Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season has arrived and the Arizona Cardinals are fighting for their playoff lives. After a thrilling victory over the Titans, the Cardinals find themselves in the hunt for the final NFC wild card spot with a 6-7 record. Now the Cardinals travel to face the Washington Redskins. Arizona needs the victory to keep their slim postseason hopes alive as Washington is already eliminated from contention. Can the Cardinals make it back to back wins for the first time this season?
Setting the Table
The Cardinals enter with a 6-7 record, two games out of the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFL. The home win against the Titans was a hard-fought defensive battle with the Cardinals offense able to only muster four field goals by Phil Dawson. The defense played exceptionally well and shut out the Titans in the second half. The Redskins come into the game after their embarrassing loss to the Chargers. The Dan Snyder owned team has been dysfunctional throughout the season and have understandably had inconsistent performances from week to week. Arizona will be playing their third game against an NFC East opponent this season after losing the first two to Dallas and Philadelphia.
When Arizona Has the Ball
Arizona is in the bottom 10 of the NFL in scoring with just 17.8 points per game. Washington is the worst scoring defense in the NFL with 26.5 points per game surrendered. Something has to give on Sunday and the Cardinals hope they can help out their defense by putting some points on the scoreboard. The Cardinals found their run game against the Titans with 136 yards on 29 carries for a 4.7 yards per carry average. Washington struggles against the run, yielding more than 120 yards per game, therefore the Cardinals will look to take advantage of. Rookie running back Kerwynn Williams has played well over the last two games in relief of Adrian Peterson. Peterson’s status remains in question and will likely come down to a game time decision.
Arizona attack the athletic Washington front with larger sets and counter runs to allow blockers to gain leverage at the point of attack. While tackle Jared Veldheer is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury, the Cardinals will be starting rookie Will Holden at left tackle. The makeshift offensive line will need to get to the second level and get a hat on middle linebacker Zach Brown. Brown is Washington’s leading tackler and the leader on defense. Guards Alex Boone and Earl Watford will need to be on their game to move the ball and take away pressure from the passing game.
The passing game has been anemic at best this season. The offensive line has been porous and gave up eight sacks against Tennessee. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has struggled to find open receivers in the short time available but has been brave in standing tall in the pocket. Washington’s pass rush is led by outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. If Gabbert can stay upright he should find open receivers against what has been a below average Washington secondary.
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Arizona on Defense
The game plan against Washington begins with putting pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Washington is averaging under 100 yards per game, and the Cardinals is a top 10 defense against the run. The Washington offensive line has given up the 10th most sacks in the NFL this season. The Cardinals have begun to find their groove in getting to the passer, led by Chandler Jones, who leads the NFL with 14 sacks on the season. The defense have the secondary talent in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. That allows coordinator James Bettcher to bring pressure from different angles.
When Washington’s offense is dangerous, Cousins is in rhythm and spreading the ball around. If the Cardinals maintains pressure on Cousins then Washington will keep extra blockers in pass protection. Those extra blockers will likely be tight end Vernon Davis or running back Samaje Perine. Cousins is a talented quarterback and can make plays if given the time and space. The Cardinals have the tools on defense to put the clamps on Washington’s offense. It will be up to the players to execute when it counts.
The biggest thing going for Arizona is they are still in contention for a playoff spot. The Cardinals need the win while Washington is playing for pride. In the end it will come down to which team’s strongest unit blinks first. Will the Washington offense be able to put points on the scoreboard? Will the Arizona defense get turnovers and put Gabbert and the offense in position to win the game? Arizona should find a way to win here, Cardinals 23-13.
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