Yes, there’s a football game being played in the desert on Sunday.
With all the hype surrounding the matchup of Arizona coach Bruce Arians facing the Indianapolis Colts for the first time since he was their interim coach in 2012, it’s easy to forget that a game will kick off.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck can pose as many problems as any other quarterback in the league but if one coach knows him, it’s Arians. And the Cardinals have been playing well as of late on both sides of the ball.
Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Colts reporter Mike Wells discuss this weekend’s game:
Weinfuss: Obviously this game goes beyond more than football; how do you anticipate the Colts responding to seeing Arians on the opposite sideline?
Wells: It won’t be on the same level as when they faced Peyton Manning last month, but there will be some emotions involved. Arians took over a team that had its world shaken up when Chuck Pagano took time off to battle leukemia last season. Arians was responsible for making sure the team was mentally and physically ready each week. That wasn’t an easy thing to do, especially with a rookie quarterback. But Arians obviously did a good job leading the way. The Colts won 11 games and reached the playoffs. The job Arians did is a major reason why he’s the head coach in Arizona. Do you think he will be even more motivated this weekend?
Weinfuss: Arians will definitely be more motivated this weekend but he’ll also be more emotional than he has been this season. We’ll see how well he can keep those emotions in check and then channel them Sunday, which he said will be the hardest time for him. After all the pregame hugs and pleasantries are exchanged, I think Arians will just be focused on getting the Cardinals a seventh win and one step closer to the playoffs. This is a big game for both sides and Arians doesn’t want to be the reason the Cardinals falter.
How has the Trent Richardson trade worked out for the Colts? Are they seeing the return on investment they expected?
Wells: Richardson has been a topic of discussion every week since the Colts acquired him in the middle of September. That’s expected when you consider that Richardson hasn’t rushed for more than 60 yards in a game as a Colt and the team gave up a first-round pick for him. Some fans are ready to call the deal a bust and say the Cleveland Browns pulled one over on Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. I’m not ready yet. Key word being “yet.” Richardson hasn’t lived up to expectations so far, but I think part of the problem is he had to get use to things on the fly. I believe he needs a full training camp with the team before you can fully value the trade. The criticism will taper off some if Richardson can improve his 2.8 yards a carry average before the season ends.
Quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards last week. Do you think Palmer will be able to play well the rest of the season?
Weinfuss: This weekend will be the true test. He played better against teams like Atlanta and Houston, then broke out against Jacksonville -- none of those teams are anything to write home about -- but if Palmer can put it together against the Colts, then he might be onto something for the rest of the season. Arizona showed in Jacksonville it can put up points and yards when the running game falters. Usually when that happens, teams bring their pass rush and don’t stop, and it overwhelms some of the younger players on Arizona’s offensive line. Palmer’s a vet and knows what he has to do, but when he doesn’t have much time, like any quarterback, he can’t make good decisions. The game at Jacksonville was the first time Arizona’s offense looked complete and I think it gave the Cardinals enough confidence going forward to continue at this pace.
Speaking of offenses, where has Reggie Wayne’s injury hurt the Colts and have they been able to make up for his loss?
Wells: Wayne’s loss has impacted the entire offense. T.Y. Hilton is doing his best to fill the role of Luck’s go-to receiver. Nobody has stepped up to be the Colts’ second or even third receiver behind Hilton. That’s where the problem really is for the Colts. They signed Darrius Heyward-Bey in the offseason to start opposite of Wayne, but he’s been a disappointment. The Colts are doing it by committee to try to make up for Wayne’s loss. Luck completed passes to eight different players in their last game against Tennessee. That’s the philosophy they’ll continue to use the rest of the season because there is no replacing Wayne.
Speaking of receivers, Larry Fitzgerald was a ball boy with the Minnesota Vikings when I covered them in 2000 and 2001. I still remember him constantly picking Randy Moss' and Cris Carter’s brains for pointers. Things have worked out pretty well for Fitzgerald. He’s one of the premier receivers in the league. Is his future in Arizona or do you think the Cardinals will eventually have to trade him?
Weinfuss: If he’s willing to restructure his current contract, his future -- and the rest of his career -- will be in Arizona. If he’s not, the Cardinals will trade Fitzgerald this offseason but only if they get enough compensation to continue rebuilding.