coleryan Posts:21308 Followers:24
On 11/19/2013 05:53 PM in NFL

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: Preview and Pick

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: Preview and Pick

The Arizona Cardinals are slowly becoming relevant in the playoff picture and they are not getting much attention. With a win over Jacksonville that got little attention, the Cardinals have a chance to get all the attention they want and then some, if they can take down Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have been inconsistent in their recent outings and want to put in a full effort this week.

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals Odds

The opening NFL point spread for this game has the Cardinals listed as (-2) point favorites. This is for two very important reasons. First, they are a very good home team and secondly they are flying under the radar. The betting public does not see this, as evident by the over 78 percent of the wagering tickets that are being placed on the visiting Colts.

This is also a homecoming game for the Cardinals head coach. In just his 11th game as a head coach, Bruce Arians will have to unfog his glasses and coach against the one team that may tug at his heart the most, the Indianapolis Colts. The story is well known. After three games last season Arians took over for Chuck Pagano, who was being treated for Leukemia, and led the Colts to a 9-3 record and the playoffs as interim coach. Those 12 games led Arians to coach of the year and eventually the Cardinals’ job.

Because of how the NFL rotates its scheduling, Arians knew Arizona would be playing Indianapolis when he was hired in January. Now he will have to put his emotions to the side and get ready to take on his former team. Sunday's game against the Colts was the matchup Bruce Arians had circled since the schedule was released in April. The Cardinals will be eager to get a win for their coach.

The latest football betting trends for this game reveal that the Colts have some wagering angles that back them in his game. The Colts are 21-9-2 against the spread (ATS) when playing a team with a winning record, 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games in November and 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games overall. The Cardinals are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games following a win against the spread, 2-5 ATS when playing a team with a winning record and 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing less than 15 points in their previous game.

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals Pick

With plenty of time to go before the start of the regular season, I will wait to release my pick on this game until we get closer to game day.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 2-3-0
coleryan Posts:21308 Followers:24
11/20/2013 08:57 PM

The Colts defense is moving into prevent mode.

Players and coaches have spent extra time fine-tuning their techniques and fundamentals. They’ve talked repeatedly about the need to fill gaps and not do too much, and they’re hoping all the extra work finally eliminates some of those maddening big plays. Over the last 3½games, Indy’s opponents have scored six touchdowns of 30 or more yards, and that doesn’t even include a 98-yard punt return for a score.

“Those are explosive plays and you never want to give those up,” said linebacker Robert Mathis, the NFL’s sacks leader. “It’s very fixable, and we’re working on it.”

The Colts (7-3) don’t have any time to waste, either.

On Sunday, they visit surprising Arizona (6-4) where they’ll take on Larry Fitzgerald and Bruce Arians’ wide-open offense. They still have rematches with Tennessee and Houston, teams that accounted for three of those long scoring plays, and they still have to travel to AFC North-leading Cincinnati and AFC West co-leader Kansas City.

Indy leads the AFC South by three games and could clinch the division and earn a home playoff date when the Titans come to town Dec. 1. The Colts insist their problems will be fixed before the playoffs start.

“It’s just execution, period. It’s just execution,” defensive end Cory Redding said. “When it comes to us, we’ve got to be in our gaps and do our job and make the play when you get to make the play.”

One thing that could help is the return of some injured players.

Each of the four long TD passes came with starting cornerback Greg Toler and backup cornerback Josh Gordy out of action. Both were injured in the second half of the Denver game and have missed the last three weeks because of groin injuries. Backup safety Delano Howell, who had 18 tackles in two starts this season, also missed the last three games with a neck injury.

Indy could have all three back on the field this week.

Coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday that the three defensive backs — and starting safety LaRon Landry (right foot) — are all considered day-to-day.

Toler, for one, can’t wait to play.

“I’m very anxious to get back,” he said. “But it’s like I told the guys, you’ve just got to make the plays and they’re more than capable of making plays. We’ve just got to get back to playing Colts football.”

Indy came into the season touting its new desire to rely more on the ground game this season, a strategy shift that has produced mixed results.

But the Colts’ first-half struggles have increasingly forced them away from that strategy. In a come-from-behind win at Houston and an embarrassing loss at home to St. Louis, Indy ran just 28 times for 87 yards. Last Thursday, at Tennessee, they again trailed early. This time, they stuck with the run, grinding out 137 yards and got the winning score on an 11-yard TD run from Donald Brown.

