NFC East: Karlos Dansby
Kelly was the hot college head coach of the moment, hired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to replace the institution that was Andy Reid. Arians was a college head coach, too, at Temple back in the 1980s. He got his job with the Arizona Cardinals, though, based upon years as an often-overlooked NFL assistant.
And now here they are. Arians’ Cardinals are 7-4 with a four-game winning streak, while Kelly’s Eagles are 6-5 after a three-game winning streak. Their teams meet at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday in a game with major NFC playoff implications.
ESPN.com reporters Josh Weinfuss, who covers the Cardinals, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, take a closer look at the matchup.
Phil Sheridan: Bruce Arians is best known in Philadelphia as one of the rare coaches to survive a stint at Temple University. Nationally, he’s known for winning the Coach of the Year Award after filling in for Chuck Pagano last year in Indianapolis. How has he conducted business and how much of this four-game winning streak results from that?
Josh Weinfuss: I think all of it. Arians is the ultimate players coach and from everything I’ve heard about him from former players and current Cardinals who were with him in other places, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’ll tell the players like it is and if they can’t handle it, they have to figure out a way to deal with it. He’s not big on the sugarcoating, and the players appreciate it. As a head coach, he’s taken a little bit from each of the coaches he worked for and put it into play in Arizona. He’s learned how to delegate and put together a staff that complements him very well. On top of it all, he’s an offensive genius who stayed patient with this team while they learned his scheme, and it’s paying off.
On the topic of schemes, is Kelly’s high-octane offense here to stay or will he need to adapt as the season progresses?
Sheridan: Probably a little of both. Kelly already has adjusted to some degree. The foundation of his approach seems to be figuring out how a defense is designed to stop his offense and then exploiting whatever weaknesses and mismatches created by that design. When teams played man coverage and pressed to eliminate his bubble screens, Kelly shrugged and started throwing deep. When the Giants and Cowboys found a weakness in his run-blocking scheme, Kelly adjusted and got LeSean McCoy back on track. Kelly seems to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game with opposing coaches. That said, the foundations of what he does -- creating mismatches and exploiting weaknesses -- are as old as football. He just has some intriguing ways of getting there.
While we’re on that side of the ball, how has Todd Bowles been able to win the hearts and minds of a defense that thrived under former coordinator Ray Horton? And how important is having Karlos Dansby back in the fold?
Weinfuss: Bowles made one minor change up front and he’s been the glimmer in the defensive line’s eyes ever since. He went from a multi-gap system to a one-gap scheme, which has taken out the thinking from football. Now, the Cardinals front line can just rear back and go, and the changes are obvious. Darnell Dockett is having his best season in a while, Calais Campbell has emerged as one of the toughest defensive ends in the league and nose tackle Dan Williams has plugged the holes in the middle, forcing plays out to the edges -- and right into the hands of guys like John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, Daryl Washington and, of course, Dansby. He’s playing at the lowest weight of his career and he’s been able to fly around, going from sideline to sideline with relative ease for a guy who’s been in this league for 10 years. While everything for the Cardinals’ defense starts up front, each level has been benefiting from the line’s presence.
Let’s stay on defense. The Eagles have the worst pass defense in the league. How can they muster enough plays to slow the Cardinals' recently high-flying passing game under Carson Palmer?
Sheridan: Josh, that could be the question that determines the outcome of this game. The only answer I have is that, somehow, that’s just what the Eagles' defense has been doing in the seven games since Peyton Manning hung 52 points on them. They give up a lot of yards, but they haven’t given up more than 21 points in a game since then. They’ve been good in the red zone and have started generating pressure and, in turn, turnovers. Palmer provides a very good measuring stick. The Eagles have thrived against the Mike Glennons and Scott Tolziens of the world, although in fairness they played well against Eli Manning and Tony Romo, too. But Palmer and that Larry Fitzgerald fellow definitely represent the kind of test the Eagles must pass before being considered a good defense.
Speaking of Palmer, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, there seems to be a Kurt Warner vibe at work here -- veteran guy getting one more shot to prove he still has it. Warner did -- does Palmer? What’s the ceiling on the offense with him at the helm?
