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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (2-0) at Arizona (1-1)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner have won a combined five NFL Most Valuable Player Awards between them. Last week, both quarterbacks showed exactly why they've got so much hardware resting in their respective trophy cases.
The two accomplished signal-callers will go head-to-head when Warner and the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals host Manning's undefeated Indianapolis Colts this Sunday in a marquee interconference matchup from University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Colts will be entering this Week 3 showdown with an unblemished record thanks to a vintage performance by Manning this past Monday. Despite his team running just 35 plays and holding the ball for under 15 minutes, the perennial All-Pro still managed to throw for 303 yards and a pair of long touchdowns that lifted Indianapolis to a thrilling 27-23 come-from-behind victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Indianapolis' time of possession of 14 minutes, 53 seconds was the lowest for a winning NFL team since 1977, but more than enough for Manning to orchestrate a four-play, 80-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that culminated in the cagey veteran's 48-yard touchdown connection to wide receiver Pierre Garcon with 3:18 left to play.
Warner didn't have to be so dramatic in his game against Jacksonville last weekend, as the Cardinals roared out to a 21-point halftime lead en route to a 31-17 road decision over a Jaguars team that gave the Colts quite a scare in a two-point loss during Week 1. The affable old pro certainly did his part towards the win, setting a new league single-game record for completion percentage by hitting on 24-of-26 throws in a 243-yard, two-touchdown effort.
That showing provided a measure of redemption for both Warner and the Cardinals, who were dealt a 20-16 season-opening defeat by fellow NFC West member San Francisco on the day the long-suffering franchise raised its conference championship banner to the rafters of University of Phoenix stadium. An out-of-sync Warner completed only 26-of-44 passes and was picked off twice in that outing.
Including the postseason, the loss was only the third in the Cardinals' last 14 home tilts.
Sunday's clash will mark only the second time Manning and Warner have opposed one another on the field over their storied careers. The other occurred on December 30, 2001, when Warner racked up 359 yards and three touchdowns to lead the St. Louis Rams to a 42-17 trouncing of the Colts.
The Colts lead the all-time series with the Cardinals, 7-6, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 17-13 win in the most recent such matchup, at the RCA Dome in Week 17 of the 2005 season. Indy has won three straight in the series, all at home, since coming up a 20-17 loser in its last trip to the desert, in 1990. The Colts are 0-1 in Arizona all-time, and haven't won a road game in the series since the then-Baltimore Colts won at the then-St. Louis Cardinals in 1978.
The Colts' Jim Caldwell and Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective team, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning (604 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) gave a further illustration of his skill and resourcefulness in Monday's win. Not only did the three-time league MVP have to deal with a limited amount of opportunities, but the Colts were without starting receiver Anthony Gonzalez and the Dolphins were able to neutralize big-play wideout Reggie Wayne (13 receptions, 199 yards) with a steady stream of double-teams. Manning improvised by finding standout tight end Dallas Clark (11 receptions, 222 yards, 1 TD) seven times for a career- best 183 yards, 80 of which came on a scoring strike on the game's first play. Garcon (4 receptions, 1 TD), pushed into a starting role with Gonzalez sidelined indefinitely with a sprained right knee, made his only catch of night count with a nifty go-ahead hookup with Manning that resulted in the sophomore's first career touchdown. Rookie running back Donald Brown (59 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions) added a 15-yard scoring run earlier in the fourth quarter and has shown plenty of promise while splitting ball-carrying duties with two-time 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Addai (74 rushing yards, 6 receptions).
Indianapolis' pass-heavy offense will be going up against an Arizona stop unit that did give up 280 net yards through the air to the Jaguars last week, but has amassed eight sacks through the first two games. New coordinator Bill Davis has shown he'll bring pressure from all angles, as safeties Antrel Rolle (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Adrian Wilson (10 tackles, 0.5 sacks) have combined for a pair of sacks thus far and outside linebackers Bertrand Berry (2 tackles, 2 sacks) and Chike Okeafor (7 tackles, 1 sack) are converted ends whose primary task is to pressure the quarterback. Wilson, a physical two-time Pro Bowl participant, is also one of the keys -- along with disruptive lineman Darnell Dockett (5 tackles, 1 sack) and playmaking linebacker Karlos Dansby (12 tackles, 0.5 sacks) -- to a good run defense that limited San Francisco's Frank Gore to a mere 30 yards on 22 carries in the opener. Gore followed up with a whopping 207-yard, two-touchdown outburst against Seattle in Week 2.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
Arizona had one of the most disparate pass-to-run ratios during last year's regular season, finishing second overall in yards through the air (292.1 ypg) and dead last in rushing offense (73.6 ypg). Not much has changed so far in 2009, with the team having averaged only 79 yards per game on the ground (25th overall) and over 260 via the pass. The Cardinals boast a formidable array of weapons when they throw the ball, as Warner (531 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history, the wide receiver trio of Larry Fitzgerald (10 receptions, 2 TD), Anquan Boldin (10 receptions) and Steve Breaston (5 receptions) may be the best three-man group in the league, and running back Tim Hightower (87 rushing yards, 1 TD, 15 receptions) is a dangerous option out of the backfield. Arizona did get the running game somewhat untracked in last Sunday's win over the Jaguars, with Hightower producing 72 yards and a score on 15 attempts and rookie first-round pick Beanie Wells (73 rushing yards) earning 44 yards on just seven carries.
The Cardinals figure to have an opportunity for greater success in the rushing department this week, considering the Colts were gashed for 239 yards on the ground by Miami a week ago. Compounding matters is the possibility that Indianapolis will be without both regular middle linebacker Gary Brackett (17 tackles) and weak side starter Clint Session (15 tackles) for Sunday's test due to knee and ankle injuries, respectively. Dynamic strong safety Bob Sanders probably won't be available for a third straight game as well, with the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year still working his way back from offseason knee surgery. A secondary that has yielded a mere 139 yards per game over the opening two weeks and a league-low six touchdown passes last year should provide a stern test for Warner and his star-studded group of receivers, as will the pressure provided by veteran ends Dwight Freeney (6 tackles, 2 sacks) and Robert Mathis (5 tackles, 1 sack). The backfield is expected to get one main contributor back in the fold for Sunday, as promising rookie corner Jerraud Powers (2 tackles, 2 PD) has resumed practicing after missing the Miami game with a mild groin strain.
It goes without saying that Manning, who's delivered back-to-back 300-yard outings to begin the season, should be in all lineups this week, and both Wayne and Clark are also a must-go as the clear-cut top targets in the passing game. Neither Addai nor Brown offer much at the running back position right now, however, due to the tandem's sharing of carries and the Colts' reliance on Manning's arm. Hightower should make for a good play for the Cardinals, though, especially in leagues that reward points for receptions. The second- year back will be taking on an Indy defense that was awfully submissive versus the run last week. Warner doesn't have the best of matchups against a stingy Colts secondary, but both Fitzgerald and Boldin will get enough catches to keep their customary places as every-week starters.
While the Cardinals still have their share of skeptics who won't be impressed by last week's one-sided win over what appears to be a bad Jacksonville team, the Colts have shown a few chinks in the armor that belies their 2-0 start and are pretty banged up on defense right now. Monday's game proved once again that you can never count Indianapolis out as long as Manning's under center, but Arizona has better overall talent on both sides of the ball and will be playing in front of a pumped-up home crowd that hasn't witnessed many primetime battles in the recent past. There'll be no Manning magic this time around.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 27, Colts 17
09/24 17:46:46 ET