The Arizona Cardinals are fresh off their bye week as they prepare to welcome in the reeling Houston Texans, losers of six straight games. The Red Birds will try to make a push for the NFC playoffs as the second half of their season commences.
The Cardinals have a great chance to move over the .500 mark on Sunday in Glendale. They're well rested after their bye week. That gave Larry Fitzgerald a chance to heal up from his lingering hamstring issues. Rookie running back Andre Ellington is coming off his breakout game two weeks ago against Atlanta when he rambled for 154 yards on 15 carries, including a 80-yard scoring burst. He is very dangerous in the open field and looks like a future star.
In order for quarterback Carson Palmer to be successful, the Red Birds will have to protect him from Houston's J.J. Watt, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Right guard Paul Fanaika will have to come up big, along with the rest of his offensive line mates, or Palmer will find himself flat on his back for much of the game. Watt is a difference maker and one of the best defensive ends in the league. Antonio Smith must be contained as well.
The Cardinals must also improve their third down efficiency. They currently rank 31st in the league, converting just 31.6 percent of their attempts.
Rookie Tyrann Mathieu is now the starting free safety, replacing Rashad Johnson. He's truly earned the honor. Patrick Peterson will be matched up against veteran Andre Johnson, who is coming off a 229-yard, three touchdown performance against the Colts last week. That should be a fun battle to watch.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak will miss Sunday's game after suffering a mini-stroke last Sunday. Wade Phillips will be Houston's interim coach.
The Texans are in a free fall – they've lost six consecutive games – and will be without their leading rusher, Arian Foster. Foster has been hampered with hamstring and back issues. Ben Tate should get the starting nod at halfback.
Arizona has allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season so if the Texans are to be successful, they'll have to ride the right arm of QB Case Keenum. The University of Houston product fired three touchdown passes last week (all to Johnson) and has four TD passes and no interceptions in two games this season. DeAndre Hopkins is a dangerous rookie WR while tight end Garrett Graham must be watched. The Cardinals have allowed opposing signal-callers to throw for 250 or more yards in six of eight games this season.
So if Houston is to spring the upset, they'll have to do it via the air.
Prediction: Arizona 31, Houston 20. Cards improve to 5-4 behind Ellington and Fitzgerald.
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