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Huge weekend: Arizona Cardinals try to remain on the stage against Denver Broncos
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Huge weekend: Arizona Cardinals try to remain on the stage against Denver Broncos

I’m spending my Sunday watching college football!

Obviously, that may sound confusing but I’ll be traveling to Southern California and watching ASU all day Saturday, so I’ll miss the games. Give me the third-greatest invention of all-time (the DVR), and I’ll be watching all these great games that I’ll miss.

Nationally, all eyes are on the SEC West this weekend. #6 Texas A&M at #12 Mississippi State, #3 Alabama at #11 Ole Miss, and #15 LSU is at #5 Auburn. That’s an amazing schedule for the entire country. In the SEC West, that’s just a normal gameday.

Locally, all three teams in this state have or have had huge road games against “ranked” opponents. Each game has a national stage feel to it but each team has a different role on the stage. Arizona was the opening act against Oregon. We looked at them Wednesday and they actually did a few of the things we discussed in their win. Thursday, ASU was the focus for their road game versus USC. Today, we wonder how can the Cardinals come home from Denver undefeated.

OWN THE STAGE

Arizona needed a win to get the stage door open on the national stage. Arizona State needs to beat USC just to keep from being pushed off the stage. The Cardinals are already on the stage as one of two remaining unbeaten teams, but this is the opportunity to get the nation to flood the theater to see the Cardinals on stage. Here’s what I hope to see for the Cards to be 4-0:

1) Win first down

This is not offense or defense specific, it’s both. Arizona can’t win if Peyton Manning is in third-and-short. Arizona can’t eat the clock on offense if it’s in third-and-long. Third-down conversions will be a huge stat in this game, as will time of possession — two stats that often go hand-in-hand. It’s too simple to just look at third-down conversions because they’re normally a product of gaining good yards on first down. Which leads to…

2) Play action

If Arizona is in third-and-short, they can run the ball for the first down. This eats clock with a fresh set of downs, keeping Manning on the sideline. It also gives great credibility to a Drew Stanton play fake. Denver’s defense is good when they can create situations that force you to be one-dimensional. If you have the option to run or pass, it minimizes the effectiveness of their playmakers. To win, Stanton will need every advantage possible. The uselessness of a third-and-9 play fake will only make it easier to bring him down.

Manning is in a similar situation. Todd Bowles wants to bring the house. The success of a third-and-long blitz could pay huge dividends against Denver. A third-and-short blitz that gets telegraphed to Manning will lead to extra point attempts. In order to take advantage of Bowles’ skill as a defensive play-caller, the play fake has to be removed as a strong weapon. The key, therefore, is to eliminate four and five-yard gains on first down.

3) Hit Manning

Don’t jump offsides. The Denver crowd is great at staying quiet. It’s so easy for the defenders to hear Manning, making it easier to jump offsides because of his outstanding cadence. Every pass-rusher for Arizona must know that a sack is nice, but hitting Manning is the key. Even if he completes a big pass play, he must have to get up off the ground after the throw. Consistent hits force him off his spot. If his back foot plants with minimal pressure, the Cards lose. Sacking Manning wins the game for Arizona. Hitting Manning gives Arizona the chance to win. Giving Manning time to throw means wait for Sunday Night Football to see if Cincinnati will remain as the only unbeaten.