 40 J Thompson
DE 93 Campbell 96 K,Martin 95 Kelly
NT 92 D. Williams 66 Ta'amu
DT 98 Rucker 72 Stinson
SLB 91 Sh'ghnssy 94 S. Acho
ILB 50 Foote 54 Demens
ILB 51 Minter 56 Carson
WLB 53 Keiser 57 Okafor 97 Alexander xx Butler
LCB 21 Peterson 28 Bethel
RCB 31 Cromartie 25 Powers
SS 22 Jefferson 36 Bucannon
FS 32 Mathieu 26 R. Johnson
Matchup: Bronco Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Expect to see a "chess match" between Arians and his former pupil Manning involving disguised coverages, "false looks" and last-second audibles. Expect to see some "no-huddle" from Manning (in order to limit Todd Bowles' ability to tailor last-minute substitutions to game-situation, down & distance. At the same time, expect Peyton to make last-second changes to limit Bowles' ability to adjust. Manning is the maestro of the presnap. Although he usually likes to spread the throws around, his favorite target vs. Seattle was Emmanuel Sanders, but Demaryius Thomas is the Denver receiver who gets the most attention. And, of course, there's always the dangerous Wes Welker. Last game, Manning connected twice for yardage in the twenties with backup TE Jacob Tamme, and we can logically expect Manning to test the Cardinal back-seven's ability to cover tight ends. In pass pro, their LT (Clady) is the star performer with the rest of the crew flying below the radar. Bronc pass blockers have only allowed Manning to be sacked 3 times and he's only been picked off once.
The Cardinals are still trying to discover their pass rush and - until they figure out who they actually have - will continue to rely on unorthodox scheming and "pass rush by committee." Last game, the Cardinal pass defense was abused by Kaepernick, Crabtree etc. in the first half, but it tightened up in the 2H - as soon we were able to disrupt the Niner blocking and get our hands up to disrupt Kaepernick's passing lanes. I hope Cardinal pass rushers continue to get their hands up (it seems like such a simple thing, but we don't always do it). Cromartie banged up a wheel vs. Niners but says he expects to be OK. "Hands up on the pass rush!" (if we can't get to Manning or keep his receivers from catching everything in sight, at least we can block his passing lanes and disrupt his timing).
Key Matchups: Arians vs. Manning. Our multiple corners vs. their multiple receivers. Their TE's (Tamme and V Green) vs. our LB's and safeties.
Matchup: Bronco Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Broncos had problems running vs. Seattle (so what's new)? Their problems may have had more to do with design than Denver inefficiency running the ball. (they passed 50 times and ran just 20). Like the Cardinals, they favor a (one-back) 2-TE set over a RB and a FB. In Arizona's stingy rush defense, things don't figure to get any easier for Denver, but they're going to want to run better to avoid being one0dimensional. 8 of 9 Denver TD's this season have come via the pass. Expect the Broncs to spend a lot of time on their rushing issues during the bye week.
Key Matchup: Cardinal LB's vs. Ball on draws, screens and misdirection plays.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald, 19 Ginn, 13 John Brown
LT 68 Veldheer, 79 Sowell
LG 62 Larsen, 61 Cooper
C 63 Sendlein, 62 Larsen
RG 74 Fanaika, 78 Watford
RT 70 Massie, 79 Sowell
TE 87 Niklas, 85 Fells
WR2 15 M. Floyd, 13 Jaron Brown
QB 03 Palmer, 05 Stanton 06 Thomas
RB 38 Ellington, 30 Taylor, 39 Hughes, 34 Parmele
TE 89 Carlson, 84 Housler
LDE 95 Wolfe 97 M Jackson
DT 92 S W'ms 96 Unrein
NT 98 Knighton76 Austin
RDE 94 Ware 93 Q Smith
SLB 58 V Miller 55 McCray
MLB 56 Irving 53 S Johnson
WLB 59 Trevathian54 B Marshall 52 C Nelson
LCB 21 Talib 29 Roby 32 T Carter
RCB 25 C Harris 36 K Webster 31 O Bolden
SS 43 TJ Ward 38 Q Carter
FS 26 R Moore 30 Bruton Jr
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Bronco Pass Defense
As of Wednesday, Carson Palmer wasn't 100% and he was seeing another nerve specialist. Despite what Carson or the coaches say, I'm assuming Carson will be unable to go, so it will be Drew Stanton again. Let's be real - Palmer figures to be more accurate and better at reading defenses than Stanton, but that doesn't mean Drew can't deliver the ball on-time to a bevy of quality receivers within the context of, perhapsl, a scaled-back offense. (Dang! we've won two straight with him). It just makes our window of opportunity a bit narrower. Also - you've got to figure that, with each succeeding game, Stanton gains that much more experience and his game should improve.
