The Arizona Cardinals come to town with a 6-1 record that impresses, mostly because they have already played several heavyweights with three different quarterbacks.
Having beaten San Diego, San Francisco and Philadelphia and losing only to Denver, Bruce Arians and his crew have been building a level of respect as an unsung but formidable force in the NFC West. Let’s examine some of the major components that should impact Sunday’s matchup:
DE Calais Campbell
Just two Cardinals in uniform Sunday remain from the 2008 Super Bowl team that fell short against the Steelers: Campbell and WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Campbell plays end in the 3-4 defense with the rare playmaking ability that is seen in his combination of quickness off the snap and the ability to shed blocks. His size (6-8, 300) makes him a real force and the rare 5-technique who racks up substantial statistics annually.
His season was temporarily halted when he was injured on a nasty chop block in Denver, but he appears to be returning to full health and should test Tyron Smith. Pass rush is his forte, but he also shuts down the run soundly. J.J. Watt is the gold standard for 3-4 defensive ends, but Campbell is next up in the opinion of many scouts.
WR John Brown
Three separate factors conspired to make John Brown the 15th highest-taken WR in this spring’s draft.
First, he played at small Pittsburg State. Second, he is a 24-year-old rookie. And third, he is undersized at 5-10, 180 pounds. But the Cardinals were able to snag one of the most explosive speedsters on the board at pick No. 91. He has brought his blazing speed, fine catching skills and tremendous route-running to the NFL ranks all the way from Division II and has not missed a beat.
His “Willie Mays” catch that beat the Eagles last week was an exhibition of his total skill set in a very high leverage situation. The Cardinals have a home run threat who makes opportunities underneath more appealing now.
CB Patrick Peterson
There is one cornerback who has eclipsed the $70 million barrier in total contract value and it is the ultra-talented Peterson. His combination of size and speed make him one of the top answers when the surveys are submitted for best cornerback.
That said, he is challenged a fair amount and will get caught looking into the backfield at times. Technically, he is a complete corner who plays physical, has strong footwork, wheels and changes direction. He certainly is the type you dream of when selecting at the top of the draft (fifth pick in 2011).
He left the game last week with a concussion, but all indications through the week were that he would be available. Unlike Richard Sherman, Peterson is a corner who travels, meaning, he will follow his assignment anywhere on the field (rather than stay on the left side), which requires plenty more versatility and preparation.
In Week 12 of 2011, he had a very spirited battle with Dez Bryant in Arizona. Bryant was targeted 14 times and made eight catches for 86 yards. Both won their share of battles. Look for a potential reprisal to entertain.
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