Weinfuss: All the evidence from the past four games points to yes -- Palmer does have a Warner-esque resurgence in him, but that’s only because the Cardinals’ offense is finally working. If it was still struggling, we’d be talking about Palmer being replaced either now or after the season. Crazy how that works. Palmer is the perfect quarterback for a Bruce Arians scheme. He has a big arm and can make throws on a dime. And those two things will carry this offense as far as it can until Palmer makes bad decisions. Even though the bad decisions have been cut down during the Cards’ four-game winning streak, it would be na´ve of anybody to think they’re totally done with. Arizona is just getting lucky. Twice against the Colts, Palmer had probable interceptions dropped, and against Jacksonville two weeks ago, a well-timed timeout by Arians saved Palmer from a potentially costly interception. If Palmer can take chances without making ill-advised throws, the ceiling is quite high, especially with the depth at receiver, tight end and running back.
A lot of University of Arizona fans out this way are loving the fact that Nick Foles is starting and playing well. Is he Mr. Right for the Eagles in Kelly’s offense or Mr. Right Now?
Sheridan: That’s the question that will haunt the Eagles through the offseason. Foles has had some of the luck you described Palmer having. That seven-touchdown game against Oakland was partly the product of some of the worst defensive football I’ve ever seen (and I watched Nnamdi Asomugha jog through two years here). But Foles is smart, he’s accurate and you can see him gaining confidence and comfort with every game. Clearly, he is not the quarterback Chip Kelly would order from the factory. But as he continues having success and winning games, you have to wonder how far Kelly is willing to tailor his offense to Foles for the long haul. It’s the decision that will define the Kelly era, at least for the next few years. My gut says Foles is a good NFL quarterback, but Kelly will make a move to find his guy at the earliest possible convenience. If Foles keeps this up, though, my gut might be proven wrong.
Matthew from Summit, N.J., (woo-hoo!) read John Clayton's piece on potential salary cap casualties, noticed the Giants' Shawn Andrews was on there and wondered who else from the Giants might be on the list.
Dan Graziano: I wouldn't feel super-comfy if I were Rocky Bernard, even if Barry Cofield does leave via free agency. The Giants have picked defensive tackles in the second round each of the past two years and are clearly looking toward the future at that position. Brandon Jacobs could be cut if he doesn't agree to re-work his contract, but I think he probably will. I'm interested to see what happens with Shaun O'Hara, who's in the final year of his deal and missed 10 games in 2010. They got by without him, and they could face a tough decision there. What will help is the new CBA provision that gives teams extra money to help them retain veterans. According to the terms the league sent out Thursday night, "All teams will have approximately $3.5 million in what would otherwise be performance-based pay available to fund veteran player salaries," and "Each club may 'borrow' up to $3 million in cap room from a future year, which may be used to support veteran player costs." So the cuts might not be as severe as they have been in some years past.
rd from Idaho was kind enough to take time out of his day to pen this missive: "your gonna look like an idiot when Nnamdi lands elsewhere."
DG: If you say so, Grammar Guy. Hopefully YOU'RE around to remind me.
markus from Washington, D.C., thinks it's "ridiculous" for the Redskins to go with John Beck at quarterback, would rather see Rex Grossman as the starter and believes the Skins should think about signing Vince Young after the Titans release him. Then he asks what I think.
DG: A few people have asked about Young in Washington. I don't see it. Based on the way it bottomed out for him in Tennessee, I don't think Young's next NFL job is as a starter. I think he needs to be out of the spotlight for a while and get some coaching in a backup role. It's why I like Philadelphia for him. I could be wrong, and Mike Shanahan could be looking at Young's talent and record as a starter and thinking he can get the most out of him. But for me, that would qualify as a big surprise move.
Jake from Oceanside, Calif., asks if a trade of Kevin Kolb to Arizona could result in the Eagles getting Karlos Dansby.
DG: Only if it were a three-way deal involving the Dolphins, since that's the team for which Dansby currently plays.
Jarrett from Dallas (who's an Eagles fan) wonders if acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb would take the Eagles out of the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes, or if they'd play Rodgers-Cromartie in the nickel: "Having DRC, Nnamdi, and Asante Samuel would arguably give the Eagles the best secondary in the league, and those three would take major loads off of the young safeties' backs."
DG: Very interesting point, Jarrett. I hadn't thought of that. I guess I'd been assuming that, if they got a starting corner for Kolb, they'd be out on Nnamdi. But you make some sense. The vibe coming out of Philly is that the defense will be more front-four focused in 2011, and that that's one of the reasons they're going young at safety. But we really don't know what Andy Reid has planned, and he has surprised us in the past.