Denver pass rushers have racked up 8 sacks. (with the scary-good Ware and Miller accounting for 4.5) and they get Trevathian back. Keeping Stanton upright and healthy has to be of paramount importance (maybe even more than winning) because if Stanton were to go down, who'd be our QB?- Rookie Logan Thomas? Or how aboutTeddy Ginn throwing at the end of a sweep? Bronco DB's have picked off 3 balls (Moore leads Denver with 2), but the guy who's got the Cardinals' attention is Ward. Cards were happy thus far with Stanton's protection (although I'm sure both he'd like a bit more time back there to pick apart the Broncos).
In the win over SF, the Cards involved Jonathan Brown in their passing offense in a significant way (as in - two long TD's). Ginn also had a couple of clutch catches. Carlson got into the act with at least one "money" grab. I'd expect the Cards to ride the Arians "chunk yards"/"throw to the guys they don't double" pony that's gotten us as far as we've gotten.
Key Matchup: Cardinal OL vs. Miller, Ware and Trevathian. Multiple Cardinal receivers vs. Denver secondary.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Bronco Run Defense
Like Denver, the Cards have probably worked a lot on their running attack during the off-week, but we still see us using Ellington just enough to keep the Bronco pass rushers honest and set up play action.
Key Matchup: Ellington's most dangerous when he can so some damage at the second level; so keep an eye on their MLB Irving to contain Andre.
P 04 Colquitt
K 08 McManus
H 04 Colquitt
LS 46 Brewer
KR 12 Caldwell 31 O Bolden
PR 19 Burse 10 Sanders
K 07 Catanzaro
P 09 Zastudil, 02 Butler
H 09 Zastudil
LS 82 Leach
KR 19 Ginn 12 John Brown
PR 19 Ginn 21 Peterson 12 John Brown
Matchup: Niner Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
There's very little in the Bronco stats for kicking or punting that indicates they have anything special going for them in the return game. Cards have Ginn. (In early games, he scare us with questionable decision-making (especially returning KO's from deep in the end zone) but since then, he's displayed somewhat better judgment of the type (both as a returner and receiver) you'd expect from a veteran player. In the kicking game, the farthest FG attempt McManus has attempted is from inside 20 yards. Colquitt has dropped 5 of 16 punts either inside the 2 or for touchbacks.
Key matchups: We like Ginn vs. Denver's coverage units and both Zastudil and Catanzaro vs. Colquitt and McManus in the kicking game (May we go so far as to opine that deficiencies in Denver special teams place additional pressure on Peyton Manning)?
Foxy's their head coach (with Jack Del Rio their DC, Adam Gase OC and Jeff Rodgers their ST guy). Plus - they have the ever-presence shadow of John Elway providing direction from on-high. Fox and Del Rio have excellent street creds from their HC days with Carolina and Jacksonville respectively. And let's not forget - the Broncos have the consummate offensive coach/field general with Peyton Manning behind center. Cardinal coaching isn't exactly chopped-liver either - with Arians the offensive master-strategist (who helped tutor Manning back in the day) and Bowles the mad-scientist on the other side of the ball. Should make for an interesting football game.
You sense a growing feeling on the part of the national media that "the Cards are the real-deal." Sure looks like it - they've played solid football on offense, defense and special teams week in and week out = but we're only talking about three games and Cardinal fans have been burned in the past. Ask me again in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, we'll see how each team handled their bye-week. (Did the players keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone? Or did they begin to believe their press-clippings)? Based on what I've seen over the past year and a half, the Cards have the look and feel of a well-coached football team staffed by a bunch of old heads who have been pretty much everywhere and experienced just about everything. I like what I'm seeing but time will tell. Go Cards!