While many have critiqued the slow-starting offense for its inability to stay on the field in the first two quarters of the last three games, the defense that has created some of its own problems by failing to get off the field.

The result: Indy has been outscored 66-9 in the first half since the start of November.

“There’s some things we can pinpoint in the last three ballgames in the first half that you can put your finger on and say if we get these things corrected,” Pagano said. “I told the guys, if you total up just third down, if you look at third-down offense and third-down defense and you look at us last three ball games, we’ve converted 13 percent of the time and our opponents have converted 62 percent. So that’s something right there that we can focus on both sides on the ball and try to fix.”

  • Last 7 Days Record: 2-3-0
coleryan Posts:21308 Followers:24
11/20/2013 08:58 PM

Bruce Arians does not try to pretend this is just another game. Not after what he and the Indianapolis Colts went through last season.

As anyone who pays attention to the NFL knows, Arians took over as interim coach of the Colts when Chuck Pagano was stricken with leukemia. He famously left the light in Pagano’s office on, never to be turned off until the coach returned.

Meanwhile, Arians guided Indianapolis to a 9-3 record, earning coach of the year honors in the process. Pagano returned and the Colts went on to the playoffs. It’s a season that propelled Arians to the head coaching job in Arizona and on Sunday his Cardinals will face Pagano and the Colts.

“I was hoping it would never be on the schedule,” Arians said, “because there are too many emotional ties to what happened last year to have to play them. I’m just glad we are playing here and not there. That would really be tough to walk into that stadium.”

Had Pagano not become ill, Arians might very well never have gotten a chance to be an NFL head coach. Arians said he has reflected on that fact “many, many days.”

“It’s a shame that it took that to get an opportunity,” he said. “I’m just thankful he’s healthy and beat it and continues to beat it. That was really the whole focus last year. It did present an opportunity, and I’m very thankful for it. But, I hate that it had to happen that way.”

For two decades Arians toiled as an offensive assistant, working his way up with stints in Kansas City, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis again.

“How you get opportunities is one thing,” Pagano said, “but he’s certainly taking advantage of it. I think everybody in the coaching profession knows that was long overdue.”

After helping the Steelers win two Super Bowls, Arians left Pittsburgh in what was officially called a retirement. Arians does not hide the fact he was “shown the door. ‘‘

Then his old friend Pagano called and asked him to come to work as offensive coordinator. Arians, who already had worked with a young Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, loved the idea of joining rookie Andrew Luck.

Arians, a former quarterback at Virginia Tech, could not have known that his professional and personal world would be jolted with the news that Pagano was leaving the team for treatment of leukemia.

Now, just past his 61st birthday, Arians has the Cardinals 6-4 and just a game out in the NFC wild card playoff chase. Age seems no barrier, either, in doing his job or communicating with young players.

“He’s got an incredibly young soul,” Luck said. “I think people of all ages get along with him. He just has that knack with people.”

As the teams prepared for Sunday’s game, Pagano seemed disinclined to revisit the oft-told story of last season.

“Obviously, there’s history there,” he said, “[but] it’s the Colts vs. the Cards and he’ll go through his process just like we’ll go through our process in preparation for Sunday’s game.”

Both teams are having successful seasons. Indianapolis (7-3) has a three-game lead in the AFC South. Arizona has won three in a row.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer knows this one means a bit more than the records show to the Cardinals coach.

“I think this entire locker room has a tremendous respect for him and wants to please him,” Palmer said. “We know that he’s got some feelings toward Indianapolis.”

  • Last 7 Days Record: 2-3-0
coleryan Posts:21308 Followers:24
11/21/2013 10:40 AM

Bruce Arians won't have a hard time getting his Arizona Cardinals ready to face Indianapolis on Sunday.

Seeing close friend Chuck Pagano and the Colts players he helped guide during an emotional run to the playoffs last season might not be so easy to handle.

Arians tries to lead the Cardinals to a fourth straight victory when he faces the visiting Colts for the first time since leaving them for his first head coaching job.

A veteran NFL offensive coordinator in his first year in that role for Indianapolis last season, Arians earned his current job after guiding the Colts to a 9-3 record as interim coach while Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia.