And finally, Travis from Scottsdale is hoping the new cap-exception rules might help keep Marion Barber in Dallas. Travis thinks Barber was slowed more than most people realize by his quad injury and needs a healthy year to remind people how good he is. And he says if they do cut Barber, they'd better make sure the backs who remain can pass protect because -- and I'm quoting Travis here -- "No back in the NFL lays the smack down on a blitzing LB like Marion Barber! Period."
DG: Travis, I agree that Barber was a beast when he was healthy and that it'd be foolish to assume he has nothing left to contribute. But I do believe the Cowboys are ready to move on and go with a rotation of Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and rookie DeMarco Murray. Just because the new rules will help teams keep veterans more easily than they could in the past doesn't mean they have to keep guys they don't want anymore. I'm interested, as I'm sure you are, to see what kind of role Barber fills on his next team, whoever that is.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
Playing for the Detroit Lions was something that Foote had always dreamed about -- until it actually happened. He wasn't a great fit in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme. In Pittsburgh, he was excellent in the 3-4 scheme. He's starting to show a little age but he's capable of starting for another two seasons or so.
Redskins linebackers coach Lou Spanos coached Foote in Pittsburgh, so there's a familiarity in place. It sounds like the Cardinals will be the Redskins' biggest competitors for Foote. And after losing Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle (released) and Anquan Boldin (traded), the Cardinals are suddenly in a desperate situation.
The Redskins have taken a methodical approach to free agency (by their standards). We'll keep you posted if anything transpires over the weekend.
There's also a (paid) option to find out how the players were ranked and graded by our friends at Scouts Inc.
General manager Jerry Reese was very open about his disappointment in the way Michael Johnson and C.C. Brown performed at safety last season and he vowed not to let something like that happen again. With Rolle in the fold, the Giants have to feel a lot better about their secondary. The Cardinals are quickly becoming the top talent supplier in the league with Rolle, Anquan Boldin and Karlos Dansby already joining other teams.
In his 59 starts with the Cardinals, Rolle had 12 interceptions and four forced fumbles. He'll obviously be an immediate starter for the Giants. Not a lot of $37 million backup safeties in the league. I think this decision also had a lot to do with the fact the Giants play in the same division with some very talented tight ends in Jason Witten, Brent Celek and Chris Cooley.
I would be very surprised if Peppers leaves the building without a contract in hand. So now it looks like the Redskins are out of the running on two of the big-ticket items in free agency, Peppers and linebacker Karlos Dansby, who is headed to South Florida to meet with the Dolphins.
At one point this evening, Adam Schefter indicated that Peppers and former Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman were connected. I thought Kampman's lack of athleticism was exposed this past season, so it's hard to imagine him as an outside linebacker for the Redskins.
As we've already discussed, former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle is headed to the Meadowlands to visit with the Giants. I wouldn't expect him to leave campus without signing a contract.
When free agency begins Friday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he has a plan and is going to stick to it.
Tight end Jason Witten recently chatted with ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd. Here are some highlights of the conversation.
New York Giants
Despite a need to add talent on defense, don't expect the Giants to go after big-ticket free agents like Julius Peppers or Karlos Dansby.
The Giants may have some competition when it comes to signing backup quarterback David Carr.
New Eagles general manager Howie Roseman sat down for a Q&A session Wednesday that touched on a number of topics.
Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter says he thinks he'll be back in an Eagles uniform for the 2010 season.
Carlos Rogers is none too happy with the Redskins' decision to place a first-round tender on him.
Rogers isn't the only Redskins player facing restricted options this offseason.
The Giants’ pass rush was middle of the road last year. That is unacceptable considering the talent they have at the defensive end position and the overall resources they dedicated to their defensive front last offseason. Did this dip in production stem from coaching or the players? Surely it was a little of both, but with Perry Fewell taking over the defense, expect a step up from the perimeter rushers. Fewell stresses fundamentals and is considered a players’ coach. One worry up front is the defensive tackles’ run defense, which clearly was not up to par.
There are issues at linebacker though. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was released, which is a move I agree with. Never the most physically gifted player, it appears as though what Pierce did have from an athletic standpoint began to fail him. Much more range and playmaking ability is needed in the middle against both run and pass, especially considering the tight ends and pass-catching running backs in the NFC East.
The Michael Boley experiment on the outside did not yield enough overall, but he was particularly poor against the run. Boley is more of a run-and-hit player and running at him directly exposes his weaknesses. Perhaps his best role would be as a sub package linebacker; they need to create competition for his starting weakside spot on early downs.
