Monks in the Hall,
Let me quickly address the Green Bay loss right now in my prelude, so we don't have to suffer through mentions of it throughout the heart of Skins Serv. When you go on the road in the NFL bad things happen. It is very rare you will see a perfect game by a road team (perhaps in the old Sun Devil Stadium, but besides that they're uncommon). I'd say you would have to be a good two touchdowns better than a team in order to give yourself a great chance to win at their place - if you're only a single TD better, than the entire game is a toss up. And that's what happened Sunday. I'd say the Skins are about four to seven points better than the Packers, which isn't good enough when you factor in turnovers, drop balls and fluke injuries. Again, as it seems happens 5-7 times a year, the Skins let down in the second half, lost focus, were careless with the ball and couldn't put a team away when they had the chance. No killer instinct, no sense of urgency, no ball hawking. They didn't deserve to win. If the Skins want to be an upper-tier team in this league than every player is going to have to respond: follow the ball into your hands, cradle the ball with two hands, wrap up defenders, hold off oncoming pass rushers for the extra half second. If they can't do those intangibles on the road (as they're paid to do) then it's not worth getting too excited about cupcake home performances, because they'll probably not get it done when it counts most.
1) Injuries - Like no other game in recent memory, this game comes down to the health of both teams. I know we've all been pre-occupied by the bevy of injuries that has plagued our offensive line, but we most also take notice of some key injuries that could quickly shift the Cardinals from a good football team to a rotten one. Although on paper I believe the Skins will win this game handily, I will not be confident until the coaches post their active and inactives at about 11:40 AM Sunday. Let me break it down for you player by player.
2) Rabach/Wade/Kendall - Before we get into injury severity and contigency plans, let me just say that if this makeshift group was 100% we'd still have some major issues in the trenches. This line isn't getting any push for our running game and can't move laterally (No excuse for the CP fumble, but there were 5 Packers in on that play and no Skins lineman in the vicinity - how's that possible?). The line had been pass blocking well until Rabach and Wade went down, and then that went kaput also.
Rabach's groin is strained and sore. He claims he'll be ready to go Sunday (the guy's never missed a game as a Skin), but he probably won't practice all week. This is a bit disconcerting - if he's not good enough to go Friday, how much will 48 hours help? If he does play, I just don't know how effective he'll be, especially when he's asked to pull.
Wade's dealing with a hammy (what's with all the hammys?). He's pretty much the same deal as Rabach - don't expect to see him in practice but he'll suit up Sunday. Again, Wade didn't look all that great before he got hurt Sunday, just how good will he be with a week's practice missed?
Kendall is the WebMD/Boeing "Under the radar injury of the week." Apparently he isn't practicing either because of an arthritic knee and, you guessed it, a bad hammy.
Who's leading the pre-game stretching? Are they counting to twenty with coaches and players alternating who says the number? Are the players reaching down all the way to their tippy-toes?
I really can't speculate on an arthritic knee - I think Sandy Koufax had bad arthritis which ended his career, but I don't think Kendall's Jewish. Kendall claims he'll be ready to go Sunday also.
It's pretty unbelievable what kind of medicinal affect Saturday night has on this team. Miraculous almost. I wake up every Sunday morning feeling nauseous and dizzy, yet these guys manage to ignore their millions of ailments and lace em' up.
And let's say that Wade, Kendall and Rabach can't go? Here's what our projected lineup will be. Chris Samuels at LT, Lorenzo Alexander at LG, Mike Pucillo at Center, Rick Demulling at RG and Jason Scrubini at RT. Alexander is actually a defender, Pucillo at center introduces potential QB/C exchange issues, and DeMulling is well...DeMulling?
I know it sounds catastrophic, but if somehow these guys can step it up (they are pros), the Skins have other things going for them (like tons of Cardinals injuries) to help them get through this one.
3) Warner/Dansby/Wilson/Brown/Boldin - The drop off from Kurt Warner to Tim Rattay and/or Tim Hassleback is astronomical. Warner had this offense on a roll before his injury and was starting to look like his old self with his new batch of talented WRs. Warner's arm is still live and he seems to have finally exorcised the demons from his hand injuries of years ago.