After going 2-14 in 2011, the Colts went 11-5 and returned to the playoffs in 2012. Arians, who became the first interim to be named Coach of the Year, signed a four-year deal with Arizona (6-4) in January and didn't want an off-field reunion so soon.

"The prep will be easy," Arians told the Cardinals' official website. "It's seeing them that will be emotionally involved because it was such an emotional year last year. You'll get through that hopefully in warmups.

"I was hoping this would never be on the schedule. Because there are too many emotional ties to what happened last year."

Pagano, who has the Colts (7-3) leading the AFC South by three games, knows it's almost impossible to describe the level of gratitude he feels toward Arians and what was accomplished in Indianapolis last season.

"You can't put a price tag on it," Pagano said. "If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times, again what he did not only for myself but for this organization, our players, coaches ... him leading the charge. Again, very, very grateful, obviously."

Pagano isn't at all shocked that Arians has turned an Arizona team that went 5-11 in 2012 into a playoff contender this season.

"Just look what he did a year ago, so why would anybody be surprised," Pagano said. "We all know that he's a (darn) good football coach.

"I think our guys are excited to play the Cardinals. It's going to be a tough one. He's got a really good football team, solid in all three phases and well-coached. It will be a great challenge for our team."

Though Arians has an offensive background, the Cardinals are second in the NFL at 81.4 rushing yards allowed per game and ninth at 324.9 total yards given up. They've held their last three opponents to 45.0 yards on the ground and 267.0 total.

Offensively, Carson Palmer might be on the verge of turning things around after going 30 of 42 for 419 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions during last Sunday's 27-14 win at Jacksonville.

Coming off the second-best yardage day of his career, Palmer has completed 68.5 percent of his passes with six TDs and two INTs in the last three games. He completed 60.5 percent with eight touchdowns and 13 picks in the first seven.

"The things that have been biting him have been just one or two poor decisions during the ball game, or getting hit as he's throwing," Arians said. "We were able to eliminate those."

Palmer, however, has posted an 84.0 passer rating with four TDs and four INTs while going 0-3 against the Colts.

Though Indianapolis has won three of four, it's looking for a better start Sunday after falling behind early in the previous three. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime of a 27-24 win at Houston on Nov. 3, were hit hard during a 38-8 home loss to St. Louis the next week and needed a 24-point second half to help erase a 14-0 first-quarter hole in a 30-27 victory at Tennessee last Sunday.

''We're not executing in the first half and it's causing us the slow starts," said receiver T.Y. Hilton, who totaled 251 receiving yards against the Texans and Rams before being held to 44 at Tennessee.

"But it is what it is and we're winning, so it's nothing more to talk about."

After throwing three interceptions against St. Louis, Andrew Luck didn't throw a touchdown or a pick against the Titans. Instead, running back Donald Brown paced the offense with a season-high 80 yards and two second-half touchdowns on 14 carries.

Indianapolis gained 137 yards on the ground after rushing for 87 in the previous two games.

Pagano publicly remains confident in Trent Richardson, who gained 22 yards on eight carries at Tennessee. Since being acquired from Cleveland on Sept. 18, Richardson has rushed for 272 yards and two touchdowns in six games, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. However, he's had at least 31 receiving yards in three straight games.

"You look at Trent's runs, for whatever reason, there's penetration," Pagano said. "He had some really good runs, plays that he made in space, screens, things like that he does a great job with.

"Just, for whatever reason, we miss a block here or there and a guy is sitting there free in the hole. We'll get it fixed. We'll get the holes there."

Indianapolis added some depth to the backfield by signing former Steeler Chris Rainey this week.

The Colts will be without linebacker Erik Walden, suspended one game after he ripped off the helmet off Tennessee's Delanie Walker and then head-butted him last weekend.

Indianapolis extended its winning streak over Arizona to four games with a 31-10 road victory in 2009.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 2-3-0
coleryan Posts:21308 Followers:24
11/22/2013 02:00 PM

Call it winning ugly. Call it winning lucky.

Just as long, as far as Indianapolis wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is concerned, as you call it winning.

"'We're not executing in the first half and it's causing us the slow starts," Hilton said, as the team prepared for a Week 12 visit to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. "But it is what it is and we're winning, so it's nothing more to talk about."

