NFC West: first look nfc championship
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Another week, another chance for the Cardinals to avenge a regular-season defeat against one of its regular-season conquerors -- this time with a Super Bowl berth at stake.
The Cardinals caught a break when the Eagles defeated the top-seeded Giants in the divisional round, sending the NFC Championship Game to University of Phoenix Stadium. Home-field advantage will arm the Cardinals with additional confidence and a better chance at advancing. But this matchup remains a potentially difficult one for Arizona.
We take a quick look at five challenges facing the Cardinals:
1. Stop pressure up the middle.
The Panthers' best pass rusher, Julius Peppers, applies most of his pressure from the outside. The Eagles are tougher across their defensive line. They have the ability to generate pressure up the middle, where the Cardinals have sometimes been vulnerable.
The fastest way to make Kurt Warner appear 37 years old is to pressure him up the middle. The Eagles have the potential to apply that type of pressure with their linemen and with blitzes. The Cardinals need a strong game in pass protection from their interior offensive linemen and their running backs.
NFL.com Video A look ahead to the NFC Championship Game between the Eagles and Cardinals.
2. Containing Brian Westbrook.
The Cardinals have played strong run defense against top running backs over the last two weeks. The Eagles' Westbrook is more elusive than the Falcons' Michael Turner and far more of a receiving threat than Turner or the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams.
Arizona has vastly improved its tackling in the playoffs. The trend must continue. The Cardinals must become gang-tacklers. Failing to finish even one play against Westbrook could expose Arizona to a game-changing play.
3. Defeating the Eagles' aggressive coverage.
Philadelphia cornerbacks Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel relish taking receivers out of their comfort zones with aggressive tactics. Brian Dawkins is one of the most intimidating safeties in the game. Receivers tend to hear his footsteps, leading to lapses in concentration.
Dawkins forced Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin to fumble during the Eagles' 48-20 victory over Arizona on Thanksgiving Day. The Cardinals are a different team this time around. They won't be traveling on a short week, as they were then, and the stakes are much higher.
A hamstring injury has slowed Boldin recently. Even if he doesn't play, this game provides the Cardinals' receivers a chance to prove themselves against the best. Arizona dropped five passes when the teams played on Thanksgiving.
The Cardinals have to like their chances playing at home. The Eagles, having defeated the Vikings and Giants in successive weeks, have to like their chances against the lowest-seeded division winner.
Both defenses have the ability to force turnovers. The Cardinals are 10-0 this season when they finished tied or ahead in turnover differential. Warner, under frequent pressure when the teams met in November, tossed three interceptions in that game.
The turnover stat will likely determine whether the Cardinals make the first Super Bowl appearance in team history.