Cardinals confident about road challenge in NFC Championship Game

Jan 22, 2016, 9:08 AM
Arizona Cardinals' John Brown scores a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game aga...
Arizona Cardinals' John Brown scores a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

TEMPE, Ariz. — No NFL team enjoyed more success on the road than the Arizona Cardinals in 2015.

Among the six teams to win more games on the road than at home, the Cardinals were the only club to end the regular season with a winning record.

Chicago, Dallas, Oakland, Philadelphia and Tennessee finished a combined 26 games under .500.

“We prepare properly,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “I think home games, away games, we just prepare properly. Put yourself in a position to make plays and give yourself a chance to win games. On the road, it’s no different.”

The Cardinals’ seven wins away from University of Phoenix Stadium set a franchise mark and were a significant improvement from the previous two seasons when the Cardinals won four road games in both 2013 and 2014.

“Possibly could have been 8-0 if we wouldn’t have let that Pittsburgh game slip away (in Week 6),” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “But, I think it’s just the maturity of our team. We feel like we can go anywhere and play well.  We try not to let outside distractions, as far as crowd noise and everything like that, play a part in how we play the game. Guys are just relaxed and have fun.

“I think you should go into away games with an attitude, knowing that everybody in the stadium is against you and your backs are against the wall. The only way you can win is fight your way out of it, and that’s just been our mentality on the road this year.”

The Cardinals didn’t just win more on the road; they played better, too.

Offensively, they scored 4.4 more points per game, while defensively they allowed 1.6 fewer points per game compared to home games.

Their 262 points on the road not only established a franchise single-season record, but led the NFL.

Of the Cardinals’ seven road wins, five came by double-digits, including four of 23 or more points, which tied for the most in a single season in league history. The only other teams to accomplish that were Minnesota in 1988 and Oakland in 1968.

“Playing together, and I think, throughout the week, taking it day by day.  We’re not looking forward to anything,” receiver Michael Floyd said. “I think B.A. (head coach Bruce Arians) really puts that in our mind that each day is very important. When we’re on that day, that’s the day we’re working on right there. He makes sure that we keep that in our minds.

“It’s just putting in the work during the week and making sure that if there’s corrections that need to be done, that we make them.”

Arians, who’s won just as many road games as his predecessor Ken Whisenhunt in half the time, was quick to point out the schedule played a factor in their road success. The Cardinals played only two road games against playoff teams.

Still, there’s something to be said for a team, especially a team out West, that can still maintain its level of performance in a hostile environment.

“The communication is so much easier defensively when you can actually talk to each other,” Arians said.  “Offensively, we have to use the silent count at home half the time anyways, so it doesn’t matter for us to use the silent count.”

Winning outdoors — and dealing with the elements — in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle should prepare the Cardinals for what they are about to face in Carolina.

The Panthers were the only team to go undefeated at home this season, beating their opponents by an average score of 33-17.

Last week’s victory over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round was their 12th straight at Bank of America Stadium, including last year’s playoff win over the Cardinals. It’s the longest active home-winning streak in the NFL.

Carolina’s last home loss was Nov. 16, 2014.

“Their crowd is going to be intense. This is the first time they’ve ever had the Championship Game there.  I know how that was in 2008 for us. Our crowd was unbelievable, the craziest I’d ever seen it because that was our first time. I know I expect the same thing for them,” Campbell said. “Good thing that playing defense you don’t really have to hear the crowd too much. But I feed off the crowd, even when it’s the other team’s crowd. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to a hostile environment out there and try to do what we do.”

Prior to Seattle winning back-to-back NFC Championship Games at CenturyLink Field, three straight road teams had captured the George Halas Trophy from 2010-2012.

“We knew the importance of winning on the road, and the opportunity of setting the tone for later in the season if we had to go on the road — like we do now in the Championship Game — and win on the road,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “We’ve got confidence that we can get it done. We’ve been a great road team.”

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