The Arizona Cardinals are left with a nightmarish task on Sunday: stopping the Denver Broncos’ offense.
With a five-time Most Valuable Player at quarterback in Peyton Manning, and Pro Bowlers at wide receiver and tight end with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, there is no easy solution to stop Denver when they have the ball.
But the Cardinals are currently 3-0, and boast one of the hottest defenses in football. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski thinks its a defense that can slow down Denver’s offense.
Jaworski was a guest on Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday, and he said that you can’t stop the Broncos’ high-powered offense, but you can slow them down, and the Cardinals are one of the few teams that can accomplish this.
“I’m not sure, as a group, anyone’s playing better than [defensive coordinator] Todd Bowles’ defense of the Arizona Cardinals,” said Jaworski.
“Creative blitzing that is working. Normally I say blitz Petnon Manning, he’s going to get the ball out, he’s going to get it down the field. He has not been as good this year against the blitz as I’ve seen him in the past,” said Jaworski. “I think the defense of the Cardinals, their scheme, their design, can cause some problems for Peyton Manning.”
The Broncos are currently ranked fourth in the NFL in redzone scoring, earning a touchdown on 70 percent of their possessions within 20 yards of the endzone.
Tight end Julius Thomas has been Manning’s favorite target in that area, leading the team with five receiving touchdowns in 2014, four of which came within five yards of the endzone.
As Arizona attempts to slow down Denver’s scoring, they may need to focus their gameplan on containing the fourth-year tight end.
“I think the key to this is Julius Thomas, because that’s the guy they like to get matched up, particularly in the red zone,” said Jaworski. “A lot of things they do are trying to dictate a matchup on Julius Thomas and to me, that’s going to the key to the game. If [Arizona] can take Julius Thomas out of it, they are going to have a great chance to win it.”
The status of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is still unknown, but Arizona may not be overly worried with the play they’ve received from Drew Stanton, who is 2-0 as the Arizona’s starting quarterback this season. But with Stanton starting behind center, Burns & Gambo questioned whether the Cardinals can maintain their success?
“Yeah, I think they can,” said Jaworski. “This young man has taken care of the football. They are winning because they are not turning the football over, playing great defense.”
Jaworski lauded Stanton’s ability to execute an offense, despite being a quarterback that won’t change the gameplan or take different risks.
“When a quarterback understands what to do every time a play is called, it gives them a better chance for success,” said Jaworski. “I think Drew Stanton is one those guys that understands why a play is called, sticks with the play call, and executes the play call.”
Palmer’s injury not only moved Stanton up on the depth chart, but also changed the role of rookie quarterback Logan Thomas, as he fixes into the backup slot. The Cardinals spent a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft on Thomas, but the rookie has yet to take a snap in the regular season.
Jaworski does not see Thomas and his inexperience as a problem in such a significant role, urging the Cardinals to stick with the quarterback.
“I think you stay with they guy you’ve got, and from what I saw from Logan Thomas in the preseason, I was blown away. I was very impressed,” said Jaworski.
Jaworski was critical of Thomas’ mechanics and accuracy before the draft in May, but said that he’s seen significant improvement since Thomas joined the Cardinals and their veteran coaches.
“When you have a [head coach] Bruce Arians and [assistant head coach] Tom Moore and guys like that in the organization that understand the quarterback position, and how critical it is to work on the simple mechanics of playing the position, I saw that improvement in Logan Thomas,” said Jaworski. “So I think clearly you’ve got a young quarterback with a lot of talent, a big upside, you stay with him.”
The Cardinals and Broncos square off in Denver on Sunday, starting at 1:05 p.m. and it can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.