Tim Rattay was not just good, he was exceptional in the way he threw big interceptions in each of the Cardinals attempts to come back last week against the Panters. The guy isn't even an NFL bust, he's just a never-was. The Skins will rattle him and force him to commit turnovers. Doesn't matter what kind of weapons he has on the outside, he won't be able to lead this team to a victory.
Tim Hassleback is more famous for impregnating his hot wife than he is for playing football. To put it in a little more perspective, the Cardinals had Rattay, Vinny T, Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich and the Boz ahead of him on their QB depth chart.
If either of these guys start, the Skins will be playing on short fields all day and even their o-line should be able to handle that task.
As of now, Warner does have damaged ligaments in his left elbow but opted to not have surgery and will be available to play (he practiced yesterday). Here's the thing - Warner can't even hand the ball of with his left hand right now and the Cardinals are talking about having him come in for no-huddle, pass-only situations. Seems like a pretty appealing situation to the Skins defense also. One hit on Warner and he's probably not only done for the game, but will be done for the season. The Cardinals are also not going to play Warner until they can find something to stabilize the elbow - we'll see if they're able to do that.
What could be bigger than the Warner injury are injuries to LB Carlos Dansby and S Adrian Wilson. These two guys make that defense go. They are fast to the ball, can stop the run and are great in coverage. This 'Zona defense, when healthy, can stop people (see the Pittsburgh game from three weeks ago). Dansby is an up and coming LB out of Auburn (JC's best friend) who leads Zona with 44 tackles. Wilson is a top-three safety in the entire NFL. The Cardinals defense, which is a mediocre 16th overall with those two in the lineup, will be vulnerable to everything with them out. If Dansby and Wilson do play, the Skins will have much more trouble running and passing.
As of now, Dansby is questionable with a sprained left knee and didn't practice yesterday. I don't think Arizona knows his status for Sunday yet. Wilson, who strained his hamstring late in the game against Carolina, also didn't practice yesterday - his status is uncertain also.
Arizona's number one pick from last year, Levi Brown, who hasn't played in three weeks with a bummed ankle, practiced limitedly yesterday and will also be a game-time decision. If Brown can't go, the Skins defense will have an even easier time getting at whichever dufus is back there.
Lastly, the Cardinals will finally get Anquan Boldin back this wee, but I don't think it makes much of a difference if he has nobody throwing it to him.
4) How it Will Go - I'm seeing a turnover fest this Sunday. The Skins defense is number three in the league. They've done a great job against defenses with good aerial attacks and I'm not worried about Edgerrin James burning them much out of the backfield. The Skins will play inside their 50 the entire game, they'll get a defensive score, and they'll take pressure off the o-line by pounding the ball to Portis and running behind Samuels and Sellars. The game will not be a close one. Our o-line will heal up and our defense will move up to number one in the league, setting up a fun one in Foxboro next week. (How's that for optimism? Bet you didn't see that one coming)
Prediction (for Dani): Skins - A lot, Cardinals - A little
Parting Shot: Sean Taylor - Sean is finally becoming the player we all dreamed of when the Skins drafted him. He's hitting, he's intercepting, he's covering, he's limiting stupid penalties and he's becoming the leader of the defense. The guy has not let anything behind him yet and when it looks like he does, he breaks to the ball and stops the play. I know he got roused in the media for dropping 3 potential picks, but that kind of thing comes with time - the more opportunities he gets the more relaxed he'll be when the ball's in his hands. ST is in all the right places - he has defenses scared to throw deep and scared to throw over the middle. I wouldn't want to have any other safety in the league playing back there. If the Skins manage to sneak into the playoffs, he'll get major votes for defensive MVP.
PS - Moss (Groing) and ARE (Hammy) practiced yesterday, but watch these two closely. I don't think either one played near 100% last week and Moss strained a hammy late in the game to go on top of his groin issue. It's possible we won't see much burst out of both of these guys - another good reason for why the Skins will have to play on short fields this week. Also look for a little more Brandon Lloyd this week - although he dropped one he could have had (which would have put us at the one yard line late in the game), the coaches will have had to see the move he made to get open on the play - a pretty sweet juke off the line of scrimmage. Maybe this guy can finally get going.