While the Giants have several mediocre options for both the Mike and Will linebacker spots, I don’t see a lot of upside with that crew outside of Boley. On the strong side, Danny Clark isn’t flashy, but he is tough and effective. He is an unrestricted free agent and hopefully the Giants lock him up, but his backup, Clint Sintim, does has more ability, speed and potential. However, neither of these two project well to the middle or weak side.
Having a new coordinator could yield immediate results, but Fewell’s scheme is based a great deal on speed and range. With that in mind, New York needs to find one linebacker with elite playmaking abilities, maybe Rolando McClain in the draft or Karlos Dansby in free agency.
I see safety as the No. 1 personnel need here, followed immediately by a difference-maker at linebacker. A nose tackle-type would be third, as the foursome of Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were all underwhelming, but there is ability among this defensive tackle rotation. Robbins can push the pocket, but more was needed from him stopping the run and his stamina is questionable. He is an unrestricted free agent and could be replaced. A second linebacker to battle for a starting spot would be ideal.
This sounds like a long list, but the Giants are set on the offensive side of the ball, so expect their resources to be dedicated to fixing this once-proud defense.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Of all the players hitting the open market, I think Dansby and Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers will demand the biggest contracts. Dansby has led the Cardinals in tackles the past two seasons, and he'd bring some much-needed physicality to the Giants' defense. Michael Boley might be solid in coverage, but he's not going to force a lot of turnovers. Dansby would be an excellent fit in the Giants' scheme.
But again, everyone's having a difficult time predicting the upcoming negotiations. The Giants spent a lot of money on Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Boley last offseason. And they didn't get a huge return on their investment. How does Reese convince John Mara that Dansby deserves an $18 million signing bonus?
Where do you guys stand on Dansby? Are there Eagles fans interested in Dansby or do you think the return of Stewart Bradley will solve most of the issues at linebacker?
Please join me in the comments section immediately.
I spoke with quarterback Jason Campbell last night and he's looking forward to visiting with Shanahan. At this point, Campbell's used to learning a new system on an almost annual basis, but he's especially excited about Shanahan because of his reputation for being a quarterback guru. People from across the league have called Campbell to tell him how fortunate he is to have Shanahan taking over.
Campbell had just hung up with his former college teammate at Auburn, Karlos Dansby, who snatched a fumble out of the air and raced 17 yards to give the Cardinals a 51-45 win over the Packers in Sunday's wild-card playoff game. I'll be at Valley Ranch for a couple of hours. Let's meet back here this afternoon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The top issues facing each team in the division:
Primary issue: Trying to repair what has become the most toxic locker room in the league. The problem is that owner Jerry Jones thinks cohesiveness is overrated and doesn't seem eager to address the problem. The closest thing he did to acknowledging the issue was his attempt to hire former NFL head coach Dan Reeves as a consultant. But the deal fell apart over a clause in the contract that Reeves wasn't comfortable with.
Solution: Like it or not, Terrell Owens is the most prominent (and divisive) voice in the locker room. Releasing him wouldn't solve everything, but it would certainly help. The best solution would be quarterback Tony Romo taking control of the locker room, but it's hard to tell if he's capable of that at this point.
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|One way or another, T.O. will play a major role in the future of the Cowboys.|
Secondary concern: Figuring out what went wrong with the offense. The numbers might not look awful, but they don't tell the whole story. T.O. couldn't get off the line of scrimmage and midseason acquisition Roy E. Williams didn't make any impact. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett appeared to lose the confidence of his players late in the season. He could win them back by orchestrating a dynamic passing game. And the return of running back Felix Jones should help the offense.
Solution: Garrett has to take advantage of having three talented running backs. Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice could become the Cowboys' answer to the Giants' version of Earth, Wind and Fire. Garrett also has to stop worrying about keeping T.O. happy. The 10 games the Cowboys had with Williams were pretty much a wash. Garrett has to find a way to play to the receiver's strengths. Williams is supposed to be your No. 1 receiver for the next few years. Might as well see what he has to offer.
|Paul Spinelli/Getty Images|
|Donovan McNabb's turnaround this season earned him some renewed respect.|
Primary issue: Is there any doubt? Quarterback Donovan McNabb has been the primary issue since 2005. He's hoping to receive a contract extension after he helped engineer the team's improbable turnaround. Some people are calling it a "contract apology" for his November benching.
