Cardinals rewind: Let's talk about playoffs

BY foxsports • November 24, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Following Sunday's impressive and thorough 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Cardinals sit in sixth place in the NFC, pending the outcome of Monday night's game between San Francisco and Washington in the nation's capitol.
We will get to that victory in just a moment, but Cards coach Bruce Arians put it best when he opened his post-game remarks with this statement:
"Normally, I'll come in and talk about a statistic or two, but the only thing that matters is a W. From here on in, it doesn't matter about third-down statistics, red-zone statistics, rushing statistics or anything like that. It's just winning damn games."
The Cardinals (7-4) are doing just that. They're on a four-game winning a streak, so we think it's time to broach this topic: Let's talk about playoffs.
The Cardinals have opened some ground on the rest of the competition, since Chicago and Detroit lost while Green Bay played to a tie. The Cardinals own a head-to-head tiebreaker with Detroit by virtue of a Week 2 win, and they own the same tiebreaker with Carolina, which currently occupies the No. 5 spot in the NFC and hasn't lost since Arizona beat it in Week 5 (seven consecutive wins).
This week's game in Philadelphia (6-5) looms large for Arizona. There is no telling how the NFC East will play out between the Eagles and Cowboys, but getting a leg up in tiebreakers is always a good thing.
The rest of the schedule plays out like this: home against suddenly hot St. Louis; at Tennessee (5-6) which is battling for an AFC playoff spot; at Seattle, which leads the NFL with a 10-1 record; and home against San Francisco (6-4) in a game that could have playoff implications for both clubs.
"From here on out it's about taking care of business," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "I don't care what anybody says cause they ain't out on the field against these teams. Every team can beat you. Every team is good. This is the damn NFL. You got to show up every week or you will get your ass beat."
Now back to that Colts game…

After Indianapolis blocked a Jay Feely field goal attempt and kicked its own to pull to within 7-3 near the end of the first quarter, the Cardinals ripped off a five-play drive that was capped by Larry Fitzerald's 26-yard TD grab over two defenders. On the play, QB Carson Palmer absorbed a big hit to deliver the ball.

QB Carson Palmer: Palmer completed 26 of 37 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 114. Palmer has posted passer ratings of 100-plus in three of his past four games and appears to have hit his stride just when the team needs it most.

LB Karlos Dansby: Dansby led a balanced defensive attack with five tackles, a pass defensed and a pick-6 that earned him some good-natured ribbing because he has dropped several other potential interceptions this season. Dansby always seems to be in the right place. With the TD on Sunday, Dansby became the first linebacker in franchise history with three interception returns for TDs in their career. Only four players in franchise history have more INT returns for TDs than Dansby: Aeneas Williams (6), Larry Wilson (5), Antrel Rolle (4) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (4).

The Cards are using two tight-end sets to protect Palmer: It's probably a necessity given the struggles of left tackle Bradley Sowell and the uneven season of right tackle Eric Winston. The fear was that it would limit what Arizona can do offensively, and teams may well adjust to it in time, but right now, it's working because tight end Rob Housler has become a bigger part of the offense (maybe the addition of Jake Ballard has motivated him) and the running backs are doing a good job on chip blocks -- a duty they're assuming with more regularity now. It also helps that Palmer is rolling out a little more to buy some extra time.
Rashard Mendenhall isn’t ready for the farm: Mendenhall had his second-best day statistically as a Cardinal, showing a burst to the outside that we have not seen this season. "Rashard looked like himself. He looked healthy like he did in training camp," said Arians, noting that Mendenhall's turf toe is healed and his injured knee feels much better. "I thought he had, by far, his best game." Mendenhall finished with 13 rushes for 54 yards and a TD. He also caught a 24-yard pass and had another TD run to the outside negated by a holding call on tight end Jim Dray. If Mendenhall can start contributing like Andre Ellington has been, the Cards could have a legitimate run game.
Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are feeding off each other: Both were beasts on Sunday, getting into the backfield to disrupt plays or holding the point of attack. "We're competing and we talk (crap) to each other every play," Dockett said, smiling. "Everybody talks about some of the best duos in the league, and nobody really gives us credit. But I tell him all the time 'there's going to come a time when those eyes gonna be on us. Just keep preparing.' " 

The Cardinals did not report any injuries after the game and Arians said Monday afternoon that the team only sustained some bumps and bruises; nothing that would force missed time.

-- Here's what Arians said when talking about his second-half defense against the explosive Colts: “We didn’t want any bullets left in the gun. I know I’m not supposed to say bullets anymore. It’s not the politically correct thing. But here in Arizona it’s OK.”
-- The Cardinals were 7 for 14 on third down.
-- The Colts longest gain was a 28-yard run by quarterback Andrew Luck. The only other play that gained more than 20 yards was a Daniel Herron run.
-- Palmer has multiple TD passes in five of his last six games and with two TD passes Sunday, he has thrown for more than one TD in four consecutive games, the longest Cards streak since Kurt Warner did it in 2009. 
-- Palmer threw for more than 300 yards for the second week in a row. He is the first Cardinals QB to accomplish that feat since Warner in 2009. 
-- Following Sunday's stout performance, the Cardinals defense is up to No. 7 in the NFL rankings, allowing 317.1 yards per game. The NFC West has three of the league's top nine defenses. Seattle is No. 2; San Francisco is No. 9.
-- The NFC West is now 12-3 against the AFC South.
-- Jay Feely had his string of 17 straight field goals snapped when the Colts blocked a first-quarter attempt.
-- All seven of Michael Floyd's catches on Sunday resulted in first downs. He leads the team with 35 first downs this year.
-- With the win over the Colts on Sunday, Arizona finished the month of November with a perfect 3-0 record. It marks the first time since 1970 (4-0-1) and the fifth time in franchise history (3-0-1 in 1949; 4-0 in 1948; 4-0 in 1920) that the Cardinals went without a loss in the month of November.

At Philadelphia, Sunday at 11 a.m.: The Eagles (6-5) had their bye week, giving them two weeks to prepare for the Cardinals defense. The challenge might be greater, however, for the Cards defense in facing coach Chip Kelly's unorthodox offense, which is far more than the zone-read-based scheme most assume. Former Arizona QB Nick Foles, hardly the ideal candidate for the zone-read, has thrown 16 TD passes with zero interceptions since taking over for Michael Vick. This game is important to both teams' playoff hopes.
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