The Colts will host the Cardinals on Sunday at the RCA Dome, but the group that takes the field for Indianapolis for the majority of the game will consist of players who have lived in the shadow of their starting counterparts for most of the year. When the Colts did that last week against Seattle it gave the Seahawks a decisive edge. But against Arizona, it might not be as distinctive.
The Cardinals have 15 players on injured reserve, including their starting quarterback Kurt Warner who sprained his knee badly enough that it ended his season about a month early. The Cardinals are also severely crippled in the trenches with three starting offensive linemen and five of
their top seven defensive linemen on that list with Warner.
So when you tune in on Sunday, you may find yourselves a bit confused, muttering Paul Newman's famous line to Robert Redford from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
"Who are those guys?"
Arizona limps into Indy with a 5-10 record in a season where they went from being the darlings of presesason prognosticators -- many of whom believed they would win the NFC West -- to the same old Cardinals. And they can't blame it all on injuries. They weren't notching wins even when they had all of their starters in place earlier this season.
As a further distraction for the Cardinals, questions abound regarding the future of head coach Dennis Green. Even if his team can beat a second-string version of the Colts, he'll only have 12 wins after reaching the midpoint of his four-year contract. Owner Bill Bidwell isn't likely to keep him around for the fourth year if Green can't deliver better than a break-even season next year.
One thing the Colts defense won't have to worry much about for a change is the rushing game. Arizona not only hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game from any of their backs this year, they haven't even topped the 100-yard rushing mark as a team this year. And they've scored just two touchdowns on the ground, despite the addition of rookie running back J.J. Arrington.
Their rushing attack is so feeble that they have a chance to average the least amount or yards rushing per game of any team since 1970 when the AFL and NFL merged. If the Colts hold them to less than 52 yards on the ground they'll take the Chargers off the hook, who five years ago only managed 66.4 yards rushing per game.
The one silver lining in the Cards season has been their Pro Bowl wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin who have helped make both Warner and his replacement Josh McCown look very good. McCown was 27 of 38 passing for 294 yards including two touchdowns against the Eagles last weekend.
Oh, but don't overlook this area of the dark cloud. Both Warner and McCown will hit the free agent market at the end of Sunday's contest as neither one has a contract extending into next season.
Expect the Cardinals to throw to both of their top receivers often on Sunday. Fitzgerald needs just three catches and 71 yards to reach the 100-catch and 1,400-yard marks. Boldin needs six receptions and 79 yards to reach the same result. If they pull it off, they'll become the first teammates since Detroit's Herman Moore and Brett Perriman did it in 1995. And no other pairing has ever achieved it before them.
Can't remember the last time the Colts and the Cardinals clashed? Not surprising. They haven't met since the season opener in 1996.
Marvin Harrison made his first career NFL catch in that game as the Colts won 20-13. He also pulled in his first NFL touchdown pass on a 35-yard strike from Jim Harbaugh. Harrison is the only player out of the combined 106 players on the two teams' rosters who played in that game.
Cardinals player to watch
Strong safety Adrian Wilson not only leads the NFL's safeties in sacks this season, he's set an all-time NFL record for defensive backs with eight sacks. The NFL began tracking sacks in 1982.
Although he was able to achieve two of those sacks last weekend, Wilson's job could be a bit tougher against the Colts. They've allowed an NFL-best 18 sacks. But nine of those have come over the last three weeks.
Their results in the win-loss arena have been dramatically different, but the Colts and Cardinals share one very odd link this season. They're the only two teams in the NFL to place both their offense and defense in the top ten of the league rankings.
The Cardinals are 10th in total offense and defense, while the Colts are third in offense and ninth in defense.
Familiar foes...and friends
Cardinals head coach Dennis Green attended the funeral of Tony Dungy's son earlier this week. The two have been friends since Dungy worked Green as his defensive coordinator with the Vikings. Since then, the two have faced each other 12 times and have split the victories evenly at six each.
Can they do it?
While most fans may think there's little suspense to this game on Sunday, a win by the Colts would be historic. The team has never had 14 wins in a season, so a victory would allow the home crowd to be witness a big moment in franchise history. The Colts won 13 games in 1968 and 1999.
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