His pride was wounded, but you have to respect him for bouncing back and taking the team to the NFC title game. The Eagles need to make sure McNabb's happy heading into training camp -- and that's not an easy task.
Solution: Go ahead and give the man some money. Let him know how much you appreciate him with a nice signing bonus and offer him a little security. He wants to be told that the starting job is his for at least the next two seasons. I don't think Andy Reid will have any trouble telling him that. And it's not like Kevin Kolb's breathing down his neck.
Secondary concern: The Eagles have some aging free agents in safety Brian Dawkins and offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Fans will want to see Dawkins back on the roster, but there's a good chance we've seen the last of Runyan. He's one of Andy Reid's favorites, but microfracture surgery at age 35 doesn't sound promising. Thomas has a shot at being re-signed.
Solution: The Eagles have to build through the draft. They could use both of those first-rounders on offensive tackles. At some point, you may see a run on offensive tackles. The Eagles better be involved. They can't afford to enter '09 with no solutions at the tackle spots. They need to decide if Ole Miss left tackle Michael Oher's the real deal. He's a talented player, but he disappeared for stretches during his college career.
Primary concern: You have to find a receiver to replace Plaxico Burress. Sure, there's a chance Burress returns, but there's also a chance he ends up behind bars.
Al Bello/Getty Images The future of star receiver Plaxico Burress is unclear.
Solution: You have to take a long look at Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin. His star faded a bit down the stretch this season because of his sideline meltdown during the NFC title game, but he could be a solid No. 1 receiver. Boldin's fearless -- as evidenced by returning soon after having his face rearranged against the Jets. I think he'd actually be a good fit for the Giants. Do I think Jerry Reese will package several draft picks for Boldin? Not really. I think it's more likely he goes after someone like North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks in the draft.
Secondary concern: The Giants could use some help at linebacker. Danny Clark's a little long in the tooth and Gerris Wilkinson has been a disappointment because of injuries. If the Giants could land Cardinals free-agent Karlos Dansby, it would be quite a coup.
Solution: With the return of Osi Umenyiora, the pass rush should get a much-needed boost. We'll have to see how much the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo hurts the team. If you can bring in someone like Dansby and then leave Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end, the defense will be as strong as ever. Even with the releases of Sam Madison and Sammy Knight, the Giants have plenty of firepower in the secondary.
|Larry French/Getty Images|
|The Redskins will need more consistency from Jason Campbell.|
Solution: The Redskins thought they were bringing in several weapons for Campbell when they took a tight end and two wide receivers in the second round of the 2008 draft. No one has emerged from that group, so Campbell's forced to rely on Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley and the same mighty mite receivers. The Redskins have to reload along the offensive line because they've gotten old there. If Campbell doesn't have enough time in the pocket, he'll never be successful.
Secondary concern: This team desperately needs to improve its pass rush.
|Check out highlights of the best moments from Clinton Portis in 2008.|
Solution: The Redskins need to identify a talented young pass-rusher in the draft such as Brian Orakpo of Texas and latch onto him. If the Redskins don't improve both their offensive and defensive lines, they won't be a factor in the NFC East next season. Clinton Portis was brilliant in the first half of the season, but he didn't have anywhere to go down the stretch. The Redskins have to invest in the offensive and defensive lines. The club doesn't have many picks, so it needs to be smart on draft day.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
- Jen Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a good column on the latest Cowboys fiasco.
- Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News talked to Dan Reeves on Wednesday night.
- That Bob Hayes letter has come under more scrutiny. We have a font issue.
- Troy Aikman has made an interesting purchase.
- Andy Reid is enjoying himself in Hawaii.
- John Gonzalez thinks Donovan McNabb has a selective memory.
- Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby wouldn't mind playing for Big Blue next season.
- The Post has more on the Dansby angle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Earlier this afternoon, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb talked to reporters about his benching Sunday and his relationship with head coach Andy Reid. McNabb said he's "fine" with Reid, but he still disagrees with Reid's decision to pull him at halftime of Sunday's loss in Baltimore. I'm providing you with the transcript from today. Go ahead and digest what McNabb said and then we can meet back here later and discuss:
On how he found out that he was named the starter for the game vs. Arizona:
Donovan McNabb: [Jokingly], I was told by the janitor. Me and him have a pretty good relationship around here. It was a pretty good conversation that we had.