The Colts have won three of their last four games since a Week 6 loss at San Diego, though they've certainly not made it easy on themselves along the way. Indianapolis was down 18 points halfway through a Week 9 game at Houston before rallying for a three-point win, then fell behind by 14 at halftime before escaping with a 30-27 triumph at Tennessee last weekend.

Quarterback Andrew Luck threw three interceptions in the lone loss of the four-game stretch against St. Louis in Week 10, then successfully stayed clear of the stat sheet in the defeat of the Titans. In that game, running back Donald Brown carried the load with a pair of second-half touchdowns as part of a 14-carry, 80-yard performance.

Brown's numbers were part of a 137-yard overall effort on the ground, though only 22 of those yards came courtesy of Trent Richardson, the much-publicized trade acquisition from Cleveland in mid-September. Richardson has averaged 2.8 yards per carry and 45.3 yards per game in the six that he's played for the Colts, though coach Chuck Pagano remains a fan.

The former Alabama star has caught 10 passes for 96 yards in the last three games.

Former University of Florida star Chris Rainey was signed this week as a depth back. He gained 102 yards on 26 carries and had 14 catches for 60 yards last season with Pittsburgh.

"You look at Trent's runs, for whatever reason, there's penetration," Pagano said. "He had some really good runs, plays that he made in space, screens, things like that he does a great job with.

"Just, for whatever reason, we miss a block here or there and a guy is sitting there free in the hole. We'll get it fixed. We'll get the holes there."

When most Colts look across the field on Sunday, they'll see a familiar face.

Former Indianapolis assistant and interim head coach Bruce Arians is in his first year atop the Cardinals after filling in for the Colts last season while Pagano was being treated for leukemia.

Arians was 9-3 in Pagano's absence and helped Indianapolis to the playoffs one year after it had gone 2-14 while Peyton Manning stood injured on the sidelines. He became the first interim coach to be named the league's coach of the year, and parlayed the success into a four-year deal with the Cardinals in January.

This week in the desert, he's hoping to lead Arizona to its fourth straight win after a 3-4 start.

"The (game) prep will be easy," Arians said. "It's seeing them that will be emotionally involved because it was such an emotional year last year. You'll get through that hopefully in warmups. I was hoping this would never be on the schedule. Because there are too many emotional ties to what happened last year."

Pagano, whose Colts appear headed to the playoffs again with a three-game lead in the AFC's South Division, hasn't forgotten what Arians provided in Indianapolis and he's not surprised at his former underling's success in Arizona.

"You can't put a price tag on it," he said. "If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times, again what he did not only for myself but for this organization, our players, coaches. Him leading the charge. Just look what he did a year ago, so why would anybody be surprised. We all know that he's a damn good football coach.

"Our guys are excited to play the Cardinals. It's going to be a tough one. He's got a really good football team, solid in all three phases and well- coached. It will be a great challenge."

Arizona's rise has been largely due to a suffocating defense, which has held foes to 81.4 rushing yards per game (second in the league) and 324.9 total yards per game (ninth in the league). In the last three games - wins over Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville - the Cardinals have allowed 45 rushing yards per game and 267 overall.

Meanwhile, Arians, a former offensive coordinator, seems to be getting the most out of veteran Carson Palmer at the quarterback position.

The 10th-year man from Southern California completed 30 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns in a road win last weekend at Jacksonville. He's completed 68.5 percent of his throws in the last three games after barely exceeding 60 percent in his first seven, while throwing eight TDs to 13 interceptions.

In the last three, it's been six TDs and two interceptions.

"The things that have been biting him have been just one or two poor decisions during the ball game, or getting hit as he's throwing," Arians said. "We were able to eliminate those."

  • Last 7 Days Record: 2-3-0
coleryan Posts:21308 Followers:24
11/22/2013 02:01 PM

Keeping it tight.

The Colts have one of the league's top young tight ends in Coby Fleener (37 catches, three touchdowns), who's coming off a career-best 107-yard effort last week. Arizona struggled to cover capable tight ends under the best circumstances, and it gave up a 63-yard scoring pass to a Jaguars tight end last week.

Resistible force meets moveable object.

The Cardinals have been no one's ground and pounders this season, as an anemic 14 yards rushing against the Jaguars last week attests. But the Colts have been no one's 1985 Bears when it comes to stopping the run either, which provides hope for varying Palmer's options.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 2-3-0