On whether he's confident that he can play at a high level:
DM: I know I will. I think the rest of the guys know that as well. You look at the things that have happened, and it's kind of uncharacteristic of me and I know that. It's something that you have to battle through, playing the position. Not everyone goes through a perfect season. Some guys go through a little drama at the beginning, some go through it at the end. It's unfortunate that I'm going through it right now, but it's easy to bounce back from it. That's the way that I'm going to continue to approach this and I look forward to making changes this week.
On whether sitting out the second half at Baltimore helped him clear his head:
DM: I don't think so. A lot of it is, you're a competitor. It's no different, really, than basketball or baseball. If you're a little off, you keep shooting. That's the way I feel like you get out of a little drought, if you continue to keep firing, things are going to turn out for the better. That's going to be my approach, but we all need to go in there with a little different mindset, of obviously, taking care of the ball. It's nothing to the fact that I'm going to be gun-shy or anything. I'm going to stay aggressive, just keep playing ball and having fun in the process.
On the confidence level of the other players on the team in him:
DM: I think, at this particular point, you have to still have confidence in yourself first before you look around to someone else. You have to ask yourself, 'Are you doing your job to the fullest?' That's something that I continue to do and I've been doing throughout my career. Also, to have the understanding that, if I elevate my game to another level, then everyone else will begin to follow. You have to put pressure on yourself individually to go out and be that guy to turn things around; to make that big play to put us all in position to win the game. If all 53 guys do that, then we don't have any problems. We're in a situation right now where it's must-win and we have to turn this thing around, on the offensive side, and take pressure off of our defense and special teams and get back to the way we were playing."
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE and Rich Kane-US PRESSWIRE|
|Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will use varied looks and movements in an effort to keep Eli Manning guessing.|
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd
One of the most intriguing matchups in Sunday's Giants-Cardinals game will be decided, to a large extent, not on the field but in the film room. How Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast decides to attack quarterback Eli Manning in passing situations will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
Pendergast, who should be on a number of short lists for NFL teams seeking a new head coach in the offseason, is a dynamic thinker who specializes in exotic pressure schemes. He builds his packages out of a base 3-4, though the Cardinals often move into a four-man front in nickel situations. It's a multiple scheme with variations and movements, and Pendergast isn't afraid to use them all. That may be necessary against Manning, a terrific talent who continues to deliver efficient play. But to get to him, the Cardinals first must put the clamps on the Giants' explosive run game.
New York has an excellent trio of backs -- Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward -- who complement each other well, not to mention one of the finest offensive lines in the league. The Giants' runners can punish opponents, and they excel at bouncing runs outside and getting to the edges. Arizona's defense is fast to the ball and aggressive in pursuit, but slowing New York's downhill running and interior power will be a challenge. Against two-back packages on early downs, Pendergast likely will invert strong safety Adrian Wilson near the line of scrimmage and use a lot of stems and single-zone linebacker blitzes to put stress on the Giants' blocking patterns. The Cardinals must force Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward to run laterally, create a new line of scrimmage and maintain gap discipline to put Manning in more difficult second- and third-down situations.
With that accomplished, Pendergast will utilize varied looks and movements to cover up back-end weaknesses and make it difficult for Manning to diagnose where the blitz is coming from on passing downs. Expect overload blitzes that attack the front side of the pocket (to affect Manning's eye level and passing windows) and back-side delays out of the slot. Pressure is the key to forcing game-changing mistakes. Manning has a tendency to telegraph passes and, when under duress, force throws into tight windows. Defensive end Darnell Dockett gets good interior penetration when he slides inside in sub packages, and Bertrand Berry, Travis LaBoy and Chike Okeafor all are capable pass-rushers. The players to watch, however, are Wilson and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Wilson, who spends a lot of time near the line in both regular and sub packages, is as effective rushing the passer as he is playing the run. Dansby, a versatile defender who can drop into zone or match up on a back in passing situations, might be at his best on the blitz.
Will Arizona's secondary hold up long enough to allow the pass-rushers to get home? The Cardinals don't move personnel around much on the back end, which should enable the Giants to dictate with their formations who and how they attack. Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played well in recent weeks, but he will be tested. Receiver Plaxico Burress likely will be aligned or motioned to exploit that matchup. The Giants also will try to use play-action to bait free safety Antrel Rolle, who has struggled a bit in deep zones. In any case, the Cardinals must be sound open-field tacklers, because there should be plenty of room to run for Giants pass-catchers in the areas vacated by blitzers.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.